The elite amateurs coming through the Wales Golf system are getting special emphasis on their mental health as well as their golfing performance.
Dr Charlotte Williams, a sports psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, is the mindset coach for the Wales Golf ladies and girls programme, working under Cardiff Metropolitan’s Dr Rich Neil who is responsible for the overall sports psychology at Wales Golf.
In Women and Girls Week for Wales Golf, there is a particular emphasis on making sure the focus is on supporting the players through all the elements of developing at the top levels of girls and ladies sport.
“Mental health of athletes across sports has become a really big issue at the moment, but this is something Wales Golf has embraced and been working towards for some years,” explained Dr Williams. “It is not a case of well-being or performance, it is really important to put them together and that has been the case since we started being involved. It is about getting to know the whole person and valuing everyone’s contributions.”
The ladies and girls squads work regularly with Dr Williams, as well as the day to day plans which Wales Golf has put into practice.
“There are quite a few things we are currently putting in place as well as those already in existence,” added Dr Williams. “The first thing is a parent project, supporting parents through the elite pathway and the junior development programme to help spot the symptoms of poor mental health. We are making sure the parents then know the relevant helplines and referral routes.
“We have also seen education of the coaches and support staff to see the signs of any issue, so the players have those groups in place to make sure they have the support they need.
“With the girls there is an emphasis on how we put their well-being alongside their performance. A lot of them are academic, so it is not just about golf, but balancing school with golf, developing a social side, so there is a lot of help with planning. They feel they have more control over what they are doing if there is a balance.”
While these plans have been put into place over a few years, sport across the board has not always been focussed as much on elements other than performance.
“I think some of the focus in previous years has been on either performance or well-being and supporting the mental health of the athlete,” said Dr Williams. “The media coverage we have had in sport in general shows the importance of looking at mental health in sport. Recently sports have started to have more of a focus on that. The detrimental effects on the athletes in the reports coming out is not something that can be ignored or should be ignored.
“We are lucky that the coaches and the organisation in Wales Golf give us the platform and have embraced the approach making the players as people the priority. There is also research that shows if the well-being is supported then that will enhance the performance as well.
“There is still an element of being afraid of talking about such things because of concerns over selection, but that is something I want to break down and we are really encouraging the girls and women to be aware of well-being. It is more important for coaches and others to understand the situation fully, so they can provide the support to help performance and well-being.”
There are differences in the pressures in ladies sport, which Dr Williams also acknowledges.
“Female sport in general has less media coverage, fewer sponsors, so there are financial pressures in golf which do not apply in the same way in some male sports,” she said. “There is extra stress on young women looking to turn professional, so there is a link to anxiety over funding. Some of the girls in programme competing on the elite stage might be as young as 14, trying to manage school and a social life.”
With the focus on mental health for players coming through the system, the aim to help develop them as players and people ready for the future – whatever it may hold.