Here at Elite Netball, we’re passionate about developing every aspect of our young athletes and ensuring their mental health is in good shape. We strongly believe your mental health shouldn’t sit on the sidelines, it shouldn’t be allowed to go offside or be double marked. It’s something we talk about openly as a coaching group and we encourage all of our athletes to do the same.

Before we get into this blog, we want to let you know that our inbox/phone lines are always open if anyone needs to reach out for a chat. We’d also like to say, we’re in no way mental health experts, the below blog is written from our own experiences of mental health, for more information on the professional help available, head to the bottom of this blog.

Why mental health awareness is important

Mental health seems to be an on-trend phrase at the moment and frankly, we’re glad it is. For too long there has been a stigma around admitting you suffer from poor mental health and a lack of understanding or awareness from those around only worsens the issue. You spend too long wondering if anyone else feels this way, you feel lonely, isolated, and vulnerable to the world. With increased awareness around mental health comes more support for those who need it the most and more awareness means that help can come quicker.

Poor mental health can manifest itself in different ways and below are two common questions we get asked by young athletes and parents:

Can mental health affect physical health?

Absolutely, and equally poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Elite Netball truly believes that you are what you eat and if we fuel our body correctly for the exercise and daily life demands placed on us we can help keep our mind and body in tip-top condition. If your mood and energy levels are low, you’re less likely to feel up for exercising and simple daily tasks can feel like a chore which in turn means you’re less likely to do them. It then becomes a vicious cycle and not doing the things you enjoy means your oxytocin and serotonin hormones – hormones that stimulate feelings of happiness are suppressed prolonging periods of low mood. Admitting your mental health could benefit from an MOT will improve your long terms physical health.

Mental health and your periods

In short, yes, studies have shown that women with poor mental health are likely to experience shorter or irregular menstrual cycles. When you’re feeling anxious and stressed, your body starts to respond by gearing you up to run away or stay and fight – more commonly known as the flight or fight response. In basic forms, this releases more of the stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline. The increased release of these response hormones means your body (the amazing thing that it is) suppresses the release of hormones that aren’t essential in your quest to flee or fight, such as hormones linked to your immune system and your menstrual cycle. Thus, it goes without saying that this has a further impact on your mental health as your hormones are then completely out of whack. And it might not take a medical professional to help you realise that your menstrual cycle can also affect how you feel with the top four symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) being sadness, anxiety and tension, moodiness, and irritability or anger. And if your cycle is out of sync, the symptoms of PMS can be heightened.

If you’re keen to get to know your menstrual cycle and how you can keep on top of your mental health, we’re big fans of Period Power by Maisie Hill. As always if you’re concerned about changes to your menstrual cycle speak to your GP as soon as possible.

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What mental health means to me?

It might seem a strange question to ask but it’s worth sitting down for ten minutes and thinking about this. What makes you happy, what makes you sad, how do you react in certain situations and could you change this to benefit your long-term mental health?

For some it’s a state of balance, feeling on top of workloads, taking care of yourself, or simply doing one thing you love every day. Figuring out what mental health means to you will help you put simple actions in place to help you stay on top of it.

5 tips for staying on top of your mental health this year:

Mental health and social media

Try having a social media detox from time to time. Log off Instagram once a week and see how it makes you feel. Only check Facebook once a day and unfollow any accounts or celebrities who aren’t positively contributing to your mental health. Don’t let the social media world cloud your vision and don’t let someone else’s day or opinion cloud your mood.

Exercise

Our holy grail. When we feel dark clouds looming, we throw on some trainers and head outside for a run or complete a HITT session. It does wonders for our mood and moving every part of the body helps release endorphins which relieve feelings of stress.

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Eat well

As we’ve already mentioned in this blog, you are what you eat. Try to avoid gluten, refined sugar and caffeine when you’re not feeling on form. Fresh vegetables, red berries, nuts and seeds as well as fish should be the go-to for a bit of a boost when we need it the most.

Sleep

If you don’t snooze you lose. Sleep is so important to maintain top physical condition for any athlete but it’s also so important to help balance our mental health. Aiming for 7 – 9 hours of sleep is one of the keys to maintaining a healthy and balanced physical and mental state. Try to be horizontal by 10 pm and resist the urge to scroll through social media just before bed

Talk, talk and talk some more

The most important of the five points. Reach out to those around you, tell them how you’re feeling and ask if they’ll be a shoulder to lean on when you need it the most. The likelihood is, the more you talk the better you’ll feel, knowing you have someone close to you who understands how you’re feeling will reduce feelings of loneliness and vulnerability.

Where to get mental health help

Speak to your GP to explain how you’re feeling and ask for further information on the resources available to you.

Mental health charity Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Their Infoline offers callers confidential help – 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday 9 am to 6 pm)

Talking therapy has been scientifically proven to improve mental health and if, like us, you’re a visual, goal-driven individual CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) could be the one for you. This is something your GP might mention, and they will be able to advise on local practitioners who offer this type of talking therapy.

Go online to see what help is offered by your local authority or check in with your school well-being officer to see what assistance they have in place.

Finally remember to take a deep breath, nothing lasts forever, not even the bad times. You are loved, you are strong and you will get through this.

Elite Netball’s reflection on 2020 and looking ahead to 2021

It’s fair to say 2020 was the year none of us thought it would be. We spent more time at home than ever before, homeschooling, making banana bread, and logging on to zoom more times than your great aunt Ethel has knitted scarves, and for Elite Netball Academy it was a year we will never forget.

A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there.

Since our launch in June 2020, we’ve had an incredible amount of support from our members, venues, clubs, parents and friends and to every single one of you who has trusted us to help develop your young athletes – thank you so much! Netball is our passion, it’s why we get out of bed in the morning and it keeps us endlessly driving to improve, to find ways to be better, stronger, smarter. We’re dedicated to this sport and the enthusiastic young athletes who share our passion for it. Despite everything that has been thrown our way, this year we have managed to build a robust athlete coaching program and have expanded our offering to include mental health support to young athletes, as well as health and diet advice.

It’s hard to believe we’re not even a year old and when we look back at the last six months, we’re incredibly proud of everything all the young Elite Netball Academy athletes have achieved. You have all given 100% at every training session or camp, and for that we thank you. To work with a group of enthusiastic people day in and day out is a privilege and something we’re very grateful for.

Looking ahead to 2021 with Elite Netball Academy

Natalie Haythornthwaite

A few months ago, we welcomed Natalie Haythornthwaite to Elite Netball Academy as a Brand Ambassador. Natalie has won Commonwealth gold and a World Cup Bronze for the England Roses as well the Suncorp Grand Final with the NSW Swifts, her current team down under. Before heading to Australia Natalie was a two-time winner of the NSL with Wasps. We have been working with Natalie to give athletes bespoke opportunities both online and in-person to develop individual skills with our first-ever Athlete Mentoring Programme. Response to the program was fantastic so this is something we’ll be offering more of in the future. We’re so excited to have Natalie on board to share her experience and knowledge of the game.

Follow Natalie on Instagram.

Beth Cobden

We also welcome to the team the fabulous Beth Cobden. A central court player for Loughborough Lightning, Beth made her international debut for England in 2016 at wing defence. After a spell at Manchester Thunder and Loughborough Lightning, Beth moved to Australia for a year to play for Adelaide Thunderbirds. She’s now back in the UK with Loughborough and will be helping Elite Netball Academy Athletes on our mentoring program as well as co-hosting a coach and player education series.

Follow Beth on Instagram.

Natalie Panagarry

Another recent addition to the coaching and mentor team is Loughborough Lightning and England Roses centre court player Natalie Panagarry. Nat’s passion and energy for netball mean her coaching sessions are sure to be full of fun with lots of innovative ideas for our athletes to put into practice. Nat will be working with our athletes during lockdown delivering some online sessions and once we can get back to holding camps in person, Nat will be a regular face there, and we can’t wait to introduce more of you to her.

Follow Nat on Instagram.

Keep those eyes peeled on our social media channels for more exciting announcements in the coming weeks…

Lockdown Support

As we find ourselves in lockdown #3, we wanted to assure our members and fans that there are lots of things planned to keep you busy and healthy. Our High-Performance programme continues remotely with full online support for all of the athletes involved. There will also be live Facebook sessions and family quizzes so our members of all ages can get involved.

Here’s an idea of what you can expect over the next six weeks:

Week commencing 18th January – Attack the situation

HITT sessions focused on attacking angles

Yoga – Focus on strong powerful movements

Sport Psychology – Control the situation don’t let it control you

Week commencing 25th January – Defend the negativity

HITT session defence footwork

ENGLAND ROSES WEEK

Yoga – Knees and ankles – where netball players get the most impact

Anna – Theory session on defence partnerships throughout the court

Week commencing 1st February – United we stand

HITT session feeling free with attack work

Yoga – Focuses on upper body focus, particular on our backs and shoulders where we carry stress and tension

ENA and Guest coaches lock down unit focuses – shooters, middies, circle defence – theory based learning on key factors in units

Week commencing 8th February – Knowing me knowing you

HITT session based around quickness of feet around players and challenges

Yoga – Focus on the core and knowing how to engage it and work it to its potential

Sport Psychology – Knowing when you are at your best and at your worse and what you need to implement

Week commencing 15th February – Challenge accepted

HITT session – interception work and recovery

ENGLAND ROSES WEEK

Yoga – Further work on core plus some challenges for you to take away.

Email us for more information on these activities and how you can get involved as we survive another lockdown, more homeschooling, and yet more banana bread!

Thank you for your support so far, and our commitment to 2021 – to find the time to check out, to check-in, and be aware of our needs.

Repeat after me – working on yourself is not selfish – you can’t pour from an empty cup.