Wellbeing is a buzzword we frequently use as an indication of how people are doing. It is also often used as an indication of productivity or performance. We know a happy and healthy team produces more positive outputs. Decisions are made quicker and more efficiently. People communicate more effectively and our ability to offer support and empathy increases. The research is endless into the benefits of having a team that puts wellbeing at the forefront.
I define wellbeing as when a person is operating as the best version of themselves. Wellbeing can often be misinterpreted as you are just getting by and just coping with the demands of the sporting environment. That feeling of being your best self can feel like chasing something you will never catch, the race you run only to find out you didn’t qualify for the final. So how do we get into that final? How do we catch that feeling? For me it starts with the social environment you are in.
A psychologically informed environment is what I describe as the ideal environment needed for people to be the best version of themselves. An environment where people’s thoughts, feelings, personalities and experiences are considered. Another term often used is the psychological safety of the people within the team. In very simple terms it involves conversation, a conversation that considers the interpersonal and the intrapersonal. “What behaviour is this person exhibiting? Why is this person behaving in this way? Why does this person approach a situation like this? What are we seeing here?”
This type of environment considers the person and the environments the person has experienced. It aims to explore behaviour from a deeper, broader, more holistic perspective. This environment also asks leaders to develop their capacity to have conversations with others with their wellbeing in mind. A psychologically informed environment will consider the physical spaces that everyone occupies and asks if these spaces promote wellbeing and mental health. This can be difficult to create if the culture of the team focuses purely on results and talent.
Small margins were famously applied to Southampton FC by Sir Clive Woodward. He stopped players having ketchup or brown sauce in the cafeteria, he made sure players had pillows for coach journey and extended the tunnel from the training ground to the pitch, so players stayed out the rain for as long as possible. The intent was a positive one. It was promoting a healthier physical space for those involves. However, it failed to make any changes on the pitch. Results did not improve and ultimately Sir Clive left the team. It highlights that when the environment is drastically changed, with positive intent, it can still have a negative effect on the team.
To create a psychologically informed environment takes patience, plenty of listening and inquiring. For change to happen everyone needs to have a voice to promote their needs. When change is forced like a Southampton it does not get buy in from people and will ultimately fail even when the intent is a positive one. The wellbeing of individuals needs highlighted further in sport. Wellbeing is the bedrock of performance. Individuals can only do so much for their wellbeing. Leaders and the teams organisations need to create an environment where there is psychological safety.
Think about your team. What is your role in this team? Is it a player or athlete? A coach or staff member? How does the environment created by others affect your wellbeing and performance? Can you speak up when you notice change is needed in the environment?
Stuart Kelly is a Performance Psychology Consultant at Eclipse. You can connect with him here.