By James Reid
British rowing legend Sir Matthew Pinsent revealed he struggled to deal with the mental side of becoming an Olympic champion as he hailed the modern day focus on athletes’ mental health.
Pinsent was just 21 when he won the first of his four Olympic gold medals at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, but admitted he was not properly equipped to combat what would come next.
The Norfolk-born rower recalled how there was little provision for the mental side of sport during his career but welcomed the shift in mentality amongst the current generation.
Pinsent shared his experiences with the next generation of athletes at a mind health workshop run by SportsAid, which also saw the Prince and Princess of Wales in attendance, and spoke of his pride of the emphasis the charity is placing on mental health.
“I was in absolute turmoil after my first gold medal,” he admitted. “You have just won, do everything you wanted to achieve in the sport and is by any definition the pinnacle of how high you can get and I was just completely at sea about what that meant.
“I was just sitting on the end of my bed in the Olympic village with a gold medal in my hand thinking ‘is that it?’ “In one sense that was it, but in another sense it threw open so many questions that I just wasn’t ready to consider.
“At that point, the structure is disappearing around you, you are returning home with no routine. That is common to a lot of Olympic sports people.
“If I look back to when we were competing, we were muddling through. We thought we were doing it but we didn’t really have the tools, budget or expertise to start delving into it. Now to feel that younger athletes have a skillset is really important.
“When I was competing, someone who might have been struggling certainly would have been hesitant to say so. Now, the answer is to equip young people with the idea to say that you are struggling is absolutely fine. In fact, you are going to find the answer quicker.
“SportsAid being at the forefront of this is something I am really passionate about.”
Pinsent shared his expertise alongside Commonwealth Games winning netballer Ama Agbeze, Paralympic star Ellie Simmonds, and current Great Britain hockey player and Olympic champion Shona McCallin as part of a workshop that saw young athletes learn strategies to help build their mental resilience.
The workshop was just one of many run year-round by SportsAid, who also support young athletes through vital funding and personal development opportunities.
The day also saw the Prince and Princess of Wales try their hand at goalball and netball, and SportsAid Chief Executive Tim Lawler MBE was thrilled with royal support for the work the charity is doing.
He said: “The support of The Prince and Princess is really special and exciting.
“The Princess, as our Patron, has been so supportive and we know this is a topic she is hugely passionate about.
“Both The Prince and Princess have been invited to join us and committed their time as a Patron – they engaged and shared their experiences with the athletes, who were also able to hear from multiple Olympic and Paralympic champions about their own personal experiences.
“We are now ramping up our work around mental health and wellbeing. This a key space we need to move into – it’s an unmet need and it’s understood by athletes.
“This event today is not just a one-off – it was a hugely fun day but we want to do even more heading into next year to further enhance our support for our athletes around health and wellbeing.”
SportsAid is seeking support from individuals and organisations to allow the charity to invest further in its mental health and wellbeing initiatives. Please contact Serena Castiglione, Head of Fundraising at SportsAid, on email@example.com if you would like to help provide talented young athletes, as well as their families, with the support and advice they need at a key time in their development.