Spanish Women’s Football Players Withdraw From The Team Over Emotional Well-Being Concerns

The Spanish women’s international team have temporarily reassigned from international play unless head coach, Vilda, is dismissed for negatively impacting the emotional and mental health of the players. And while the exact reason behind their withdrawal is unknown, team Captains said they had simply “transmitted the feelings of the players” and that there had been “false leaks.” 

This comes as part of a trend over the last few years of more athletes, and sports teams standing up for their mental health and emotional well-being. High-level sport is a pressure cooker of emotion – one that is constantly boiling and waiting to boil over. Athletes not only need a resilient mindset, but a good team around them to support them mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

But how did the events transpire? 

On Thursday evening, fifteen players sent letters to the federation informing them of the situation and the effect it’s having on their mental and emotional states. Players wrote, “I do not currently consider myself to be in a condition to be chosen for the national team, and I ask not to be called up until the situation is resolved.” 

The team is looking for internal changes to be made. One of the players and team captain, Jennifer Hermoso, mentioned how “We are defending our team. We transmit a message of general discomfort, each one is consistent in what she does. But when the player enters the field of play, nothing else is thought of.” 

The Spaniards are defending their team and players, but what do the Spanish football association have to say about the situation? 

What did the Spanish football association have to say?

The Spanish Football association said it “will only have committed footballers.” They mentioned how youth players would be fielded if needed, and labelled the idea of pressuring the coaching team, and the general behaviour of the team, to be “far from exemplary…” 

Is this the right approach from the association and from the coaching squad? We don’t know the full story so we can’t make a conclusion. But we know one thing for certain: the mental and emotional health of the players should be the top priority. That’s a non-negotiable. 


Matthew Mace is an avid cyclist, runner, and freelance content writer with a keen interest in psychology and injury. He studied sport and exercise at Durham University and now writes about cycling,  wellness and mental fitness.

Mental Fitness Training

Mental Fitness Training: A Basic Guide for Beginners

What is mental fitness training, and who is it for? Here’s what you need to know. 

These days, the phrase “mental fitness” is thrown around more than a basketball in the final quarter of an NBA finals game.

Despite this, very few people know what mental fitness actually means. 

Mental fitness is your state of mental well-being – your ability to make good decisions, your awareness, and how you respond to the complexities of life.

When you achieve optimal mental fitness, you may catch yourself humming a song, looking forward to your next workout, and feeling less exhausted and more calm. You’ll also be better prepared to deal with daily challenges, obstacles, and emotional situations.

But how do you achieve this state of optimal mental fitness? It’s all about exercising and taking care of the brain. Just like you schedule a weight session to boost your brain health, you should be doing the same, if not more, for your mental health. 

What is mental fitness training? 

Mental fitness training is all about keeping the brain and your emotional health in good standing.

This training can be approached in numerous ways. However, it all comes back to one key point: improving and maintaining your mental and emotional health.

You can develop new skills and strategies to improve your mental fitness, from practising mindfulness to focusing on awareness. But don’t worry, we’ll cover all of the training details below.

What are the benefits of mental fitness?

Improving your mental fitness and developing mental fitness skills is likely to help you in other areas of your life.

For example, better mental fitness may:

  • Increase presence and focus: reduce distractions, and be more productive and attentive at work and in your relationships.
  • Improve emotional well-being: gain control over your thoughts and don’t let situations out of your control affect you at an emotional level. 
  • Increase resilience: cope better mentally and emotionally following a crisis or when things get tough, whether that’s in life or sport.
  • Allow you to develop new healthy habits: build new habits, whether reading more books, meditating, or being more active.
  • Improve your sleep: reduce stress and anxiety and work towards achieving better quality sleep.

How do I train my mental fitness?

There are numerous ways to train your mental fitness. But there are a lot more moving parts compared to, say, your typical workout session.

You don’t need to perform these in one go, but scheduling the following activities into your lifestyle will improve mental fitness:

  1. Practice mindfulness, meditation, and begin challenging the mind
  2. Regular exercise
  3. Follow a healthy diet
  4. Learn new skills 
  5. Focus on awareness 

Keep reading to discover more about each mental fitness training activity.

Practice mindfulness, meditation, and begin challenging the mind

Tuning into your body and practising mindfulness is one of the best ways to improve mental fitness.

Distracting yourself from the world and being at peace is a rarity.

Meditation and mindfulness practices are becoming more popular. But many people don’t know where to begin.

Alongside relaxing the mind, you need to challenge the mind to develop mental fitness and resilience. These two components are key – making you mentally stronger overall.

With the Rewire Fitness app, we have an entire library full of mindfulness and recovery sessions, from guided stress relief sessions to binaural beats and quick 2-minute sessions to get you back on track and focused on what’s important.

Regular exercise 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get at least 150-minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

These guidelines are mainly for physical health, but the mental benefits (reduced stress, anxiety, and improved well-being) are also important.

Examples of exercises may include brisk walking, running, cycling, weight lifting, rowing, or any other moderate-intensity exercise. There are loads to choose from, so you’re sure to find something that suits your lifestyle.

Follow a Healthy Diet

You don’t need to follow the strictest diet in the world, but you should adopt a healthy and sustainable relationship with food.

Eating foods high in refined sugars too often may cause harm to the brain, promoting inflammation and impairing brain function, as mentioned by Health Harvard.

Set your body and mind up for success by eating whole foods, limiting processed food and foods high in sugar and saturated fats, and drink plenty of water.

What you eat affects how you feel – treat your body like a Formula one car and less like a Fiat, and you will see an increase in mental fitness and overall well-being.

Learn new skills that challenge your mind  

We’re not asking you to play the orchestra, but learning new skills improves cognitive functioning and may improve mental fitness.

You could adopt a healthy habit of reading for thirty-minutes daily, you could play chess, solitaire, or perhaps you could even learn a new language. Find something you enjoy that stimulates the brain, and it’ll take care of your mind.

But it doesn’t end there – we also help you increase mental resilience with training exercises to help you build mental fitness, preparing you for those tasks that matter most, whether the last few miles of a marathon or the resilience needed to study for a test.

Focus on Awareness  

Take a deep breath and practice awareness daily.

Be honest with yourself – how do you feel, what’s your current emotional state, and are you ready for the day?

The Rewire Fitness daily readiness assessment is a short 90-second assessment that helps you determine how ready you are to tackle the day. 

We measure your awareness, reaction times, heart rate and sleep (if a compatible device is connected) to determine your daily readiness.

We then provide you with personalised recovery suggestions to help you increase mental fitness, clarity, and productivity. 

Want to find out more about our readiness assessment? Read our blog post on readiness tracking: how and when to use the different aspects of Rewire


FAQs 

How do I train my mental fitness?

You can train your mental fitness with structured training for your mind – think cognitive training, reaction tests, and other neuro-training methods that will test your mental resilience and will help you build mental fitness.

What type of workout is best for mental health? 

There are many ways to train the mind for better mental health. To get started, we recommend practicing mindfulness and awareness – these will pay dividends towards your overall well-being.

Which exercise is best for anxiety? 

Meditation is often considered one of the best exercises for anxiety. The Rewire Fitness app also provides tailored sessions to help you reduce stress and promote a positive mindset. Download the app and give it a try for free!

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A Scientific Approach to Sports Performance with Dr. Tommy Wood, Neuroscientist and Physiologist

A Scientific Approach to Sports Performance with Dr. Tommy Wood, Neuroscientist and Physiologist

Dr. Tommy Wood is a research assistant professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience at the University of Washington whose research interests involve brain health, performance, and longevity. Furthermore, Tommy has coached and competed in multiple sports, including rowing, CrossFit, powerlifting, and ultra-endurance racing. He has also worked with Formula 1 athletes. In this episode, we discuss Tommy’s approach to understanding research and how it can be applied to improve our performance and reach our goals. 

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How Deep Breathing Can Improve Your Performance

In this blog we explore how deep breathing can influence different pathways both at the physiological and psychological levels, potentially leading to improved athletic performance. 

Needless to say, life can be demanding, from both a physical and psychological point of view. While we need stress to grow, and stressing the body (and the following adaptation) is what training is about, our health and performance can be affected by how we are able to effectively cope with stressful situations. Additionally, during key sessions or competitions, psychological stressors and anxiety, or in broader terms, our ability to emotionally self-regulate, can be very important determinants of performance outcomes. 

How does deep breathing play a role?

From a physiological point of view, we can consider homeostasis as a starting point to understand the rationale behind using deep breathing for performance enhancement. As the body via the autonomic nervous system (ANS) responds to stressful stimuli in an attempt to maintain a state of balance, we can determine how effective this physiological self-regulation process is, by measuring the ANS. This is something Rewire does by measuring HRV, and in particular parasympathetic activity using an HRV feature called rMSSD. The parasympathetic branch of the ANS is characterized by inhibitory responses and restorative processes, such as lowering heart rate and breathing rate, so that the system can go back to homeostasis after facing a stressor. For these reasons, in the past fifty years, a vast body of research investigated the link between HRV and various mental and physical stressors, showing consistently reductions in parasympathetic activity when facing physical and psychological stressors. Additionally, reduced parasympathetic activity has been associated with various clinical conditions (e.g. depression and anxiety disorders) as well as higher mortality risk.

Here is where deep breathing comes into play. Breathing at low frequencies (or deep breathing) causes large oscillations in the instantaneous heart rate, which synchronize with breathing rate. The influence of breathing on heart rate is called Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) and is mostly modulated by the parasympathetic branch of the ANS. Hence, deep breathing can result in training of the parasympathetic system, which might explain at least part of the positive effects of these techniques in the context of reducing stress and anxiety. For the same reasons, deep breathing could help athletes, with the potential of improving emotional self-regulation, coping mechanisms, and performance. In the Rewire app, following a Mindset Recovery session, if you have connected a Heart Rate Monitor you will see the percentage change in HRV during the deep breathing session, which can help you quantify the increased level of parasympathetic activity due to this specific exercise. 

Example of the change in instantaneous heart rate and HRV when deep breathing. We can see how large oscillations take place, with increased heart rate during the inhale, and decreased heart rate during the exhale. Normally, the exhale is when parasympathetic activity has higher influence, and should therefore be at least as long as the inhale

What Happens When We Face a Stressor?

Upon facing a stressor, the ANS responds via two pathways mainly. First, we have an activation of the sympathetic nervous system which is directly innervating most organs. Secondly, we have hormonal responses through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which results in cortisol release. Depending on an individual’s ability to cope with a stressor, these responses can last longer and have a stronger negative effect on an individual’s physiology. As a result, stressors such as negative life events and intense physical training can lead to negative physiological responses such as stress hormone perturbation, immunosuppression, and impaired skeletal muscle repair. All of these aspects can act as mediators for negative outcomes, resulting in reduced health and performance.

While we all experience stress in life, athletes are typically exposed to both “life stressors” and the high intensity and high volume training typical of (elite) sports. Literature has shown how athletes that reported being more stressed had a long-lasting negative response including increased cortisol level for several hours after exercise, with respect to athletes that did not report high levels of life stress. These are key findings as they highlight how many negative stress responses can have implications beyond what we normally think. When using HRV to quantify physiological stress, an association has been reported between the activity of the parasympathetic branch of the ANS and improved emotional self-regulation and performance in mental tasks, further motivating the use of different techniques – such as deep breathing – to improve parasympathetic activity. 

Breathe

Given the physiological and psychological factors just discussed, deep breathing becomes  an ideal strategy to help us self-regulate and better cope with stressful situations. Techniques such as HRV biofeedback, mindfulness, meditation or other forms of deep breathing, can directly affect ANS activity by stimulating the parasympathetic system. Therefore, deep breathing might directly provide a positive impact on the physiological and psychological factors that mediate health and performance. To allow you to achieve this performance benefit, Rewire integrates a range of deep breathing protocols (including box breathing, pranayama, 4-7-8, 5-10 and more) into its Mindset Recovery system alongside a variety of other recovery protocols like subliminal priming, self-talk, visualization and binaural beats.

To date, the scientific literature on deep breathing has shown positive outcomes on a variety of applications outside of sports, from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to depression, cardiac rehabilitation, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers in the field are exploring different pathways that might explain the benefits of deep breathing techniques. In particular, some are suggesting that the high variations in the instantaneous heart rate are due to the baroreflex and that practicing deep breathing could indeed increase baroreflex gain, which might be a causal pathway explaining why hypertensive disorders can also improve using deep breathing techniques. Others have suggested a potential pathway between the baroreflex and neural control, in particular the amygdala, which could explain why improvements are seen in patients with anxiety and depression. Finally, another pathway could involve a strengthening of the parasympathetic nervous system, as shown using electrical vagal stimulation in the context of treating depression.

Psychological and Physiological Outcomes

In elite sport settings, performance is often the outcome of interest. However, in many sports (e.g. in teams settings), performance cannot be unambiguously measured, and is often estimated using different approaches. For example, in many situations, athletic performance is measured during isolated tasks (e.g. sprinting ability), which might have low fidelity with respect to the complexity of an actual game. On the other hand, it follows from the previous considerations that physiological and psychological parameters might be mediating the relation between deep breathing practice and performance.

In particular, psychological measures following deep breathing interventions are probably the most consistent in terms of positive outcomes. In particular, the various studies investigating effects on anxiety (both trait and state) as well as on self-esteem and self-efficacy, often found improvements in most measures. In terms of physiological measures, results are also quite consistent across studies. However, an important caveat here needs to be considered. While there is plenty of data and published literature on the acute effect of deep breathing on HRV (basically the difference between resting conditions and practice), we know much less about long-term effects and the potential impact of these techniques on physiology when sustaining the practice for prolonged time (e.g. several months). These are difficult questions to answer due to the many factors impacting day to day ANS activity, as well as long term changes due to e.g. seasonality. The relationship between acute changes in HRV, baseline changes in HRV, and psychological measures following an intervention therefore requires further investigation.

Wrap Up

Combining insights from biopsychosocial models and basic physiology, we can see how various forms of deep breathing have been proposed as techniques that can help athletes to improve emotional self-regulation and coping mechanisms via a strengthening of homeostasis, with the potential of resulting in better health and performance.

The ability to effectively self-regulate emotions and stress can be beneficial. In particular, apart from the potential for direct improvements in health and performance, other pathways could be positively impacted, from a psychological (e.g. anxiety) and physiological (e.g. hormonal response, strengthening of the parasympathetic system) point of view. Such changes in psychological and physiological factors could then affect other health and performance-related outcomes such as injury risk and recovery.

Based on the available evidence, deep breathing can be considered an effective tool to reduce anxiety as well as acutely improve HRV, and therefore can be considered valuable in the context of emotional self-regulation for athletes.


Tap here to try one of our deep breathing sessions or our Rise Guided Recovery Session.

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What is Athlete Burnout And How Do You Prevent It?

Burnout is a term thrown around like confetti – we often hear students, teachers, and others speak of burnout as if it’s normal. But it’s not – burnout can be emotionally draining, negatively impacting your work, home, and social life.

In fact, upwards of 76% of employees experience burnout “at least sometimes” according to a 2020 study (8). 

And while burnout is somewhat normalised in the workplace, it is often not spoken of in the world of sport. 

Much like a marathon runner “hits the wall” and suddenly has no energy to finish their race – many athletes, young, elderly, elite, or recreational, encounter burnout and don’t know how to combat it.

There’s an invisible wall plastered in a lack of motivation, increased fatigue, decreased performance, and perhaps even physical pain.

This blog post will explain what athlete burnout is, how common it is, and how you can prevent and overcome burnout using a few psychological tips.

What is athlete burnout?

Athlete burnout is often characterised as a lasting experience of emotional and physical exhaustion. As a result, many athletes experience a lack of motivation, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and perhaps even withdrawal from their sport, as stated by a 2007 study (3). 

Overtraining syndrome and athlete burnout often go hand-in-hand. When an athlete overtrains, they fail to recover adequately from training or competition. 

The side effects of overtraining include hormonal changes, weakening of the immune system, and physical fatigue. But often, overtraining also comes with negative psychological changes, including an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression, a reduced sense of self-accomplishment, sport devaluation (3) and in some instances, a likelihood of developing an eating disorder (4). 

This is why Rewire assesses emotional and cognitive aspects of readiness, helping to combat overtraining, burnout, and emotional and mental fatigue. Assess your readiness for free to better understand your body mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

How common is burnout in sports?

The prevalence of burnout is somewhat unknown due to a lack of validity in the recording process. But a 2007 study containing 980 elite adolescent athletes found that an estimated 1-9% of athletes experience burnout, with a further 1-2% experiencing high levels of burnout (4). 

Another study of burnout assessing elite handball players (458 participants, male and female) aged 14-18 years old found that those who experienced burnout were more likely to quit handball years later than those who did not experience burnout (6). 

Further research suggests overtraining and burnout to affect between 30-35% of adolescent athletes (7). This is supported at the elite level too, with the American College of Sports Medicine reporting an estimated 35% of elite athletes to suffer from disordered eating, burnout, depression, and/or anxiety (1). 

So, what can we conclude from this? Athlete burnout is more common than we may think, especially among the population of elite and adolescent athletes, with upwards of 30-35% of athletes experiencing burnout. 

This could be due to increased pressure or juggling many responsibilities, although further research would be helpful towards understanding burnout. 

How to prevent burnout in athletes

The side effects of burnout in athletes can be adverse, including an increased risk of depression, further psychological stress, and a lack of motivation (5), as previously discussed.

But how do you prevent burnout? Athlete burnout is a personal experience, however, mindfulness and acceptance of burnout are two important initial stages of recovery.

Alongside acceptance and understanding the need to recover, certain cognitive-behavioural interventions may help lessen burnout symptoms (3).

Examples of interventions you can try include:

  • Visualisation 
  • Reinforced positive mantras 
  • Journaling and self-reflection

Keep reading to find out more about each technique and how they can help not only prevent burnout, but help you recover if you do encounter burnout.

Visualisation 

Visualisation is one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to mental strategies.

Imaging a scene and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells allows you to practice scenarios and build situation-specific confidence.

Typically, visualisation is used for practising serves, kicking a ball, running through your cornering technique, and so forth.

But the concept can also be applied to burnout – visualising success, feeling energised to train, and picturing your support network to push you on.  

Reinforced positive mantras

Positive mantras are statements you tell yourself to increase confidence.

Examples of reinforced positive mantras include:

  1. I feel mentally stronger
  2. I’m energised and ready to train
  3. I enjoy training 
  4. I perform well under pressure

You can also apply positive mantras to athlete burnout, telling yourself you are training hard enough, you’re not stressed, and you are prepared for competition.

Top tip: write positive mantras on a script or in your notes and repeat these to yourself daily. You can also customise these in the Rewire app as part of your pre-workout priming.

Journaling and self-reflection 

Although not a psychological trick, journalling is a great method of self-reflection, noting down your thoughts and clearing your mind.

If you’re suffering from athlete burnout, then it’s likely you’ll encounter negative self-talk and sport devaluation. 

Get these thoughts down on paper, throw them away, and clear your mind.

You can use the Rewire Fitness app to track your physical, emotional, and psychological wellness states. 

Our mindset recovery system consists of evidence-based protocols to promote effective mind (and body) recovery, including guided breathing, self-talk techniques, visualisation, and even binaural beats.

Prehabilitation for athlete burnout 

The role of prehabilitation is thought to help prevent overuse injuries, or if you’re already injured, it should help speed up recovery (2).

But what if we applied the same concept to athlete burnout? By performing psychological skills and techniques, you can strengthen your mind for the stress of sport, whether that’s coping with burnout or a physical injury.

Combat burnout and become a stronger athlete 

Athlete burnout is on the rise, with athletes experiencing a lack of motivation, increased stress and fatigue, and a reduced sense of accomplishment.

And while you can be running, cycling, or powerlifting one day, you may feel like you’ve hit that metaphorical wall the next. 

So, to summarise burnout in athletes:

  • Athlete burnout is on the rise (affecting upwards of 35% of athletesaffecting anywhere from 1-9% of athletes)
  • Symptoms of burnout include decreased motivation, increased stress, and even sports withdrawal 
  • Mental training and time away from sport may help combat burnout
  • Pre-hab is not only effective for preventing injury, but also burnout 

Start the Rewire Fitness app for free and begin mental training today, whether you’re fighting burnout or want to improve your psychological strength. 

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Matthew Mace is an avid cyclist, runner, and freelance content writer with a keen interest in psychology and injury. He studied sport and exercise at Durham University and now writes about cycling,  wellness and mental fitness.

Sources:

  1. ACSM_CMS. 2022. News Detail. [online] Available at: <https://www.acsm.org/news-detail/2021/08/09/the-american-college-of-sports-medicine-statement-on-mental-health-challenges-for-athletes#:~:text=Professional%20and%20elite%20athletes%20also,%2C%20depression%20and%2For%20anxiety> [Accessed 14 June 2022].
  2. ECU Online. 2022. How Prehab Helps in Preventing Injuries | ECU Online. [online] Available at: <https://online.ecok.edu/articles/prehab/> [Accessed 10 June 2022].
  3. Gustafsson, H., 2007. Burnout in competitive and elite athletes (Doctoral dissertation, Örebro universitetsbibliotek). 
  4. Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G., Hassmén, P. and Lundqvist, C., 2007. Prevalence of burnout in adolescent competitive athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 21, pp.21-37.
  5. Gustafsson, H., DeFreese, J.D. and Madigan, D.J., 2017. Athlete burnout: Review and recommendations. Current opinion in psychology, 16, pp.109-113.
  6. Isoard-Gautheur, S., Guillet-Descas, E. and Gustafsson, H., 2016. Athlete burnout and the risk of dropout among young elite handball players. Sport Psychologist, 30(2).
  7. Momsteam.com. 2022. Burnout In Youth Athletes: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment | MomsTeam. [online] Available at: <https://www.momsteam.com/burnout-in-youth-athletes-risk-factors-symptoms-diagnosis-treatment#:~:text=Although%20it%20is%20difficult%20to,to%2035%25%20of%20adolescent%20athletes> [Accessed 14 June 2022].
  8. Wigert, B., 2022. Employee Burnout: The Biggest Myth. [online] Gallup.com. Available at: <https://www.gallup.com/workplace/288539/employee-burnout-biggest-myth.aspx> [Accessed 14 June 2022].