Guardian Article – Performance Healthcare

14.09.06

 

WHY QUEST FOR EXCELLENCE IS ALL IN THE MIND

 

Trescothick treatment part of sports psychology industry worth £15m a year

 

Andrew Culf
The Guardian, Thursday September 14, 2006 

Marcus Trescothick is receiving psychological treatment from a private healthcare company to ensure he is fit for the Ashes; Steve McClaren has enlisted the help of sports psychologist Bill Beswick for England's Euro 2008 qualifying campaign; and Sir Clive Woodward's motivational skills have been signed up by the British Olympic Association as part of the medal push for London 2012.

As the headlines demonstrate, business for Britain's sports psychologists is booming as never before. At one end of the spectrum, specialist services are available to help stressed sports stars deal with marriage break-ups, drug or alcohol dependency or gambling addiction. At the other, a range of performance-enhancement courses and techniques are becoming an increasingly routine element of athletes' training regimes, administered by trained psychologists or self-styled gurus.

"Sports psychology is now rated as the most important prerequisite to medalling. It is a change that has taken place over the last five years," said Ian Maynard, professor of sports psychology and director of the Centre for Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield Hallam University. There are more than 250 accredited sports psychologists in the UK, and more of them are starting lucrative consultancies.

Trescothick is being treated for a stress related illness with Performance Healthcare, a niche company set up 15 months ago by David Raines, whose CV has included work with the Priory Hospital group and initiating the US government's $1bn schools and hospitals reconstruction programme in Iraq as director of public buildings, health and education. Performance Healthcare is tailored exclusively to professional sports people and their families, offering psychological assessment and support, placing it at the clinical end of the estimated £10m-£15m a year sports psychology sector.

"There were an awful lot of people having problems; those struggling to cope with staying away from home for long periods, to idiot young men in football, at five-star hotels abroad, doing substance abuse, or shacked up with women of illrepute. We wanted to provide a customised service to meet the needs of professional sportsmen - people with a very high profile and the need for high confidentiality," Raines said.

At the time of Performance Healthcare's launch it was approached by the Professional Cricketers' Association, an organisation keen to improve its duty of care to players in a sport afflicted by an unusally high suicide rate. The result was the establishment of a 24-hour confidential helpline, which often leads to a face-toface consultation. Raines said issues raised have included marital problems, substance abuse and a player gambling hundreds of thousands of pounds. "There is a phenomenal demand. There is a stigma attached to psychological problems. No one wants to talk about it."

Richard Bevan, group chief executive of the PCA, said Performance Healthcare's handling of the Trescothick case had been "immensely impressive". "They reacted with an extraordinary sense of urgency," Bevan said. "I have nothing but praise for them. Lots of people have suffered in the same way as Marcus, but not a lot of them are in the public eye and they don't open the batting for England." The PCA also runs a performance lifestyle programme with six regional advisers aimed at helping cricketers with problems during their career and easing life after cricket.

Performance Healthcare is looking beyond cricket. Raines said: "It is a SME [small to medium-sized enterprise] that we are trying to grow solidly. If we went to an investor and pulled in £500,000, had a great marketing initiative and hit all the sports, perhaps we would grow more quickly. It is not paying the mortgage at the moment, but the overheads are very low. We are keen to develop relationships with all sports: rowing, boxing, rugby, football. Everyone accepts there is a need for this kind of service."

Most sports psychology is concerned with the ability to manage and control anxiety and planning performance to peak at the optimum time. Keith Irving, who heads the psychology interest group for the British Association of Sports and Exercise Sciences, said the organisation was working to introduce kite-marked standards, concerned by unqualified practitioners who offer sports psychology and give the practice a bad name.

"We are doing a lot of work to overcome the feeling in some quarters that it is all mumbo-jumbo," Irving said. "The accreditation process gives a level of comfort and assurance that we can deliver what we say we deliver."

The sector has benefited from the prosport London 2012 effect. As James Beale, a co-director of Total Performance Consulting, says, "People are taking sport more seriously - and as they do that they are coming to find us. Competitors are preparing more professionally and leaving nothing to chance."