April 08, 2020

Wellbeing a key driver for Mental Skills Coach Aaron Walsh

We caught up with Gallagher Chiefs Mental Skills Coach Aaron Walsh to find out what led him into the performance mental skills space. Walsh has not only provided helpful tips for our Gallagher Chiefs players but also fans and members to assist them through lockdown.

When did you start looking into wellbeing and performance mental skills?
Around 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to work with athletes in Major League Baseball. One thing I began to regularly observe was players being unable to translate their potential into performance. They were physically and technically gifted but because of not being able to manage their life away from sport and their thoughts under pressure they never achieved what they set out to do

What was your key driver to begin a career focusing on these fields?
Helping people. I wanted to be able to have the knowledge and skill to see someone accomplish what they are capable off. For a lot of years, the subjects of mental wellbeing and performing under pressure were reserved for those who had perceived issues. Thankfully that has changed, and we are seeing how important maintaining good mental health is to the modern rugby player.

What first interested you to begin your career?
I saw a massive lack of help for athletes who were unable to deliver under pressure. As mentioned above it was a bit of a “taboo” subject so that meant limited resources were designated to a team. My goal for engaging in the mental space was to normalise mental skills. That everyone would see it as a vital part of your performance and would approach the mind like they would their body and skills. That meant I needed to be able to communicate concepts and create practical training of the mind in order to have impact.

Who has been instrumental in developing your career?
From the mental skills space David Galbraith was a massive influence. His ability to translate the complexity of mind into relevant and simple ideas enabled a whole bunch of people to understand how much their mind affected their performance. In the Wellbeing/Culture space Owen Eastwood has been a huge influence. He is a kiwi living in the UK who works with some of the most successful teams in the world. I learnt from him that the environment we create every day for our teams to function in will have massive impact on performance. It has challenged me to ask the question of “what do people need in an environment in order to be at their best?” frequently. We know that our mental health is affected by our sense of belonging, our ability to be authentically ourselves and being challenged to grow every day. Great environments focus on these realities.

What are the important aspects of wellbeing?
I think belonging is the foundation. It we feel like we belong to a family, tribe or team we are far less likely to feel isolated and alone. We are relational creatures; we need to have loving relationships to feel complete. When we don’t have those, we lose the essence of what makes us tick. Without that important foundation, our mental equilibrium is off and we don’t see ourselves and others as clearly as we should. The other key is being able to be authentic without fear of judgement from others. If we find those sorts of relationships, we alleviate so much social anxiety by trying to be someone we are not in order to find a place of acceptance.

What is mindset?
It’s a way of thinking that determines how you see the different realities in your life. The best example might be that of a rugby player approaching a game. Do they see the game as an opportunity to express themselves, have fun and enjoy their teammates or do they see it as a place where failure can happen and they must do everything they can to avoid that? You can see the difference between that mindset and the effects it has on behaviour. One will be free, adaptable and courageous, the other will be fearful, safe and predictable

How can we change our mindset?
Like any other part of our life, we have to look at what sort of mindset we want to have and compare that to where we are currently at. The gap will be obvious for most of us. We then come up with a plan that focuses on what we want to change and how we are going to change that. We then keep assessing if the things we are doing are effective in changing what we want to change. If not, we get help, make adjustments and go again. It’s not quick or simple, but with structure and perseverance we will see change occur.

What do you do or suggest the Gallagher Chiefs players to do on a daily basis?
Initially, be aware of how powerful their mindset shapes the rest of their life. How we think determines how we feel, how we feel determines how we behave and how we behave determines the quality of our lives. If we learn how to think well and what thoughts are helpful or unhelpful to us, then we are able to have control of the how we act and respond to things, regardless of what situations we find ourselves in.

What do you recommend members, players and fans alike should be doing on a regular basis?
I think the best initial step is just becoming aware of the effect of your thinking on the rest of your life. Simply it might be a commitment to start each day with an intention to monitor our thinking. We could write down what things we are thankful for and what does a positive frame of mind look like to us. We can then regularly check in and see if we are achieving that. The biggest key is being patient. For some of us we have had negative and damaging ways of thinking for a long time, that won’t change in two days, but if we are consistent real change can happen.

Wellbeing a key driver for Mental Skills Coach Aaron Walsh