Athlete. P.E teacher. Sports advocate. Mental health ambassador.

How did you get into sports?
I loved sports throughout school and was keen to get involved in anything and everything. Whilst studying a BSC Sports and Exercise Performance, I also worked at a bank in the City. But my heart kept being drawn to sports and using it to help people, so I decided to leave. I immersed myself in studying for various qualifications in any sport I could think of, whether it be Netball or Lacrosse. I volunteered for a number of organisations like the YMCA and youth centres, ensuring children had access to sports during the summer holidays. I also worked as a partnership manager at an Academy delivering sports events and PE to schools in the area. This all led me to becoming a PE teacher. But for me sports is not just my job; it is also a way of life, so I take part in plenty of other sports initiatives. 

You are like the Joe Wicks of Essex, what have you been doing during the recent lockdown?
Various things! I have been filming regular PE lessons that not only focus on the children but get the family involved too. I really think particularly at this time it is a great way for the family to connect and do something positive. As part of Active Essex which aims to make sports available to all, I have been doing videos and setting challenges, for instance the 3030 initiative which encourages the community to do 30 minutes of exercise for 30 days. What’s interesting is I find many of those that were really active pre-lockdown have fallen out of routine and have been struggling to exercise, whereas those that were not that active before have taken a keen interest in exercise. So, to encourage and reignite that eagerness to keep fit, I have provided a lot of mentoring and support such as writing exercise plans and sharing workouts from providers I believe in.

Why is it important to keep active? 
Sports can change lives, unite people and give you skills that can be applied to anything in life. You develop strong communication and management skills, whether through arranging a site and coordinating an event, dealing with complaints and motivating team mates. It teaches you to deal with rejection, failure and success. When you have got through a challenge it gives you the confidence to push yourself further and try something new. Of course I am disappointed when I have trained hard for a race and not performed my best but it is important to enjoy the process and to reflect and analyse on what I can do better next time-should I have paced myself in the beginning, did I go to bed early enough the night before?

It also helps build resilience, you may be faced with a physically and mentally demanding game or race-how do you get through the pain, the tiredness? How do you keep playing or running? It teaches you perseverance, as a teacher we know that the student doesn’t yet know something or yet have the skill so we break it down in steps until they can understand it or do it. You might not get it straightaway but with persistent effort you can get there.

Asides from the obvious health benefits and endorphins (although the odd chocolate-induced endorphin is welcome too!), sports can take you to new places, for instance I was selected to take the score at the Olympics 2012 so I took 15 of my students with me and it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life- to be part of such a huge event, seeing all the supporters and athletes from across the world under one roof was incredible. And finally, you can make friends for life.

What advice would you give to someone who is in a bit of a rut and perhaps also doesn’t feel like doing any exercise?
I think first of all you need to focus on the mental aspect: it helps sometimes to speak to someone or write down your thoughts and feelings, as this will help you make sense of them. I also suggest once a week writing down what you have done that you are proud of, putting it in a jar and getting it out when you need support. Reach out to family and friends; you don’t need to feel that you are going through this alone, and reaching out may help you get some perspective and hope.

Also, set yourself a very achievable task and be sure to praise yourself for doing it. We often set ourselves too high expectations and then feel worse after for not having met them. It could be something simple like you managed to get out of bed and brush your hair or you have put your trainers on and gone out of the door. Each step is progress. Sometimes it also helps to change the set-up, whether it is your music playlist or location where you train. Surround yourself with people who support you from own network or by joining a club. Listen to podcasts and talks- Happy Place by Fearne Cotton is one I recommend. Or read a motivational book. I find going on twitter helps as there are a lot of motivational posts and people going through similar challenges.

You are a mental health ambassador and sports advocate, what are some of the initiatives you have worked on that have helped the community?
Sports with its many benefits should be accessible to everyone, and I want to play a part in achieving that. My day job is teaching 5-18 year olds, but outside of work I am involved in initiatives making sports available to all, from 0 to 100. With Active Essex I have led on county events for primary schools to arranging Active bingo sessions for the more mature participants, where each number called out would equal some exercise, say, if I call out number 4, that would mean 4 arm raises. What I really like about these activities is that you connect people and help them form positive memories.

With England Athletics I have trained as a mental health ambassador (I highly recommend doing a mental health first aid course). I don’t believe there is anyone who hasn’t somehow been touched by mental health and so it is important that there are avenues to openly talk about it and reach out when you are not feeling O.K.

Often we say we are fine when asked how we are but are we really? Having a safe space to talk to someone can sometimes make all the difference. This is why I am also part of the Chat 1st initiative which focuses on physical, social and mental wellbeing. It hosts sport events and exercise classes where the coaches are trained in mental first aid and are there if you want to talk about any worries. It could be before, after a session or even a simple chat by the net between shots. The focus is on low impact sports like badminton to encourage all ages to join. Sports is a perfect setting- it allows for barriers to be taken down, you find people laughing, joking, working together and genuinely taking an interest in what people have to say.

More can be done to promote mental healthcare so it is great to see similar initiatives crop up, and I am increasingly seeing companies focus on the wellbeing of their employees. Many organise wellness weeks and one firm I know offers wellbeing days in addition to your usual holiday entitlement which can be used for instance to try out a new sport or go to a meditation class.

What do you find challenging about your various roles?Sometimes people assume that, because I am so active, I find everything easy. But I too sometimes struggle with motivation and self-doubt. In fact, recently when my wedding got cancelled because of lockdown, I didn’t feel like running anymore. However, I always found I learnt best at school when my teachers were enthusiastic, and that’s how I try to be with my students, although it can be hard sometimes when life doesn’t always go to plan. That’s why I take stock of what I have achieved and set myself realistic aims-usually three tasks a day and anything after that is a bonus!

What do you enjoy about your various roles?
I love being a This Girl Can ambassador –developed by Active Essex as part of Sports England National campaign to promote sport amongst women and girls of all shapes, sizes, abilities and backgrounds and to encourage them to get active. This could be through hosting classes, or holding taster sessions for a sport that the class may never have tried before. It is always great to see the excited smiles on the girls’ faces and how happy they are to achieve something new, for example when I help someone catch a ball who has never been able to before or coach someone who has never run go on to do 5k.

What was a challenging moment in your life and how did you overcome it?
Being out of action for two months due to glandular fever. As an athlete you are used to having a very strict schedule and training hours a day. I had been preparing for a competition but became so unwell that I had to pull out of the race. Going from being really active to not even being able to wash my own hair was tough. I felt frustrated, disappointed and restless. However, I always try to see the positives in any situation and in this case I learnt it’s important to listen to your body. I am very much a yes person and this was my body’s way of saying I needed to take a break. Sometimes saying no isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can in fact be the right thing to do. I also believe, even when you are ill, it is important to feel part of a community, otherwise just lying in bed can be quite lonely. So when I was feeling a bit better, I still participated in the competitions as an athletics official and took on the role of team manager for the Chelmsford ladies team.

When was a moment you were most proud of and why?
I had just finished working with the Southend Sports Partnership at the Eastwood Academy and on leaving my boss highlighted all the things I had achieved. He ended it by saying you can replace the job but not the person. That really made me feel so proud.

Name a book or podcast that has inspired you?
I mentioned earlier how I pick three tasks a day to fulfil and anything after that is a bonus. I got this from a book called Strong by American athlete Cara Groucher. She had started writing a diary about how she felt but noticed it always focused on the negative so decided to change the narrative and focus on the positive. Although her book relates to her training schedule, it can be applied to everything in life.

Which song makes you feel good?
Dakota by Stereophonics

What do you like to do for fun?

Listen to music and going to gigs.

What inspiring quote would you like to share?
Strive for progress, not perfection. 

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9 Responses

  1. An interesting read – Hayley has certainly been busy!
    Good luck with the running…and the wedding!

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