Gayelene Clews’ remarkable career makes her ideally placed to write a book such as Wired to Play – the Metacognitive Athlete.
An elite swimmer, runner and former world number one triathlete; psychologist to the gold medal winning Women’s Water Polo team at the 2000 Olympics; consultant to the Australian Wallabies during their 1999 World Cup win; six years with the Canberra Raiders; five years with Cricket NSW; and 15 years with the ACT Academy of Sport, Gayelene understands sport and sportspeople. During her time as an elite athlete, Gayelene travelled the world with her former husband, marathon runner Robert de Castella.
Gayelene has drawn on this experience, together with her experience in private practice and in her current position as Senior Psychologist at Canberra’s Radford College, to compile Wired to Play.
It provides insights into mental health issues that most people will encounter at some stage in their lives. Issues such as anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, ADHD, bipolar, body image, anger, grief and loss, eating disorders, children’s use of technology and retirement.
Gayelene deals with these issues not in some technical or academic fashion but in a very practical and easy to read manner. Each issue is dealt with through use of really insightful examples. While most of these examples relate to elite athletes, Gayelene readily shows how the lessons learned can be relevant to us all.
A central thesis in the book is that “humanity has begun to understand the importance of movement for emotional and psychological wellbeing…physical movement releases neurochemicals which help with mood regulation and moderate the impact of conditions such as depression, anxiety and inattention”.
Gayelene explains that “metacognition is the ability to think about our thinking, to have knowledge about knowledge, and reflect on and adapt our thoughts, feelings and actions”.
On each mental health issues, the book offers practical advice on how to assess the symptoms and examples of sportspeople or others who have experienced these issues. It also offers strategies for dealing with each issue. These are all very clearly and thoughtfully set out including summaries of key information at the conclusion of each chapter.
The chapter on anxiety is a good example. It starts by describing the situation of Mathew Hayman, an elite road cyclist, who found himself overtraining and becoming ill due to a burning desire to succeed. This led him to re-think his approach. He learned how to ‘care less’ about his performances which actually enabled him to become a medalist at world title events.
The chapter then examines different types of anxieties including eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, body image anxieties especially in sports where people are judged on how they look, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and separation anxiety disorder. The chapter concludes with different ways of thinking about anxiety, both negative and positive.
Another fascinating chapter is on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Gayelene makes the point that “the attributes of ADHD can make learning in the classroom difficult but in a sports arena they may be a performance enhancer. For example, some athletes need to be able to successfully execute complex plays on the sports field. They do this by scanning, tracking, and reading their surroundings, moving their bodies through time and space. They then need to make good decisions with a fast reaction time, to hit a gap or break an opponent’s line of defence”.
“In a classroom, however, scanning the room, noticing too much extraneous activity or responding to questions without all the information is frequently labelled as distracted or impulsive behavior”. Gayelene makes the point that “ADHD involves processing the world differently. It is not a bad behavior problem”.
The chapter on anger notes that “anger is a normal human response to threat, and when well-managed, it can be a helpful way to express and shield oneself”.
This chapter also discusses gender differences and anger. Gayelene says that “one of the things that drives a mother’s protective response when her child is threatened is the neuropeptide, oxytocin. Oxytocin is often referred to as the ‘love chemical’, because it presents in large amounts during sex and is indispensable in childbirth and parent bonding. After childbirth, mother and child are awash with oxytocin which helps a mother establish trust with her infant through loving touch and gaze”.
Over the next few months, Yabba will be publishing extracts from various parts of Gayelene’s book. But to get the full benefit, we encourage readers to get their own copy by visiting the website linked to the image of the book below.