Q&A with… Clinton Gahwiler

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Country: South Africa

Profession: Psychologist

Clinton has run the psychology practice at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa since 1995. He also developed and runs Performing Mind, an e-mail based educational tool that teaches mental preparation and self-management skills. He was the psychologist to Team South Africa at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 1999 All Africa Games.

For you, what is the difference between mental health and mental toughness?

Mental health is a state of being pertaining to a person’s general psychological and emotional wellbeing. Mental toughness is a concept often used in sport in relation to one’s resilience to adversity, and the resulting consistency of performance.

What have you found athletes have been battling with the most during lockdown?

Definitely anxiety – amidst the uncertainty of how this will impact on their career, and on their performances if / when things go back to normal.

At what stage in their career are athletes most likely to seek your services?  

Any stage. That said, the ideal time to start basic mental skills is early the high school years.

But it obviously depends on what you’re dealing with. A lot of work also pertains to challenges associated with the latter stages of a professional sports career.

Which barriers often prevent athletes from seeking psychology services?

Not knowing who to go to. Fear of the unknown. For some also the costs involved.

What structures can be put in place to ensure that all athletes have access to psychology services?

Ideally the sporting bodies would put in place the necessary structures pertaining to their own sports. Everyone talks about the importance of the mind, but when it comes to assigning resources such as time and budget, it’s usually one of the least prioritised. Unfortunately, it often it takes a crisis to activate things, whereas as really we should be putting things in place to help avoid crises.

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