By Candice Lingam-Willgoss
In an age when the benefit of exercise and accessibility to fitness opportunities are at an all time high, UK statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre have reported that 25% of the population are reported as being clinically obese. Data related to physical activity doesn’t make any better reading, with the British Heart Foundation’s 2012 review reporting that less than 37% of adults take part in the recommended levels of physical activity. Exercise isn’t just about losing weight its about being healthy, it opens up a whole avenue of new opportunities, friendships and challenges to people, it involves embracing a new lifestyle, something marathon and ultra runner Steve Way knows only too well.
Seven years ago he weighted 16 stone, had a 20 a day cigarette habit and high blood pressure, role forward to Sunday and Way posted a 2:15:16 time seeing him finish 10th at the age of 40 in the Commonwealth Games Marathon, backing up his 4th at the London Marathon earlier this year. This turnaround for Way came in 2006 when he decided to run the London Marathon “on a whim” and saw him finish in 3 hours 7 minutes.
What is even more impressive about Way’s performance is that he has achieved this at the age of 40 – which also made his time at Sunday’s marathon an over 40’s British record beating the 1979 record held by Ron Hill. Furthermore, as well as reinforcing the findings of much research that has reported that ‘ultra’ and ‘endurance’ runners athletic performance improves with age (Peter, Rust, Knechtle, Rosenmann and Lepers, 2014) Way’s case also illustrates that it is never too late to make a lifestyle change. Seven years ago, Way wasn’t just unfit, he was unhealthy too, “Towards the end of 2007 I could hardly sleep,’ he told The Guardian. ‘I was coughing and waking up because of the smoking and it was impacting on my wife Sarah, too, ‘At that point half our meals were takeaways and I would eat chocolate and sweets all the time. I realised I had to do something radically different to break the cycle.‘ This type of trigger that started Way on his road to running success is not uncommon when people suddenly make a decision to change their lifestyle. When viewed from a theoretical perspective Way’s case seems representative of what is proposed within Rosenstock’s Health Belief Model which was developed in the 1950’s to help explain the likelihood of an individual engaging in preventative health behaviours (such as exercise in Way’s case). This model argues that this likelihood is determined by a persons perception of the severity of the potential illness/risk to them as well as their appraisal of the cost and benefits of taking action. In the case of Way is seems this perception also included the impact his lifestyle was having on his wife. We can only hope that Way becomes an inspiration and a role model – one that shows that people of any age can make a change to their lifestyle something that is clearly desperately needed in the UK. If Way’s story inspires just a few people to make a commitment to change their lifestyle, they will be the lucky ones who discover how much the sport and fitness world has to offer.
By Caroline Heaney
The big story of the men’s marathon at the Commonwealth Games wasn’t that of the winner, Michael Shelley, but that of 10th place finisher Steve Way whose turnaround from an overweight, 20-a day-smoker to an international athlete sparked media interest. In a TV interview Steve’s wife commented that he had an ‘addictive personality’ which instead of channelling into smoking he now channels into running. It is certainly true that the time and commitment that top level athletes dedicate to their sport is huge, but is it really an addiction?
What is exercise addiction?
Addiction to exercise is a recognised phenomenon which can be defined as a psychological and/or physiological dependence on regular exercise that is characterised by withdrawal symptoms (e.g. anxiety, muscle twitching, irritability) when the individual is unable to exercise. Speak to any athlete who trains regularly and I bet they will confess to experiencing withdrawal-type symptoms when they are unable to train (e.g. due to an injury), so perhaps sportspeople are addicted to exercise. The term ‘addiction’ has negative connotations, but is it really a bad thing for an athlete to feel so committed to their sport that they miss it when they can’t participate? Surely to excel in sport you need to demonstrate that level of attachment and committment. This leads to the question of whether exercise addiction is a good thing or a bad thing.
Positive and negative addiction
To acknowledge the possibility that an exercise addiction can be a good thing researchers distinguish between positive and negative exercise addiction. The key difference between these two types of additiction is control. In a negative exercise addiction the exercise controls the individual, whereas with a positive exercise addiction the individual controls the exercise. Negative exercise addiction is often associated with other conditions such as eating disorders and is therefore thought of as an unhealthy addiction. In contrast positive exercise addiction is effectively a healthy addiction. Given the negative connatations attached to the term addiction, some believe that a positive exercise addiction should be thought of as a committment rather than an addiction.
Top level athletes certainly appear to demonstate qualities that are indicative of exercise addiction, but this for the most part appears to be a healthy addiction. There are obviously exceptions to this, for example where an athlete has an eating disorder, but generally it can be concluded that there is a strong argument to suggest that top level athletes have a positive addiction to exercise – one that is both healthy and necessary to be successful.
By Jessica Pinchbeck
In the Commonwealth Games all eyes will be on husband and wife team Chris and Gabby Adcock who will be competing in badminton mixed-doubles. The couple pose a serious gold medal threat in Glasgow following their victory at the Hong Kong Open beating China’s Cheng Liu and Bao Yixin in the final. While there are many examples of married couples successfully competing in elite sport, including skeleton stars Shelley Rudman and Kristian Bromley, Paralympic athletes Rik Waddon (cycling) and Natalie Jones (swimming), Barney and Dame Sarah Storey, none of these work as closely together in a team like the Adcock’s. So how does their relationship work on and off the court?
Being an elite sportsperson involves enormous dedication often involving long periods of time away from home separated from family. For many athletes the support of their partner or spouse forms a critical component of their sporting career. If a partner is not supportive or resents aspects of the athlete’s sport then problems can arise and this can often impact performance. Gabby explains how their relationship alleviates some of the stresses involved in professional sport:
‘I think we’re quite lucky that we get to travel the world together because there are a lot of people in the squad that miss their partners while they are away.’
Athletes benefit from an effective social support network often including their partner or spouse. Social support can act as a ‘stress buffer’ for athletes provided the type of support offered is appropriate to the stressor itself. So for social support to be effective partners need to be able to provide the appropriate support at the right time. This is no easy task and for those individuals to which the elite sport environment is unfamiliar it may be a struggle to understand the type of stress placed upon the athlete resulting in poor or inappropriate support. Unhelpful support, such as trying to reduce the importance of an event or even avoiding talking about an event, can be detrimental to the athlete’s performance. An athlete needs to feel secure that support is available at times of need and this is crucial to an athlete’s psychological well-being and ability to cope with stress. The Adcock’s feel that their off court relationship enables them to understand each other better in pressure situations on court making it easier to help one another cope with stressors.
GB Hockey Olympic bronze medallists Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, who married in 2013, agree that being married to a fellow sportsperson, and in this case teammate, has had a positive effect on their sporting career. Kate explains the benefits of this dual relationship:
‘It helps when your partner understands hockey and what it takes to play at that level – to know that when you’re going off training again, getting up at a stupid time, or only talking about hockey, it’s because you love it.’
Although there are undoubtedly benefits to this scenario combining the two relationships may not always be trouble-free. Potential difficulties include a lack of distinction between the two roles where personal and professional issues become intertwined. Personal conflicts may infiltrate into the sporting environment or performance issues may impact on the athletes’ personal relationship at home. Either way maintaining a good work life balance is key in this situation. It is imperative that both partners are able to segregate the two aspects of sport and home for such a relationship to be successful in both domains.
For some professional athletes forming and maintaining relationships can often be a challenge due to the constraints placed on their lives by strict training regimes and competition schedules. The culture of certain sports may also impact on an athlete’s relationship with one study showing male athletes tended to use power and control in their relationships as a result of their sporting profession. Conversely relationships can effect an individual’s sport performance with Farrelly and Nettle (2007) reporting that professional male tennis players performed significantly worse following the year after their marriage compared to the year before, with no such effect for unmarried players of the same age.
All relationships have their complexities yet within the world of professional sport these difficulties appear even more intricate and diverse. Personal relationships and their associated complications will undoubtedly have a bearing on an athlete’s mind-set. Andy Murray’s poor performance in his match at Wimbledon against Dimitrov was followed by rumours linking this to a dispute with girlfriend Kim Sears immediately before the match and Tiger Woods certainly experienced a dip in form since his very public divorce. Intriguingly, since their split in May this year, both Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy have seen their careers soar with Wozniacki winning the WTA Istanbul Cup and McIlroy becoming the Open champion.
Social support from a spouse or partner and an understanding of when and how to offer this support seems to be the key to a successful sports marriage and so it will be interesting to see how the couple fair in Glasgow and whether Chris and Gabby Adcock may just have found the perfect partnership!
By Jessica Pinchbeck
Netball is typecast by many people in England as an activity played by school girls often accompanied by the perception that it simply involves a bit of throwing and catching. It is traditionally thought of as a very slow and static game with the misconception that you have to stand still with the ball; which is possibly a reflection on how netball is commonly taught in schools. As someone who is passionate about netball I strive to challenge such views and educate people about the game.
After inviting some of my friends, male and female, to play in a mixed netball league they soon altered their opinion of netball as a nice gentle ‘girlie sport’ and came to appreciate the fast, technical and physical nature of the game. Netball requires tremendous athleticism in terms of strength, speed, agility and endurance, not to mention the control and balance required to execute ball skills at speed. It may be a non-contact sport on paper but this is far from the reality and it is not uncommon for players to collide in competition for the ball. Although the rules dictate that contact results in a penalty against the offending player it does not prevent contact from occurring. Most netball players have taken a few knocks and tumbles throughout their career (I know I certainly have!) and so a tough and resilient nature is a necessity. Acknowledgement should also be given to the less tangible components a netballer must possess such as spacial awareness, timing of movements and tactical knowledge. Not to mention the intricacies of operating alongside teammates, particularly in small units within the shooting or defending circle, which commands immense teamwork and communication skills. Introducing my more sceptical friends to the game certainly helped dispel some of the common myths as they soon discovered that there is indeed contact, it is undoubtedly performed at high-speed and that players can definitely move with the ball.
England Netball are working hard to change the image of the sport with their rebranding and as a result netball is fast becoming more popular, with national participation figures increasing by 30% over the last three years due to schemes such as Back to Netball. Sport England increased England Netball funding for 2013-2017 from £18.7m up to £25.3m stating that their rise in participation numbers ‘showed an understanding of what women want from sport’. England Netball have 90,000 affiliated members and report that at least one million women and girls play netball every week. The latest Sport England Active People Survey shows netball as the 12th most popular weekly participation sport in England and the fourth most popular team sport. Due to the partnership between England Netball and Sky Sports netball is the only women’s team sport gaining weekly television coverage showing matches from the Netball Superleague, of which viewing figures are consistently over 100,000. To try and improve the dynamic nature of the game as well as the spectator experience England Netball and the league committee implemented some rule changes at the start of the 2013 season specifically for the Superleague, such as the removal of the umpire’s whistle following a goal or when the ball goes out of court. The Commonwealth Games coverage of the sport is an opportunity to build on the success of the Superleague and widen netball’s viewing audience even further. So how are England predicted to perform at Glasgow?
The England netball team are currently third in the world rankings, after New Zealand and Australia. In Australia and New Zealand many of the top players are professional athletes with the Australia and New Zealand combined league (ANZ) paying players or offering scholarships with schooling. Currently many of the England squad play in the Netball Superleague although English players are now starting to leave the country to play professionally as players are able to earn a living and play their sport. England player Eboni Beckford-Chambers explains that the option of professional or semi-professional sport is something netball in England needs to address:
‘It’s one of the things in England we can build upon in terms of how the Australian community get behind their athletes and accommodate them. That’s why we go away – because we can find that flexibility in terms of training all those hours but also working on a part-time basis so hopefully we can replicate that here.’
Bronze has been the highest achievement so far for the England Netball team with the last three Commonwealth Games ending in semi-final defeats to Australia. However having won their first ever test series 3-0 against the Australians in January 2013 the England team are determined to make the final this year, and if all goes well the gold medal. As England player Geva Mentor explains:
‘I’m fed up with having a bronze: now I want a different colour…We have been talking the talk for many years but now I’d like to think this is the year we can walk the walk and show the world what England are all about.’
With netball yet to be included in an Olympics due to it not being played in enough jurisdictions Glasgow 2014 is a top opportunity for Team England to showcase the sport to the nation. England open their Commonwealth campaign on Friday 25th July against Wales followed by pool matches against Australia, South Africa, Wales, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados. Hopefully this will be the competition that escalates both the perception and participation of England Netball not to mention gaining that elusive gold!