Jack Green, ex Team GB Double Olympian in Athletics, now Head of Performance with Champion Health.
When I was seven I used to write stories about competing at the Olympics, imagining myself crossing finish lines to uproarious applause. It was something I’d always wanted to do and strived to achieve. When representing Great Britain as a sprint athlete, my mentality was built upon being ‘all or nothing’. When I hit the floor, my dreams were dashed and I had nothing.
Far from my youthful fantasies, at London 2012 I fell in the 400m hurdles semi-finals. Disappointment and shame flowed through me. Then, five days later, in the 4 × 400m relay, I finished fourth, just 0.13 seconds outside of a medal. I felt like a failure. Incredibly sad for a 20-year-old who had a bright future ahead. Upon reflection, these experiences shape us and it triggered a journey that brought me to a positive place where I can use my knowledge to help others. But it wasn’t easy.
After 2012, my world seemed to lose all colour and meaning.
I couldn’t find excitement in anything, not even the sport I loved. My behaviours and mood became inconsistent and, eight months on, I was diagnosed with depression, bipolar tendencies, and anxiety. I was fortunate to have support from the chief medical officer at UK Athletics. Ultimately, I felt relief – the diagnoses allowed me to see a way forward.
As the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics finish, during which we have seen many of our greatest Olympians sharing their battles with mental health, I am sharing my story as hopefully it may help others see that vulnerability is not a weakness. I used to think it was. It’s taken many years for me to appreciate the difficulties of being an elite sportsman and be open about my inner struggles. After using anti-depressants, psychiatry, and counselling, I returned to sprinting in 2015 to become a double Olympic, World and European medallist.
Worrying about things you can’t change is exhausting.
Now, I’m a Mental Health Ambassador for charities such as Mind, and work for wellbeing platform Champion Health, and I strongly believe that self-care is the foundation of high-performance. We’re all striving to achieve our best but we’re also human – we all have our physical and mental balance to consider.
For too long mental wellbeing and achievement have been viewed by society as being opposing objectives. We often sacrifice our sanity in the pursuit of success, without any thought of the consequences on our bodies and minds. It is not sustainable. In reality, our mental and physical state and the ability to accomplish tasks go well hand in hand. To thrive professionally, you must flourish personally.
One of my favourite sayings is: ‘a happy athlete is a fast athlete’. This doesn’t just apply on the track – it fits every role we play, be that an employee, a colleague, a parent, or a friend.
If you’re having difficulty in your personal life, the effects will filter through to your job – prioritising your work at the expense of your health is counter-productive. Instead, we should focus on laying the foundations for our accomplishments by looking after ourselves. It can be something as simple as getting enough sleep. I walk my dog Buddy, I also exercise frequently and stay connected to friends and family, be it via messaging or face-to-face and diarise events to look forward to.
Previously, I lacked a grasp of moderation, which led to me being unable to take any time away from training without feeling guilty. If I’m honest, for a while I ran for external validation – I didn’t run because I wanted to, I did it because people expected me to. But outside encouragement is temporary; it won’t keep you powering on when things get tough.
So my advice is to find your reason why.
Mine is to help others, and I’m very fortunate that my role as a coach allows me to do just that.
Once, I feared failing, so I avoided situations where I might. I told myself I didn’t need to do those things, but in reality, I was just scared of getting something wrong. Now I realise that defeat is not a threat; it’s a challenge – and an opportunity to learn.
When something doesn’t go right, rather than beating yourself up, concentrate your efforts reflecting on how you can try to stop it happening again. It’s tempting to measure yourself on results. For a long time my self-worth was attached to outcomes. If I ran fast, I was a good person and, if I didn’t, I was bad.
For whatever reason, some days are just rubbish and when they happen, you are going to perform below par. If you assess yourself only on the end product, you may have some highs, but you’re also guaranteed lows. It’s about accepting what is your very best on a given day and if you want to find consistency, judge yourself on effort.
People always talk about achieving, rather than just trying. If you know you gave something your all, then it’s a victory.
When you do this regularly, you will reach a high-performance plateau. I learnt this from training with athletes including Dai Greene, Tianna Bartoletta, LaShawn Merritt and many others. They were not superstars every day but they consistently showed up and gave it their best.
When I look back on the 2012 Olympics, all I remember feeling is fear – of not living up to expectations, of not proving that everything I sacrificed was worth it, of how my competitors would perform. In short, I was scared of all the things I couldn’t control.
The fact is, we don’t have power over everything. I could have run my best race, and still been beaten, because someone else ran faster. Worrying about things you can’t change is exhausting. The next time you’re nervous about something, focus on what you can do. You will soon handle stressful environments more easily. And this doesn’t just relate to sport, this is everyday situations, in work and in general life.
For a long time, I told myself I wasn’t allowed to feel certain things, like embarrassment or sadness as it showed fragility. There are two major problems with this:
As soon as I felt overwhelmed with external demands or my own emotions, I’d crack and use alcohol to self-medicate and I pushed everyone away. It took counselling to change my mindset and feel free to be myself, without worrying about judgement from anyone.
So, when you have challenging emotions, don’t try and shield yourself from them. Sit with them, feel them, accept them. There’s no need to pretend you’re bullet-proof – confide in someone you trust. Over time, you will recognise your triggers and chargers (things that make you feel good), which is key to managing your mental health. I often feel better than ever but some days are a battle still, and that’s fine.
Now I’ve found my passion, I wake up each morning with purpose and that helps me overcome negativity. Through my coaching I can help others prosper, which feels fantastic.
I am grateful for the highs and the lows, as I now know that they serve as lessons to pass on. Let’s educate ourselves and others that performance, health, and wellbeing are linked, so everyone can dream big – just like I did as a seven-year-old, but safe in the knowledge that finishing first isn’t the only thing in life worth celebrating.
To read more advice from Jack in his role as Head Of Performance, visit https://championhealth.co.uk/
You can connect with Jack here:
LinkedIn – Jack Green OLY
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