Wellbeing coach Dawn Sanders explains mental health’s role in performance

Dawn Sanders MHAW 800

14 May 2024

Caring for both the individual and the group is a central part of Dawn Sanders’ work as a wellbeing coach for Badminton England.

With over 16 years of experience working in the sport, Sanders is part of a team that helps provide the best care possible for the country’s elite shuttles.

Having initially worked in the sport as a performance lifestyle coach full-time with Badminton England, Sanders now splits her time between serving as a well-being coach, working for the UK Sports Institute and leading her own company WinWell.

“We work one-to-one with the players, supporting their wellbeing needs, their learning and development needs, their ability to grow as people as well as performers, providing the safe environment for people to truly express themselves and plan for life beyond sport,” she said.

“But we also try and educate the environment and put on workshops around these topics to raise insight and awareness.

“We are leading and supporting processes and policies within the sport so that player care and player welfare is the heart of any decision-making processes, transitions processes, induction processes.

“We want to make sure that as well as physical health being cared for, that we support mental health and wellbeing as part of that process too.”

Sanders is supported by Dan Stocks who, through UKSI, supports badminton players as a performance lifestyle practitioner.

Her own work at UKSI sees Sanders lead their Futures Programme, which encourages athletes to consider life after elite sport.

That is also central to her work at Badminton England, where she encourages the players to have interests away from the court.

The former England rugby international added: “Things have changed massively over the past five years across the whole of the GB sporting landscape.

“Specifically at the National Badminton Centre, it has been about understanding that everyone’s mental health is important, the players, the coaches, the support staff.

“And it is more readily spoken about as aiding performance as well as reacting to mental ill health. Being proactive and taking positive steps to support your mental well-being and that can actually aid your performance.

“It is a tough environment to thrive in, you are pushing yourself physically, mentally and emotionally every day.

“So players and people need to be aware that we need to care for people’s mental health for them to thrive and push themselves to those boundaries every day.

“And to make sure there is time for developing your whole identity outside of sport, there is time to decompress from experiences, that there is time to have some time out and express yourself with hobbies and interests outside of sport.

“Integrating that as a part of performance planning as well as being an add-on it feels really integrated within this culture which is something I have hugely valued seeing that growth within badminton.”

Sanders, who was speaking during Mental Health Awareness Week, is also a mental health first aider and mental health champion.

As badminton prepares for a busy summer of Olympic and Paralympic Games, Sanders also explained how athletes’ families will be supported during what is a very pressurised time.

She added: “They are a huge part of what makes our athletes great.

“It is coming to the pinnacle of the athlete’s career during Games time, so we work with the British Olympic Association and British

Paralympic Assocation to say what does nearest and dearest support look like for friends and families and their health and wellbeing, and how do they want to communicate with their loved one out at Games.

“A lot of planning will go in to how will they make the most of the Games, what their mental health and wellbeing will look like pre-, during and post-Games, and how we support them and their entourage around them to make the most out of that wonderful opportunity.”

Anyone in the badminton community can use the Shout helpline if they need to speak to someone about their mental health. Just text ‘BE’ to 85258 at any time.

Members of the performance team can email Dawn directly on [email protected].

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