England’s rising table tennis stars are learning about the psychology of being an elite athlete as a new pathway development programme gets under way – and their parents are going back to the classroom to help them as well!

The BetterME initiative takes a holistic approach to player development among the young athletes in the National Training Squad, GB Start and GB Potential squads, as well as ‘starting them young’ with modules for the Futures Squad.

The scheme is launching with a four-month programme of workshops leading up to Christmas, beginning with Psychology Month in September. The three following months will focus on Lifestyle, Nutrition and Physical aspects of the athletes’ lives.

The players will participate in a series of workshops with expert practitioners, both in person and online, as well as having access to resources, videos and podcasts to help them think about the psychology of high-level performance.

Leading the psychology sessions are sport psychologist Dr Alice Stratford who works with Everton FC’s women’s team, and Asshur Sinclair, who is writing her PhD on the wellbeing of talented athletes as she completes her sport psychology qualifications.

The first session saw the Futures athletes take part in a session on Understanding Pressure at the training base at the University of Nottingham (pictured above), while the older Start, Potential and NTS players took part in an online workshop on Managing Nerves and Performance Anxiety over the weekend.

Further sessions this month will be on Player Wellbeing and Coping with Stress and The Car Journey – Optimising Communication.

Emma Vickers, Head of Pathway Development, said sport psychology is essential to enhance athletic performance, and mental skills and strategies help athletes to concentrate better and deal more effectively with the stress of competition, as well as fostering more effective training.

She said: “It’s very important when you’re a high-level table tennis player to know that it’s not just about your technical and tactical development – you need to consider all aspects of your life, including what food you’re putting in, how you’re managing your readiness to compete and many other things.

“We’ve devised BetterME to help them do that, and not only to produce better players but also because we have a duty of care, and we want them to be better people and not just focused on the table tennis side of things.

“We want to make sure they’re ready for everything and give them skills which are transferable to other settings in life.

“The first in-person session with the Futures was really good, it was their first ever taste of psychology and it was very exciting for them – they’re such a good group and they’re so engaged.

There were some tests and homework set and we’ll be asking the players to reflect on what they have learnt at the end of the month.”

The athlete’s parents are also involved – the session on The Car Journey – Optimising Communication is designed with them in mind.

Emma said: “Parents are so important and are obviously key stakeholders in the life of an athlete. As players, we’ve all experienced what it’s like to have a long car journey after an event which hasn’t gone the way we wanted – and parents might not know what to say, so we want to help them unlock better communication.”