TEENAGE Warwick boxing starlet Serena Mali received some royal advice on how to deal with the mental side of sport.
The 14 year-old three-time national champion is ready for her next bout after hearing from The Prince and Princess of Wales at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre during a SportsAid workshop dedicated to mental health and wellbeing.
Mali was among a host of young athletes who heard from a number of sporting stars, including four-time Olympic champion Sir Matthew Pinsent and five-time Paralympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds, about their experiences of managing anxiety, pressure and expectation.
For several years, SportsAid has been providing information and advice on mental health and wellbeing in partnership with BelievePerform. The athletes, as well as their parents and guardians, contributed to two themed sessions, followed by a couple of practical exercises, alongside The Prince and Princess.
“These events are great, and it’s been really fun,” Mali said. “We did some activities like goalball, and I watched my mum and dad do it as well which was funny.
“I met loads of new people and talked to other athletes and people at the top level.
“It’s great to know that I’m not the only one dealing with the pressure and nerves and there’s other people going through it.
“Kate also shook my hand. I was excited to meet them but nervous.”
The visit from The Prince and Princess comes after SportsAid revealed the findings of a new mental health and wellbeing survey, commissioned by the charity in September 2023, on World Mental Health Day.
The survey, run in partnership with BelievePerform and EVERFI, highlighted the anxiety felt by young athletes involved in performance sport, the different challenges facing female and para athletes, and the appetite for more support and advice.
Mali was one of several young athletes in attendance who receive funding and support from SportsAid to pursue their sporting ambitions and the teenager is aiming high with hopes of eventually competing at the Olympics following a bronze medal at the EUBC Schools European Championships this summer.
“It wasn’t the colour I wanted,” she said. “But I’ll come back stronger.
“I’ve had an injury as well. I dislocated my knee. I think I forced it a bit and wasn’t patient enough.
“I enjoy everything about boxing, I enjoy meeting new people, new boxers and athletes.
“And I guess just hitting people in the face!
“My biggest goal is definitely to get into the Olympics and win. Other than that just keep going and fighting.”
SportsAid supports over 1,000 young athletes a year through financial grants and personal development opportunities and Chief Executive Tim Lawler is excited about the charity’s future work on mental health.
He said: “The support of The Prince and Princess is really special and exciting.
“The Princess, as our Patron, has been so supportive and we know this is a topic she is hugely passionate about.
“Both The Prince and Princess have been invited to join us and committed their time as a Patron – they engaged and shared their experiences with the athletes, who were also able to hear from multiple Olympic and Paralympic champions about their own personal experiences.
“We are now ramping up our work around mental health and wellbeing. This a key space we need to move into – it’s an unmet need and it’s understood by athletes.
“This event today is not just a one-off – it was a hugely fun day but we want to do even more heading into next year to further enhance our support for our athletes around health and wellbeing.”
SportsAid is seeking support from individuals and organisations to allow the charity to invest further in its mental health and wellbeing initiatives. Please contact Serena Castiglione, Head of Fundraising at SportsAid, on [email protected] if you would like to help provide talented young athletes, as well as their families, with the support and advice they need at a key time in their development.