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QUT and AIS join forces to boost student-athlete wellbeing

02 July 2024

QUT and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) have joined forces to boost student-athlete wellbeing through a holistic research and intervention program that targets study, sport and social success.

Runner Monique Hanlon recieves an envelope from the AIS National Wellbeing Manager Sonia Boland on stage at the QUT Elite Athlete Program presentation evening
Runner Monique Hanlon attended the high performance workshop and is one of 10 QUT students awarded prestigious $10,000 QUT-AIS Scholarships. She is pictured here with AIS National Wellbeing Manager Sonia Boland.

Phase one of the program involved a survey and interviews with QUT students who are part of the university’s Elite Athlete Program, which includes state and national representatives.

One of the findings was that students have a variety of methods of managing their sport-study balance, and that a social life and personal connections can often suffer because athletes feel they can’t be top priorities.

However, it is these connections that can influence an athlete’s overall well-being – which in turn can impact their sport performance and study success.

The research, which was supported by an AIS grant, has led QUT to start extra support interventions within its Elite Athlete Program that take a more holistic approach.

As the part of the research, QUT held a joint workshop with the AIS for the university’s elite athletes which included advice from the AIS’s ‘Win Well’ strategy.

Runner Monique Hanlon (pictured above with Sonia Boland from the AIS) specialises in the 100m and 200m and attended the high performance workshop.

She is studying a Bachelor of Medical Imaging and is one of 10 QUT students awarded prestigious $10,000 QUT-AIS Scholarships for 2024.

“I'm always looking for little ways to better myself, not just as an athlete but as a person too – I thought the high-performance workshop would be an opportunity to hear from people who work with professional athletes every day, to learn how to prevent myself from burning out as a student athlete,” Hanlon said.

“The key take-home message for me was about the complexity and multiple factors which contribute to athlete wellbeing.

“As a young athlete it is difficult to know whether I am doing everything right, to train and perform well.

“I learnt about the importance of maintaining all areas of my life, including family networks, social activities and education, to help myself become a better athlete.

“It's not sustainable to invest all your time and energy into one aspect of your life. I had really insightful conversations with those around me about how balance is not always about investing your energy equally amongst all of your responsibilities.

“Instead, mastering balance means prioritising commitments and learning how to be dynamic with your schedule. I can definitely work on this by understanding that it’s okay if I can't balance everything at once, and just focusing on overcoming the most immediate hurdles.”

A portrait photo of Dr Andrew Gibson, lead researcher from the QUT Centre for Data Science
Lead researcher, Dr Andrew Gibson, from the QUT Centre for Data Science

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Gibson, from the QUT Centre for Data Science, said the initial study looked at three aspects of the student-athlete journey: the student-athlete’s personal experiences; the impact of organisational structures on their journey; and the influence of their social support network.

“Our study highlighted that when athletes focus on isolated aspects of performance, other areas can suffer and negatively impact wellbeing – and ultimately performance,” he said.

“We are planning more research to further investigate holistic sustainable approaches to wellbeing and performance for student athletes.

“One significant approach we’ve identified is to use self-reflection on wellbeing and performance not only for self-improvement, but also as data. We are looking at the best ways to gather this data, such as through a diary or app, to find patterns in how they navigate successes and challenges.

“A data-supported feedback loop can help athletes, coaches and organisations all work together to improve their well-being and performance.”

The QUT-AIS research has reinforced the importance of the holistic core of the AIS ‘Win Well’ strategy, which aims to foster a sustainable wellbeing system for all stakeholders within the national high-performance sport network.

The AIS National Wellbeing Manager, Sonia Boland, said the research program was influencing current AIS practice.

“Win Well highlights wellbeing as the foundation to sustainable success,” she said.

“The QUT research has helped shape how the AIS can support athletes personal and professional development in a way that supports their performance and positively impacts wellbeing.”

The AIS has now provided QUT with a second grant to do more research in this area and continue the project.

QUT’s Director of Sport, Emily Rosemond, said the university was using insights from the research to enhance the practices embedded within its Elite Athlete Program, with impacts already seen in the areas of communication, supportive networks, mental toughness and team dynamics.

“This project is a collaborative effort involving our Centre for Data Science, our Elite Athlete Program department, and the Australian Institute of Sport,” she said.

“We’re optimistic that the methods of gathering and utilising collected data will continue to spark interventions that address wellbeing challenges, offering ongoing valuable insights that shape the future operation of our program.

“We also believe that the insights we are gathering into how to curate sustainable healthy performance could potentially help other social organisations, ranging from community clubs to high-stress environments like emergency services, where it is critical to enhance and maintain wellbeing amidst the pressures of life.”

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