England news April 1, 2014

Trott case promotes drive for 'inner fitness'

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Fraser leaves door wide open for Trott return

A high-profile group of sports professionals has appealed for more emphasis to be paid to the "inner fitness" of England's aspiring young cricketers to ensure that they are mentally attuned to surviving the pressures of high-level sport and able to develop a well-rounded life.

The Journeys Through Sport group, which was founded by Neil Burns, the freelance coach and former first-class cricketer, has issued an open letter appealing for more understanding to be paid to mental health issues in the development of athletes in the belief that it will create a "healthier" sporting landscape.

The letter has several high-profile signatories, including former England footballer Gary Lineker, the Somerset and England batsman Nick Compton and the England rugby world cup winner Richard Hill.

It comes in light of the Jonathan Trott episode and is timed to coincide with Trott's first match since he left the Ashes tour after the first Test in Brisbane suffering from what was described, at the time, as a "stress related illness" and has subsequently been described by Trott as "burnout".

Trott is engaged in a two-day friendly against Gloucestershire at Edgbaston, although his first-class comeback takes place in a three-day match against Oxford University in the Parks beginning on Monday.

Trott's explanation was deemed unsatisfactory by some, with Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, dismissing the original explanation as "a bit of a con" and suggesting Trott simply "did a runner" at "the toughest of times".

Now Journeys Through Sport, which describes itself as "a charitable organisation which funds research and development programs to develop 'Leaders in Life' through sport" has appealed for a more compassionate view towards those competing in "intensely demanding and public environments where their work can define them as people".

"So many sport development programmes seek to develop 'toughness' and competitiveness, without attending to the need to develop the whole person," the letter states.

"If sport's leaders can provide environments whereby athletes feel secure enough to be open and honest about vulnerability and insecurities without being judged or feeling fearful about being discarded, then the sporting landscape will be healthier.

"We urge sporting directors, coaches, and leaders of development programmes, to attend to the development of 'inner fitness' alongside 'athletic fitness' to help people understand 'self' better."

The letter goes on to describe "inner fitness" as addressing "a young person's purpose in life, their values, the way they think and understand their emotions, and how they acquire the relationship skills needed to achieve a well-rounded life, both inside and outside their sport."

Journeys Through Sport also comprises several mental health professionals, including Alastair Storie, a former cricketer and current chartered psychologist, David Gilborune, a professor of critical social science and David Priestly, who is head of psychology and personal development at Saracens Rugby Club.

The group have attempted to explain the pressures young sportspeople experience and appeal for a more understanding environment in which they learn to cope with such issues.

The latter states: "The examples of sportspeople from a range of sports who have all experienced real difficulty with anxiety, depression, and wellbeing, is a salutary reminder of the effects of high pressure in the world of sport-performance where they live most of their daily life.

"Most sportspeople compete in intensely demanding and public environments where their work can define them as people, where they have to excel at early stages in life, live away from home, and have to manage high expectations, injuries, transformational sums of money, and the 'fame machine' at a relatively young age. 'Living the dream' they might be, but this accelerated development and intensity is out of synch with emotional development and normal rates of maturation."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo