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Knowles a flag-bearer for athlete wellbeing at AIS Summit

Mark Knowles at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
Flag bearer Mark Knowles at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

14 May 2018


Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Mark Knowles said he became a better athlete when he learned to find better balance in life.

It’s why Knowles, who carried the Australian flag at the opening ceremony for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, is now a passionate flag-bearer for athlete wellbeing and will participate in the inaugural AIS Summit – Beyond the Podium - from June 5-6 in Canberra.

The Summit will officially launch the new AIS Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement division, bringing together practitioners and athletes from various sports across the country to develop a national action plan for athlete wellbeing.

Knowles, 34, retired from hockey after leading the Kookaburras to another Commonwealth Games gold medal last month. The father of three benefitted so much from his focus on athlete wellbeing towards the end of his sporting career that he has now transitioned to become a personal development advisor with the Queensland Academy of Sport.

“Athletes can become so consumed with sport, but life balance off the field can be just as important to performance,” Knowles said. “I’ve been there, from that 17-year-old who focused on hockey 24-7, so wrapped up in being an elite player. I’d dwell too long on wins and losses, I’ve been through injuries, I’ve played well and I’ve played poorly in big matches.

“In 2013-14, I began putting more focus on my wellbeing and transition. I was 30 with two kids, I knew sport would be coming to an end and I’d seen other athletes struggle. I focused on career development, leadership opportunities, community engagement, volunteering and put more emphasis on my family life. I became a better player when I found that balance and in 2014 I was awarded World Player of the Year and became captain of the Kookaburras.”

The AIS is enhancing its commitment to issues such as mental health in sport by establishing the Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement team, led by AIS Deputy Director Matti Clements. Clements said the AIS Summit - Beyond the Podium - was an essential forum for athletes and practitioners to contribute to a meaningful and coordinated national plan.

“Athlete wellbeing is one space where competitive advantage among sports should not apply because if we can work better together then all Australian athletes and sports will be much better for it,” Clements said. “Many sports already dedicate fantastic time and resourcing to athlete wellbeing and engagement and we understand no individual athlete or sport is exactly the same. But the AIS is committed to providing national leadership in this space, sending a clear message to our athletes and sports that they are our greatest assets.

“Having athlete voices at this Summit will be crucial because this is their strategy, for their benefit, and it needs their engagement.”

Olympic gold medal rower Kim Brennan will attend the Summit and urged athletes and sports to speak up now to make a difference. “I’ve always been passionate about areas beyond sport, and prioritised my off-the-water wellbeing as much as my performance. I think the two help each other,” Brennan said.

“I believe sports could do a better job of not standing in the way of athletes who want to balance their lives to include aspects outside of sport,” Brennan continued.

“Some coaches are very stuck in the old way of thinking that balanced athletes are not focused athletes. I think we know enough now to understand a happy athlete will be a fast athlete, particularly to survive the longevity necessary to be the best in the world.”

To receive more information or to register interest in attending the AIS Summit – Beyond the Podium – please email Summit@ausport.gov.au

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