Sensing What Player Statistics Don't Tell Us

Sensing What Player Statistics Don't Tell Us

While player statistics are considered an indicator of how an individual or team is travelling in the NRL, they are just the outcome. Everything that comes before the tackle, meters run, line breaks, passes and tries is what really matters. It is the physical and mental skills that lie behind these actions that ultimately allow their seamless execution.

When a player overly focuses on their game statistics they may risk hanging onto a ball that should have been passed. Calling a ball to the left that should have gone to the right, running meters instead of off-loading, or off-loading when they needed to run. Keeping statistics looking good can come at the expense of a greater playing awareness. When a player is too narrowly focused on his personal performance, his vision is reduced and playing opportunities are lost. The ability to read the game is hard to measure, we see it in how skills are executed by the most highly skilled athletes. Skills not learnt in a classroom but by immersing oneself in the real world, sensing, feeling and moving.      

The ability to scan and read the playing environment is sometimes referred to as intuition.  Intuition is not some vague non-descript ability. It is a skill honed by evolution for human survival, then handed down generation-to-generation and built upon by immersion in the sport of one’s choice. Indigenous athletes are more closely connected to their genetic roots and have these skills in abundance, but the brain trims unused synaptic pathways so these skills are at risk of being lost over time as lifestyles become more sedentary.  For the average person a change towards driverless cars for example, may contribute to a loss of peripheral awareness, their reading of time-and-space and the position of the body in it, along with real life decision making and reaction time as computers are developed to do this for us.

Immersing the brain in repeatable and familiar situations helps to generate new brain cells with the capacity to process millions of pieces of information at any given point in time. Chunking seemingly random pieces of information into useable bites, allows the elite athlete to anticipate a play with lightning fast decision making and execution.   The intuitive player is a highly intelligent player. Scanning, thinking, creating and coordinating plays requires a large brain. Becoming too focused on the statistics and the physical outcome of the game fails to recognise the importance of the unmeasurable.  We see its outcome in how well a play is executed and we marvel at its creativity, but game statistics do not measure its source, the players brain. It is the unmeasurable that makes the NRL an exciting game.

Gayelene Clews is a Performance Psychologist and author of “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”. She has worked with many of the very best sporting teams in the world including Olympic and World Champions and NRL

Sport the Respectful Mindset

Sport the Respectful Mindset

The 2018 Pre-season camp with the Rabbitohs was a wonderful reminder that our athletes are passionate, respectful and attentive.  A credit to the individuals themselves and the people who have raised and supported them.

In elite sport it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, or whether you play an individual or team sport, you don't get to be successful on your own. Every elite athlete has a support team behind them. It may start with a parent providing an opportunity to play or being prepared to spend hours driving a child to training and to weekend competition. It may have been a teacher at school who took the time to nurture a love or passion for sport. It may have been a coach who recognised something unique or special in the athlete, it might not have been talent perhaps it was persistence, but they saw it just the same. It may have been an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, so many possibilities.

Having decided on an athletic pathway ongoing support comes from husbands and wives, partners and loved ones and a whole host of sporting professionals. Some of these may be doctors, physiotherapists, strength and conditioning coaches, psychologists, nutritionists, massage therapists, physiologists, biomechanists, spiritual advisors, managers, coaching staff and of course fans. An athlete may feel the only way they can say thank-you for the support given to them is through winning, but when everyone else's happiness rides on those outcomes it can sit as a burden on their shoulders.

Let's help the elite athlete on their journey, by doing so with compassion. Manage our own expectations. As supporters all we should seek in return for our support is they dedicate themselves to the challenge, the outcome will be whatever it can be when the process is executed well. Winning or losing is not necessarily the best measure of that.

Truth Behind Tomics Message

Truth Behind Tomics Message

While much has been speculated about the withdrawal of Bernard Tomic from the reality television show “Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”, an important social message has been overlooked. Bernard reassures us he is not depressed, but started to feel that way when separated from his friends and his technology. 

Todays’ youth are living in a frenetic time, where every waking moment is filled with busyness. The quiet spaces that allowed previous generations to reflect on life are now filled with an abundance of technology interactions - computer games, social media, web surfing.    Quiet spaces are an important part of human development, a place where one gets to reflect on life.   An opportunity to self-appraise, to figure out who you are and where you belong in the world.  To identify one’s values, attitudes and behaviours and to ask important questions about where they are headed and what if anything needs changing. 

There is emotional discomfort in reflecting, especially if one feels they have not lived up to their own or someone else’s expectations.  Equally important, but less known is the real physical discomfort that comes from technology withdrawal. While research exists on the addictive nature of technology, especially on a developing brain, society remains reluctant to do anything about it. Distracting oneself with technology not only interferes with the personal growth that can come through reflection and introspection, it also has a dramatic impact on the chemicals released in the brain.

Engagement in technology gives the user ongoing squirts of highly arousing brain chemicals that keeps them engaged. Program designers know when the brain starts to lose interest in an activity, such as a computer game, so they set a new challenge then reward it, knowing the brain will release just enough of those feel good chemicals to keep the participant engaged longer.   The longer they remain engaged the more money the game designer earns, or the more likely an advertiser can sell them something. It’s economics, but it messing with our kids heads.  When separated from their technology there is a physical feeling of withdrawal, some may feel agitated others depressed, thus there is a drive to re-engage, to rid oneself of these unpleasant feelings. Individuals can become locked in a cycle of dependency.  With enough quiet down-time these feelings will subside and individual will feel renewed, but it takes time and patience.

So, take heed from Tomic’s experience, our kids need to know when to switch-off. They need technology free opportunities in their lives so they don’t experience quiet spaces as boring or uncomfortable. Quiet-time and introspection are an important learning requirement. Without it society is at risk of raising a generation of young people who will look outside themselves to try and explain how they feel. Unable to self-appraise and not equipped with the life-skills essential for building resilient, balanced lives.   

AISNSW Heads of Sport Conference: Diving Into Sport


AISNSW Heads of Sport Conference: Diving Into Sport

A tremendous two day conference with the Australian Independent Schools Heads of Sport.   A lot of interest in the "Clews Mood Cadence"  and how to build self-regulation, resilience and emotional intelligence in young people through their engagement in sport and physical activity.

Sport and exercise is critical for both physical and emotional health.  Sport needs to be mainstreamed in every school with movements breaks throughout the day to improve focused attention, memory, learning and emotional regulation.  A reduction in physical movement may equate to students becoming mentally distracted and disinterested in learning.  This is wrongly interpreted as being physically tired or bored, when it is often the result of being in a perpetual state of mental busyness and neural fatigue.   Brain chemistry that has historically been driven by exercise and movement has been hijacked by technology and can now be triggered by multiple superfluous finger movements across a screen.  The addictive nature of over engagement in technology comes from a constant triggering of little squirts of feel good dopamine.  The problem is when individuals trigger dopamine through mental busyness they deplete their neural stores.  Like a car revving its engine, it burns through the fuel and inevitably empties the tank.  Dopamine depletion can lead to a disengaged, agitated and irritable demeanour.  At its worst, an individual with an empty tank can experience severe levels of anxiety and depression.

Negotiating IT Management for


•        Parental control needs to remain in place as teenage brains will not fully mature until the young person is in their mid to late twenties.

•        Be flexible, negotiate rules and present electronic management as a discussion.  Maintain ‘the final decision making’, but encourage your teenager to think through a management plan with you.

•        Discussion helps develop awareness and the individual’s ability to reflect on the positives and negatives, when working towards a solution. A complete ban may promote dishonesty.

•        Routines should include co-curricular activities and socializing with family and friends, not just study time.


•        Study is best done before TV/Games/social networking, use it as a reward.

•        Study in a central area of the home, such as a dining room table.

•        Monitor multi-tasking, make study time efficient and effective.

•        Switch-off the social network pages and phones while studying.

•        Restrict screen time to a maximum of 2hrs per day (phones, gaming, television)

•        Block websites you do not want your child to use.  Or, turn off the household modem or WiFi to restrict access at certain times of the evening?


•        To encode learning into memory, teenagers need about 9 - 9 ½ hours’ sleep a night.

•        Keep all screens out of bedrooms at night

•        Have a switch-off time - at least a half hour before bed time.

•        It is less mentally stimulating to watch a television program or reading a book than interacting with others on the computer or over a phone, gaming or surfing the net. 

•        Explore light screens that do not interfere with melatonin production for sleep. 

•        Use a timer for Game playing and social networking, an alarm can help remind the individual when it is time to switch-off because heavy users can lose track of time.

Children are being increasingly raised in a “fight or flight” state, where social media messages convey constant threat.  Learn how to help students switch-off from technology and into life. 




2017 Forbes Magazine "Asia Enterprise Technology 30 under 30"

2017 Forbes Magazine "Asia Enterprise Technology 30 under 30"

Congratulations Trent Clews de Castella and his PHORIA team have being named in Forbes Magazine's 2017 "30 Under 30 Asia for Enterprise Technology". Trent and his start-up have combined humanity with innovations in immersive media, to improve the lives of children in hospital.

Trent and Axl doing beautiful work with Virtual Reality for ill Children

Trent and Axl doing beautiful work with Virtual Reality for ill Children


Virtual reality bringing animal therapy to kids in hospital By  ABC 7:30 Report

Researchers are hoping virtual reality (VR) technology could become a drug-free tool to reduce pain and anxiety in chronically ill children.

Melbourne tech start-up Phoria is working with the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Melbourne Zoo to design a VR experience for kids in hospital.

The trial is tapping into the benefits of animal-assisted therapy by delivering a virtual excursion to the zoo for 80 patients at a Melbourne hospital.

Trent Clews-de Castella from Phoria said it was about giving kids a break from the hospital setting.

"I find it a little bit crazy that we, kids in this example, go into these hospital environments, and we think about how much we are impacted by our environment and it doesn't really seem conducive to the recovery process," he said.

Animal-assisted therapy is not new, but bringing animals into hospitals is impractical and risky in terms of hygiene and infection, Mr Clews-de Castella said.

"It's really exciting to actually still harness and capture the essence of that sort of interaction that you will have with the animal, but then scale it and overcome a lot of those hurdles that we currently face with these existing therapeutic treatments," he said.

The project involved the team at Phoria capturing 360-degree video using a multi-camera rig, both on a monopod and a robotic rover, so the patients could be immersed in the experience.

Axl Uittenbosch-Moore, 11, is one of the first kids to try the VR therapy.

He was diagnosed with a tissue cancer in his sinus in September 2015, and had to undergo months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

PHOTO: Axl Uittenbosch-Moore when he was in hospital. (Supplied: Omar Uittenbosch-Moore)


"It was quite boring. Just had to watch TV, read my book, go to sleep," he said.

Axl is now on the mend but said he would have loved more distractions to take his mind off his illness. He said other kids in hospital would feel the same.

"It'd be really awesome, a nice experience. Wouldn't feel like they're in bed all the time."

Mr Clews-de Castella hopes it will become a drug-free tool to manage pain and anxiety.

"From what I've seen, from my own observation, is just this new sort of excitement and enthusiasm. We have a whole new world now that we can explore through these new tools."

Topics: childrenhealthcomputers-and-technologyzoosmelbourne-3000

Updated yesterday at 5:18pm

Making Her Own Way

Making Her Own Way

Krista Clews de Castella wins 2017 America's Cup Jujitsu title.

The Therapeutic Relationship in Elite Sport

The Therapeutic Relationship in Elite Sport

Exert from "The Therapeutic Relationship in Elite Sport" in Massage and Myotherapy Australia, the journal for Australian Massage Therapists. By Gayelene Clews (Psychologist) with Peter Wybenga (Massage Therapist), March 2017.

The art of a good therapist is knowing the right questions to ask. It is not the role of the massage therapist to provide elite athletes with prescriptive advice especially if it is outside their area of expertise, but they can invite self-reflection and self-awareness.  Prescriptive massage is also of limited benefit to the athlete, because it can fail to meet the therapeutic needs of the individual.  A good massage therapist is intuitive and by definition this means “to be in tune with”.

Intuitive massage requires the therapist to build trusting relationships and be emotionally present and connected to the client throughout the massage.  Intuitive therapists read subtle emotional and physical cues and adjust the treatment in response to those cues to better meet the needs of the athlete at the time of treatment.  The same can be said of psychologists.  Athletes are often highly intuitive and expect their therapists to be likewise.  A prescriptive number of body strokes in standardized massage may fail to target an area of tightness and more importantly, may miss the area of origin where the tightness is emanating from.  Massage is about unwinding tight muscles and fascia and understanding why they have occurred in the first instance.

Intuition is not some “magical” concept, rather it comes from years of mindful and deliberate practice.  At any given point in time the brain sub-consciously processes millions of pieces of information, but consciously can only handle 40 -150 pieces (depending on the research) before it becomes overloaded.  Human beings, however, have an amazing capacity for pattern recognition. Successful athletes have the capacity to take ostensibly random pieces of information and chunk them into meaningful inspiring performances.     

Take the seemingly instinctive football player who develops his intuition through years and years of deliberate practice.  He has become intimately familiar with his environment by intentionally immersing himself in his chosen sport in order to become a master of it.  This deliberate practice builds a mental library based on experience and expertise that is chunked into subcategories, enabling him to see, interpret and process tiny bits of detail into a predictable action, much of which is done on a sub conscious level.

The intuitive football player sees how certain pieces of information relate to others.  They pick up information such as eye gaze, the tilt of a head, body tension, small movements in facial expression, tone of voice and chunk this information to predict where a team mate or opposition player is about to place the ball and they act.  What seems instinctive is a learnt ability.  In spending exorbitant periods of time immersed in practicing, training and competing, the footballer is able to take a series of theoretically independent episodes and create a dense web of patterns that he now observes.  To the spectator it appears to be instinctual, but to the player it is a learnt ability to read the game based on years and years of mindful and deliberate practice.  An intuitive therapist does the same. 

By being fully present during the massage and remaining connected to the athlete on both a physical and emotional level, the therapist is able to read the athlete’s body. They bring years of nurture, experience and familiarity with the human form into their treatment.  Having acquired “a feel” for the body and by resonating with the individual, they intuitively know what type of treatment is required and the areas to work on. 

Massage therapists don’t just smooth out knots in tired muscles, they also smooth out frayed nerves. Tightness trapped in the physical body may be directly connected to the emotional state of the athlete.  In the hands of the therapist the unwinding of knots in the muscles may also lead to the unwinding of emotions.  While massage can at times be painful it is different from injury pain.  Rather, it can stimulate the release of opioids and provide the athlete with some relief from their physical and emotional symptoms, leaving them feeling physically and emotionally lighter.  The soothing benefits of massage increase the likelihood the athlete will be able to fulfil their athletic potential.   The default button of many elite athletes is to work harder when faced with challenge, whilst the therapist knows that training smarter is often what is required. 

Sport:  The Prozac and Ritalin of Men's Health

Sport: The Prozac and Ritalin of Men's Health

Sport and exercise is deemed to be as therapeutic as medication in addressing mild to moderate levels of anxiety and depression.   Going for a run helps metabolise unwanted stress hormones, while waking up the brain and stabilising mood.  If you exercise with a friend the “love” neurochemical oxytocin also kicks in and adds to the overall mental well-being.  The mental health benefits of engaging in sport and exercise can’t be underestimated, especially men’s health, as it provides a supportive environment that many men find more comfortable that counselling rooms.   

To understand the role exercise has in mental well-being one only has to look at the distress many elite athletes feel when they are out injured or after they retire from competitive sport.  If these more sedentary periods of the athlete’s life are not carefully managed the consequences can be devastating. 

There are many contributing factors in coming to terms with who am I, if I am not an athlete anymore?” The fact that life is never be as exciting, nor as rewarding as the dopamine rush that comes with competing on the national and international stage.  Significant changes in relationships or finances can all be contributing factors, but equally important and less understood is the role of physical movement plays in brain health.    

In October 2000 researchers from Duke University (USA) made the “New York Times” with a study that showed that exercise is better than Zoloft at treating depression.  Australia’s leading Psychiatrist, Professor Gordon Parker (former Director of the Black Dog Institute), has long written about depression being a “disorder of movement” with exercise being an effective treatment.    

Injured athletes need to keep on moving, and athletes at the end of their careers need to retire to exercise and not from it.    The athlete mindset responds well to discipline and structure. The hours spent every week engaged in deliberate mindful physical practice is a sort of active meditation that bathes the brain in a range or feel good neurochemicals, normalising mood and enhancing learning.  

In addition, moderate levels of aerobic activity fertilises the brain, enhancing the growth  of neurons and neurotransmitters that improve mood, moderate impulsivity, anger and anxiety, while cultivating attention, perception, motivation, memory and learning.

When an athlete significantly reduces their training, a sort of withdrawal takes place which may be likened to coming down off recreational drugs.  Individuals can be left feeling emotionally depleted and often distressed. Athletes intuitively know this and many have written about in their autobiographies including multiple Olympic swimming champion, Ian Thorpe, who surmised in “This Is Me”,

“…depression is high amongst elite athletes, not just because they get burnt-out, but because many are attracted to sport in the first place as a way of regulating how they feel, because exercise is a great mood stabiliser.”

For tens of thousands of years the human brain has evolved to reward individuals with feel good neurochemicals for being physically active.  Human beings are wired to move as a protection against predators, to hunt and gather, and migrate with the seasons.  Movement is hard wired into the DNA not just for physical fitness, but for brain health. Exercise contributes to an alert brain and a calm mind both important for survival.  It is becoming more important than ever, in an increasingly sedentary world with a technology driven frenetic mind and overstimulated brain.   

Exercise can provide a sort of physically active mediation, which helps to turn down the stress tap of life, metabolising negative rumination and melting away anxiety. Being engaged in exercise bathes the brain in helpful mood stabilising neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, while metabolising excessive cortisol.  It simply feels good to exercise. 

When individuals play as part of a team, athletes get the added protective benefit of oxytocin.  Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that is produced by the brain and helps form positive relationships.  It is at its strongest with a mother and new born child and is part of the evolutionary process for keeping tribes together.  A group has a greater chance of survival than a vulnerable and isolated individual.   Oxytocin helps build trust, cooperation and support and in doing so helps moderate anxiety and depression.  When individuals become isolated from their group they are at greater risk of self-harm, or harm by others.  An athlete withdrawing from their social group can be a significant sign of distress and a call for help.

Individuals with low levels of these helpful brain chemicals may unknowingly find themselves attracted to sport in the first instance, because it helps the way they feel.  Psychiatrist John Ratey says physical activity is like taking “a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin” at the same time.  Exercise wakes up the brain (Ritalin) and calms the mind (Prozac), when oxytocin is added to the equation social support becomes a significant factor in keeping each other safe.  

Unconsciously some athletes may be self-medicating hidden mental health issues that are camouflaged through their engagement in sport.  When they stop, or significantly reduce their training workloads for any reason, everything starts to unravel.    Diminished mental energy stores can leave individuals feeling agitated, anxious and/or depressed.   Confused by this loss, some individuals may slip into less helpful ways of self-medicating, AFL player Heath Black shared in “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”  

“I would have racing thoughts, eat more, buzz around like a fly in a bottle taking on too many tasks but never completing any. My energy levels would be off the charts, I’d become a drama queen, impulsive, tense, paranoid. Sport really calmed me, but when I stopped playing it became out of control.”


Sport and exercise may keep agitation or the “Black Dog” (depression) at bay, unknowingly by bathing the brain in feel good neurochemicals and preventing a predisposition to mental ill-health from presenting until retirement.  This is not to say there aren’t other contributing factors both during and post the athletes’ career that can trigger mental-illness, rather it is a reminder that movement is central for brain health for everyone.      If individuals don’t remain engage in exercise newly formed neurons wither and waste away, just like an unused muscle. 

Human beings need to move, a lack of movement contributes to mental DIS-EASE.   Confused, anxious, agitated or depressed athletes may be unconsciously drawn to alcohol and/or other drugs to try and soothe the agitation they now feel, or to lift them out of melancholy.  All individuals need to remain engaged in exercise.  Athletes who have a predisposition to low levels of helpful brain chemicals to begin with, simply cannot afford to stop moving when injured or at retirement.  They must retire to exercise, not from it.   

Gayelene Clews is a former World Number One Triathlete, Olympic Psychologist and author of “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”, a ground breaking book on athlete mental health.  Gayelene has worked with many of the World’s best sporting teams, including six years in the NRL. Gayelene applies science to success in her business and sporting workshops for emotionally intelligent organisations. Contact Gayelene via  To purchase her book


Why Australia's Indigenous Athletes Are So Brilliant

Why Australia's Indigenous Athletes Are So Brilliant

Why Australia’s Indigenous Athletes Are So Brilliant

In the aftermath of the resounding victory of the Indigenous All-Stars in this week’s NRL match, one may ask, why are Australia’s Indigenous Athletes so Brilliant?  Only three percent of Australia’s population are indigenous, yet they make up to 30% of participants in some Australian sporting teams.  Why?  They are more closely connected to their hunting and gathering roots with a capacity to read the natural environment, to move through time and space efficiently, work in groups and stay connected to community, all important characteristics for building of a healthy brain and human survival.

To aid survival the human brain evolved by rewarding movement with feel good neurochemicals and guess what, these neurochemicals also make you happy.  All human beings are a summary of their evolutionary genes, but Western society is only just beginning to understand how important it is not to lose that connection.   When Cathy Freeman was interviewed this week on “Julia Zemerio’s Home Delivery”, the Olympic gold medallist said that running simply made her “happy”.  Yep, it is that simple, exercise stimulates feel good hormones and contributes to happiness.  

Athletes are wired to be in a physically active world and indigenous athletes know this better than anyone.   Evolution is brilliant, human happiness is hardwired to biology.  As long as you keep moving, spend time in nature, eat well and stay connected to community, happiness isn’t far behind.    

Some may think an immersion in technology is the future, but if individuals lose connection with their evolutionary roots both physical and mental health will deteriorate.  One doesn’t need science to know that individuals who cannot tear their eyes away from computer screens, aren’t happy. 

Indigenous Australian Athletes play sport more intelligently.  They remain immersed in an activity that helps the brain generate new brain cells with the capacity to process millions of pieces of information at any given point in time, chunking it into useable information to make the quick decisions needed on the rugby field.  You only have to watch a Jonathon Thurston to see how broad his vision is, how ingenious are the plays he sets up and how quickly they are executed.  Thurston is not a physically big player, but he is a highly intelligent player.  Scanning, thinking, creating and coordinating plays requires a large brain.  A gift from evolution, but if not used it will wither and deteriorate. 

We love watching our indigenous athletes.  They intuitively know spending time in nature, playing sport, eating well and remaining connected to community feels good.  It has taken until most recently however, for the research to be produced for some Western sceptics to be convinced of the benefits of exercise and time in nature for the mind, something out indigenous Australians have always known.  

Gayelene Clews is a Performance Psychologist and author of “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”.  The former World Number One Triathlete has worked with many of the very best athletes and sporting teams in the world including Olympic and World Champions.  Clews applies the science of sport to her successful “Wired for Success” business workshops for emotionally intelligent organisations.  Her work has been widely reviewed by The Australian, Financial Review, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times, ABC Lateline, COMPASS, ABC radio and many others.  Contact Gayelene via  To purchase her book

Mundine and the Warrior Courage of Australia's Indigenous Athletes

Mundine and the Warrior Courage of Australia's Indigenous Athletes

"I believe we are stronger as a people, versus doing it on our own, it is too hard.  If I travel with another brother or two or three, we confide in each other, we keep it positive and work to get what we want from the situation.  This is who our people are, this is what we do.  We help each other."

Federer and Williams Maestros with Attitude

Federer and Williams Maestros with Attitude

Roger Federer and Serena Williams are Maestros of tennis.  They stand as conductors on one side of the net while on the other, the rest of the orchestra comes out to play.   They control and coordinate the game, building its rhythm while other members of the orchestra are still fine tuning their strings.  They are never satisfied with just winning, it is self-mastery that fuels their desire.  Quite simply, they strive every day to better than they were the day before.  They don’t define themselves by the result of their last match, but by how well they prepared and the tenacity of their execution.

Federer and Williams know you can’t just turn up and expect to win. They know if tennis ever becomes boring, a thin veil of civility and feigned interest won’t hide it.  Truly elite athletes know it takes more than muscle to stay at the pointy end of elite sport. They cultivate passion and commitment and never lose the joy of creative expression. They set new and challenging goals every season to keep the brain excited and motivated.   

It is their self-awareness and lack of self-aggrandisement that endears them to the public. There is no higher standard for them to achieve than the one they set for themselves.  They strive to achieve an emotional resonance with their tennis, a harmonious rhythm with an almost absence of conscious thinking.  They play with feeling, but it is feeling born from thousands of hours of deliberate and intentional practice, so that by the time they grace our television screens it may look effortless, but it is not without effort.

As Maestros of tennis they read certain pieces of information and how they relate to others.  They read eye gaze, the tilt of a head, body tension, small movements in facial expression, the position of the racquet head and chunk this information to predict where a an opposition player is about to place the ball, then they act.  What seems instinctive or a ‘natural talent’ is a learnt ability.  In spending exorbitant periods of time immersed in practicing, training and competing, Federer and Williams can process a series of seemingly independent episodes and create a dense web of patterns of predictable behaviour.   To the spectator it appears to be instinctual, but to the player it is a learnt ability to read the game based on years and years of thoughtful practice.

When we tell young and up and coming athletes how gifted and talented they are, we are doing them a disservice.  Generating a false belief that it is going to be easy.  Talent implies an ability that one is “born with” while wrongly assuming that hard work is for the less talented.  Being told one is talented can provide a false sense of what is required to be an elite athlete, creating an aversion to the steely persistence that is required in the face of failure and a temptation to say “I could have if I had wanted to.”  Which really means “I am afraid of failing and finding out I am not as good as I thought I was.” 

Gayelene Clews is a Performance Psychologist and author of “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”.  She has worked with many of the very best sporting teams in the world including Olympic and World Champions.  Clews applies science to success in her “Wired for Success” business workshops for emotionally intelligent organisations.  Her work has been widely reviewed by The Australian, Financial Review, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times, ABC Lateline, COMPASS, ABC radio and many others.  Contact Gayelene via  To purchase her book

Is Technology Killing Our Sports Gene?

Is Technology Killing Our Sports Gene?

You can’t force a determined and focused athletic performance when the passion is gone.  It is in our genes.  Our emotional energy is a limited resource.  If we fail to use it wisely we deplete the brain reservoir of feel good neuro-chemicals needed for focused attention and become mentally distracted, disinterested and bored.  

Open Letter to Mark Webber in Retirement from an Olympic Psychologist

Open Letter to Mark Webber in Retirement from an Olympic Psychologist

In 2016 the Australian Olympic Committee ran a series of athlete well-being sessions for Rio Olympians contemplating retirement, this is some of what was discussed.

1. Keep on Moving: Retirement from elite sport can be perplexing.    On one hand there is the relief from stringent training sessions and a highly disciplined life-style. On the other, there can be a sense of grief that nothing else in life may ever feel as thrilling.  Harmonizing mind and body with one’s craft is compelling.  

Mark, by staying connected to your running and mountain bike riding, you will continue to produce feel good opioids that come from exercise. Your natural choice being mountain biking may not replace the buzz of motor racing, but will give you the thrill or mastering something equally challenging and unpredictable.

2. Continue Build Structure into Your Days:  Many athlete’s by-pass the identity struggles of adolescence because their days are structured with training sessions, competitions and purpose.  In retirement, however, they can find themselves confused about who they are, where they belong in the world and many feel lost without this structure.   

Mark, your desire to set new goals and challenges will help keep structure in your life and minimise the distress that can come from a loss of purpose.    

3. Stay Connected:  Sport is always a team effort even when there is only one competitor on the track.  The driving emotion of a successful team is optimism, focused in a positive direction, towards a common goal.  Science reveals ‘interpersonal limbic regulation’ exists, where one person transmits signals that can alter the hormone levels of another, influencing cardiovascular and sleep rhythms, and immune function (Gottman 1993). Positive energy of others can promote emotional stability in athletes, dampening fear and strengthening belief - letting go of residual doubt and focusing in the moment. This is a winning evolutionary design that should be harnessed by all of society. 

Many individuals however, experience the feeling of being pulled down to the lowest energy in a group.  Where someone else’s negativity, anxiety or frustration influences the energy of the whole room. We literally ‘catch’ the feelings of others.  Elite athletes purposely surround themselves with positive likeminded people because they intuitively know ‘we’ mirror the feelings of others.

Mark, you said “sharing your car and chemistry” with your team mates was important to you. Maintain these connections going forward.  Look to match your strengths and values with similarly minded people or become an entrepreneur, where you continue to control who is part of your team.  And, most importantly, remember to take your loved ones on your journey, your transition also impacts their lives.

Thank-you for a brilliant career, the thrill and excitement you have brought to many Australians and the graciousness by which you have gone about perfecting your craft.

Gayelene Clews, a former elite triathlete is an Olympic Psychologist and author of “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”.  She has worked with many of the very best sporting teams in the world including Olympic and World Champions.  Clews applies science to success in her “Wired for Success” business workshops where she advocates minimizing burn-out by refueling emotional energy. Contact Gayelene  To purchase her book



Olympic Hangover Overload

Olympic Hangover Overload

Thank-you to Nicole Jeffery for publishing this interview in the Weekend Australian

The post-Olympic blues is a documented phenomenon affecting elite athletes at the end of each Games and is caused by chemical reactions in their brains, according to performance psychologist and former athlete Gayelene Clews.

She believes athletes’ brains are flooded with “feel good’’ neurochemicals including serotonin and dopamine when they train and compete at the highest level.

“If you just stop, you are going to slip into an imbalance,’’ Clews said. “In some cases it’s like coming off recreational drugs. If they don’t understand what’s happening they will feel confused, flat and agitated. Sometimes they think it’s because they didn’t perform as well as they hoped but it’s more complex than that.’’

Clews says success at a Games does not affect whether they are more or less likely to drop into a hole after the Games.

“These mental health issues are always there, whether an athlete is highly successful or has not achieved what they hoped they would,’’ she said.

“We only have to look at Ian Thorpe or Grant Hackett or Petria Thomas.

“These are athletes who have won Olympic gold medals but there are a number of facets to our neuropsychophysiology.’’

Clews, who explored this issue in her book Wired to Play, has ­addressed two seminars organised by the Australian Olympic Committee in the past month to help athletes through the post-Olympic period.

“We are all wired to be physically active and move so when they are training they are filled with feel-good neurochemicals,’’ she said.

“Individuals can be naturally low in certain chemicals and they can be the ones who are attracted to sport. And that makes them more vulnerable (to depression) if they can’t source a healthy way to emotionally regulate themselves.’’

Clews said athletes, as with all human beings, had a finite reservoir of these chemicals and prolonged stress or high emotion burned through them, leaving the athlete needing to replenish those brain chemicals.

She said the modern world was intensifying that experience, leaving athletes more prone to burnout or depression. This week professional road cyclist Lizzie Williams revealed her battle with depression in a blog.

“In the last 20 or 30 years we have gone from being physically active to mentally frenetic through our exposure to digital technology and social media,’’ Clews said. “People are getting that dopamine high from technology but athletes are also getting it from exercise and training and competition so they are reaching that burnt-out state.

“Dopamine bingeing leads to depletion. Today’s athletes have a level of technology integrated into everything they do, but their physiology has taken hundreds of thousands of years to evolve and it’s not ready to cope with the amount of mental energy they expend. Those mental demands have escalated exponentially.

“So even if our Rio team had performed brilliantly, there would still be athletes going into a slump or a depleted space.’’

Clews said athletes needed to replenish their neurochemistry before they could make the same demands on it again.

She recommends “green space time — doing things that are active but not mentally demanding, like gardening or walking the dog. You need to find a quiet mental state’’.

She believes the trend in sport to increasingly fast-paced action — T20 cricket, Fast Four tennis, Nitro athletics — will lead to more frequent athlete burnout.

“We are changing the way sport is played to suit a frenetic mindset and we are escalating the demands on athletes and they are losing the capacity for a quiet mind space,’’ she said.

“They can’t run on adrenaline and dopamine forever. They need to come back and refill the tank.’’



Sexual Abuse in Sport is Not Just a UK Problem.

Sexual Abuse in Sport is Not Just a UK Problem.

This problem is not isolated to the UK or to Football.  In the book “Sport Children’s Rights and Violence Prevention” by Brackenridge, Kay and Rhind (2015), reported on a study that looked into sexual abuse in Australian sport found the following disturbing facts.

Collective Mindfulness: The Benefits of Sacrifice

Collective Mindfulness: The Benefits of Sacrifice

When we care less for ourselves and more for others the brain rewards us.  Not only do our efforts help those we are dedicated towards supporting, but in doing so we help ourselves.  With more oxytocin circulating through the brain, fear subsides and athlete is free to compete to the best of their ability.




Thanks to Caroline Marton and Carmen Marton (Taekwondo) who shared the discussion on how to help our Olympians post Rio.  Post-Olympic stresses and athlete transitions into life after sport present considerable challenges with many athletes left feeling confused, depressed or disillusioned.   This is at odds with living the Olympic dream and celebrating being an Olympian.  Aware that post completion blues can be a part of the Olympic experience “Wired to Play” is assisting the AOC is running awareness raising workshops with our athletes.