British hockey star Shona McCallin hailed the importance of building mental resilience to reaching the very top as she spoke to the next generation of sports stars.

McCallin revealed how years of hard work on the mental side of the game was the key behind the historic Olympic gold medal that she won in 2016, as Great Britain stunned the Netherlands in Rio.

The Newark-born athlete shared her experiences alongside the Prince and Princess of Wales, who were also in attendance at the mind health workshop run by SportsAid.

The young athletes also heard from Commonwealth Games winning netball captain Ama Agbeze, four-time Olympic champion rower Sir Matthew Pinsent and five-time Paralympic gold medallist swimmer Ellie Simmonds, while also taking part in netball and goalball sessions alongside the royal visitors.

And McCallin emphasised the importance of working on the mental side of sport alongside technical and physical training while lauding the progress that has been made in discussion around mental health in recent years.

“We train our physical capabilities, our speed, our stamina, our agility, but only recently have people begun to train their mental skills,” she said.

“I have experienced elite level sport for the best part of eight to nine years and I believe that at the top of the sport, the difference between a great and a world class performer is the mental side.

“Everybody when you step into your arena, skillsets are fairly similar at an elite level. The difference that sets people apart is the ability to deal with the mental pressure, to do those skills under fatigue, after a mistake, after two mistakes.

“It is the mental skills that are so important and to train those is so important. For the last eight to nine years, I have developed those skills and continuously worked on them in order to have the most robust mindset. 

“What is really great is over the last couple of years, the conversations have started to flow a bit more about mental health.

“I am so glad SportsAid has put on these opportunities for younger athletes. What would have helped me as a junior athlete was being introduced to these skills when I was 13 or 14. I was my biggest critic, I was so harsh on myself.”

The workshop was just one of many run year-round by SportsAid, who also support young athletes through vital funding and personal development opportunities.

The Prince and Princess of Wales, who has been patron of SportsAid since 2013, discussed the importance of dealing with the pressure of sport with a number of young athletes and Chief Executive Tim Lawler MBE was thrilled with royal support for the work the charity is doing.

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 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.