WorldSkills UK: How we develop a medal-winning mindset

WorldSkills is intense – so supporting both competitor and training manager mental health is crucial, says Sean Owens

Sean Owens

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This summer, Team UK returned from WorldSkills Kazan covered in gold and glory, and a few weeks ago, we paid tribute to their achievements at WorldSkills UK LIVE in Birmingham. 

As well as celebrating the achievements of our past, we looked to the future and identified talented students from the UK national competitors to take with us to the next WorldSkills competition: Shanghai 2021. For the WorldSkills UK training managers like myself, it’s always a special moment.

The young people who gain a coveted place on the Team UK squad will have an incredible experience. Representing your country on an international stage and competing alongside talented peers to be crowned the best in the world at your skill is an opportunity like no other. But there’s no doubt about it, it’s one that comes with immense pressure. 

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WorldSkills: supporting mental health

As training managers, it’s our role to take these young people through an intensive training programme that will see them move from competence to excellence, focusing both on their professional and technical skills. The intensity of both the training and the competitions can be mentally taxing on our competitors, and we work with specialist performance coaches to support the development of a “medal-winning” mindset, which contributes towards their attitudes and behaviour in both work and life.

The truth is that to win big at international WorldSkills, we not only mould and grow well-rounded individuals for competition, but we also empower them with skills for life. Knowing how to foster and maintain a healthy mindset under extreme pressure is a huge part of this. 

This intensity can affect training managers, too: managing the responsibilities of your day-to-day job (all training managers are employed in teaching roles in the education and business sectors) and your personal commitments with the responsibilities of preparing young people for the world’s toughest skills competition can be demanding. But make no mistake about it, the training and support that WorldSkills UK provides its training managers is world-class.

All training managers are enrolled on to WorldSkills UK’s high-performance coaching programme and we also have direct access to pastoral care. Knowing that you are fully supported at every step of the way makes a huge difference. 

Empowering competitors and training managers

The WorldSkills UK boot camps, run for both training managers and competitors, are delivered at critical points during the 18-month international training programme. Within them, principles from elite sport are applied to help us create a winning team mindset and challenge our behaviours, attitudes and responses to pressurised experiences. These skills are delivered through a combination of workshops, team-based activities and pressure tests, which involve performance coaching, performance psychology and physiological wellbeing.

When we are on the competition stand, all the diverse aspects of support from WorldSkills UK really come into their own. The leadership, advice, experience and support of the team are invaluable and really helped to empower me with focused confidence to represent the UK on the world stage in Russia.  Now they empower me daily in my role as owner of SO Consultancy. 

As training managers, we all play an important role in supporting WorldSkills UK in transferring insights and learnings gained from our preparation for the WorldSkills Competition back into technical vocational education and training systems across the UK. This not only includes technical knowledge but also performance mindset and psychology. This is why I was particularly pleased that this year WorldSkills UK made “mental strength” the theme of LIVE.  

Whatever our role in working with young people is, we all have a responsibility to help them understand the steps they need to take at work and in training to support them in looking after their wellbeing and manage the pressures they face.             

 Sean Owens is the WorldSkills UK training manager for cooking

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