A Coaching Philosophy: Mai pen rai - don't worry, don't stress, be happy
Wed, 08 Mar 2017
Charlotte Evans 'Coach of the Year' at London Sport Awards. Photograph: ©London Sport
‘Mai pen rai’ is an expression from Thailand that some consider to be at the very heart of Thai society. The well-known phrase is used in a variety of contexts but most commonly to reassure the receiver that they shouldn’t worry; translating, albeit roughly, as, ‘don’t worry, don’t stress, be happy’.
Charlotte Evans, a London-based mental health nurse and personal trainer, founded her enterprise, Sole2Soul – improving physical and mental wellbeing by combining exercise and mental health expertise – living by this philosophy.
Operating in the boroughs of Camden and Islington, Sole2Soul was named Sportivate Club of the Year for London and in quick succession, its founder was presented with Coach of the Year, at the London Sport Awards.
“It was a complete surprise to be honest, I wasn’t expecting it,” said Charlotte.
“I was very nervous leading up to the evening and I convinced myself I wasn’t going to win. We won ‘Sporitivate Club of the Year’ a few months before and I thought ‘well I’ve already got an award, so surely they won’t give me another one’.”
Held at indigo at the O2, the Awards celebrated the impact clubs, coaches, volunteers and other organisations had on the lives of Londoners over the previous 12 months. Attended by over 400 people from the world of sport, politics, tech and business, Charlotte’s accolade was another opportunity to raise mental health awareness and promote her work with Sole2Soul.
“I know our projects have touched a lot of people, and that’s purely because mental health affects everyone. Whether it’s personally, or a family member or a friend, we all know somebody who’s experienced mental health [conditions]. There’s lot of stigma around the subject so it’s great to have achieved what I have.
“I think we’re talking about [mental health] more. If people are given the opportunity to talk about it they really open up. People want to learn, they want to understand and they want to support people [with mental health conditions].”
“I felt really frustrated in my nursing role.”
Originally from Devon, Charlotte has worked in mental health services for over 10 years. She started as a psychiatric care assistant and then trained to be a mental health nurse. Later in her career she worked as a senior nurse and manger within NHS (National Health Service) inpatient and community health settings.
Her journey into coaching and the fitness industry happened in a slightly less uniform way.
Bringing physical activity into mental health work was something the 29-year-old always wanted to do. Having used exercise to deal with changes in her own life, which left her feeling down and struggling to feel good, Charlotte saw physical activity as part of a holistic solution to treat mental health. Many of her patients had physical health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, as well as mental health ones. However with limited support for physical health in mental health hospitals she became increasingly frustrated with nursing.
“Someone with serious mental health [conditions] is usually going to come with physical health problems as well. Patients with serious mental illness will die 15-20 years younger than the general population and that is mainly because of their physical health.
“In various nursing roles I’ve had over the years, I’ve heard patients say so many times: ‘I used to be part of a football team’ or ‘I used to go to the gym but then I got unwell and now I can’t go’, or ‘I haven’t been [to the gym] for ages and I’ve put on weight’. There’s also patients who say ‘well I would like to try exercise but I never have’ or ‘I’m not really that sort of person, I don’t fit that figure or that fitness type’.
“I felt really frustrated in my nursing role. Obviously everyone knows that nurses are overworked, underpaid and under loads of pressure and stress but I just got tired of it and I thought ‘you know what, I’m going to throw everything in’ and I actually went travelling.”
Charlotte spent six months teaching English in a rural town in Thailand, giving her the time to reflect on her life and career away from the tourists. The ‘mai pen rai – don’t worry, be happy’ attitude of the local people, inspired Charlotte to follow her passion and carve out a different career for herself. After returning from Thailand she qualified as a Level 3 Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer, and Exercise Referral specialist, so she could include exercise into her work of helping others.
Continue to engage in exercise.
Approaching London Sport, as Sole2Soul, Charlotte was awarded funding to deliver exercise sessions for people in mental health services at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust – winning Sole2Soul the Sportivate award. Evaluations taken from these sessions showed that the majority of participants wanted to continue exercising, and felt their confidence and mood increase, after participating.
“Generally I would get people to fill out an evaluation form after at least two sessions, so they got a real flavour of what a session with me is like,” said Charlotte.
“95% of patients wanted to continue to engage in exercise after my sessions, and we worked out that at least 90% of them we’re inactive – so they may have never done or certainly not done any exercise in the last six months to a year. 65% of patients rated a significant improvement in their mood, and the rest rated a slight improvement in their mood. No one said the classes made them feel worse or less motivated or a failure at what they were doing.”
“The biggest barrier to exercise for 60% of patients was their lack of motivation. Obviously that would come hand in hand with a lot of the mental health conditions, like depression or schizophrenia. Whenever I’m working with these patients, I focus so much on developing a supportive and trusting relationship with them because without that you’re not going to be able to get them motivated. If they don’t really buy into what you’re doing, then you’re going to struggle.”
“A shared vision with another individual.”
In sports coaching there is currently a lack of gender diversity: with two thirds of all sports coaches being men and only 17% of qualified coaches being women. The main routes of entry into coaching are through participation but with fewer women regularly participating in sport (31.9% of women as opposed to 40.5% of men), there are fewer women transitioning from playing into coaching, and therefore fewer role models for other women and girls to see coaching as an opportunity for them.
Sports Coach UK’s national brand Reach, is all about supporting women into coaching and raising the profile of women coaches. As someone who made the transition into coaching, Charlotte says that she’s never had any reason to look back on her decision, to give up her old way of life and become a coach.
“Certainly I will never look back and I just think it was the best decision I ever made. How rewarding being a coach is; just filled with so many great benefits, it’s really humbling and you’re focussing on the person as a whole, so that includes physical, social and mental health. There’s not many jobs I guess that really target all those areas.
“If you’re considering it, do it. Initially it’s really hard work but if you’ve got passion then I think your passion will come across and that’s really what being a coach is all about, you’re installing passion and belief, and a shared vision with another individual.”