x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Emirati athletes need mental support to improve performance

A champion Emirati athlete supports training from a young age and community support.

Emirati Crossfit athlete Mahmoud Shalan says there is no emphasis on sport for young people in the UAE. Satish Kumar / The National
Emirati Crossfit athlete Mahmoud Shalan says there is no emphasis on sport for young people in the UAE. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Aspiring local athletes need to focus on mental strength to raise their performance, and have sporting talent cultivated from school age, said one Emirati expert.

Mahmoud Shalan is a CrossFit athlete who last year made it to the Asia regionals and was named fittest Emirati at the Dubai Fitness Championships.

“When we were younger in school, we weren’t introduced to sport or encouraged to think about it in a professional way,” said Shalan, who is sponsored by Red Bull.

“In school, there is still no emphasis on sport. A lot of time was wasted on certain things and sport wasn’t taken seriously and up to this day, I don’t think it is. We’ve not had the circumstances to build world-class athletes.”

With the support of Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed, many Emiratis are now being sponsored to participate in the Dubai Fitness Championships, (DFC) which has gone from being an annual event to a weekly event for all.

With prize money in the thousands of dirhams each week, it has spurred Emirati men and women to compete and improve their performance levels.

“The thing is, we don’t have one well-rounded facility with doctors, programmes and a place we will all be working together,” Shalan said.

“Everyone is working alone and doing their own thing. We need an academy or something where everyone is together.”

Shalan said he had experienced the importance of mental strength.

At last year’s DFC, which he won, he felt the pressure. Although tipped to win, the crowd at Dubai Tennis Stadium was intimidating.

Shalan said even though he knew he could win, it was a mental battle to live up to the pressure in front of his family and local community.

“I think the local athletes need the psychological support,” he said.

“When they get on that stage, even if they’re physically ready, they shrink. They need to get their mind on the right path. If we could have access to that it would be amazing.”

All the preparation in the world cannot overcome mental strength, he said.

“Besides eating healthily and training, you are training your mind. You are going through so much pain that your mind starts telling you to quit, so it’s a mind game. Once you get your mind stronger, your body will just follow.”

He said living in a system which looks after its citizens, athletes can become complacent.

“As locals, you have this sense of comfort,” he said.

“You don’t have a sense of urgency. Athletes lack that here and so can’t get to where they want to be.

“They think success is a given, and the psychological stuff is really important and would really help.

“Why can’t the UAE produce the best athletes? We have the best support and could have the best facilities, so why not?”