The SPRINT project – Mental Health Week

Staying Connected during Lockdown, a guest blog by Birmingham University

We are an experienced team of applied academics at the University of Birmingham interested in applying techniques and methods derived from sports psychology to novel contexts. Our research originates in sports psychology and work with athletes. However, our research has expanded to incorporate new territories such as the health, well-being and social inclusion of homeless young people – see our website for more information

We’re really excited to be writing some guest blogs for Street Soccer about how we can use our mental skills to stay mentally healthy both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve recently co-created a trilogy of mental skills training toolkits that these blogs will be based on – these can be downloaded for free at This first blog is all about the mental skill of staying connected with others. Please get in touch and let us know your thoughts!

Physical distancing not ‘social’ distancing: How to keep socially healthy during lockdown

When we hear the term ‘social distancing’, we know it refers to keeping a certain amount of physical space between ourselves and others. But just because we are physically distant from others, doesn’t mean that we should be socially distant.

Now, perhaps more than ever, it’s important for our mental well-being to stay connected to those around us in our lives. When we can’t do this in person, we can do it virtually.

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Social connection

We’re sure we weren’t the only ones to notice that when the UK lockdown was announced, there was a huge surge in the use of apps, websites and other means to connect with others. People have been seeking out new digital ways to connect with others. But why do we crave social connection in a time when it is otherwise lacking?

It’s in our nature to want to feel socially connected. This is one of our basic psychological needs.

Basic psychological needs

Psychological theory suggests that we all have three basic psychological needs:

  • Autonomy (a desire to have choice)
  • Competence (a desire to be effective)
  • Relatedness (a desire to belong)

This final need for relatedness is what makes us desire to be around others, so it’s not surprising that we’ve seen an increase in new and creative ways to connect with each other. You can find out more about how we can meet young people’s basic psychological needs, by checking out our Delivery Guide.

Social connection is especially important for people who face challenges with mental health. Check out this TEDx talk to learn more. But what happens when we don’t connect with others?

Mental health and well-being

Lack of social interaction can have detrimental effects on our mental well-being at the best of times. This is even more so the case now. Some examples of challenges you may be facing during this period of lockdown include:

  • Feeling cut off from society
  • Engaging with opportunities
  • Low mood
  • Balancing your emotions and how you respond to these
  • Lack of motivation
  • Making healthy lifestyle choices

Now more than ever, we are increasingly facing challenges when it comes to social isolation, but what does this term mean?

Social isolation

Terms such as social isolation and loneliness have been seen a lot in the media in this pandemic. But from a research perspective, these terms have very different meanings. Social isolation can occur when a person is either physically apart from their social support network or is excluded from social support networks.

Your social support network consists of the people you have around you that can offer you care, support (whether emotional or in terms of offering advice and guidance) and friendship. Examples of people who you may have in your social support network include family members, friends, teachers and sports coaches.

When young people feel socially isolated, this can often lead to feelings of loneliness.


Loneliness refers to the feelings that arise when a person either does not have good quality social relationships or does not perceive the good quality social relationships around them. This can happen when a person does not feel like they ‘fit in’.

But remember that being alone doesn’t always mean feeling lonely. Understanding the difference between these two terms can help us to better understand our own social health and what we may need to do to improve it. This can help us to become more resilient.

Another related key term is solitude.


Solitude refers to when a person voluntarily chooses to spend time alone. This time can be used for personal growth and development, creative outlet or relaxation. Understanding solitude can help us to accept that it can be helpful to have ‘non-screen’ time and it’s ok to allow yourself to have some ‘me’ time away from digital media once in a while.

But what about when we do feel socially disconnected and this is negatively affecting our mental well-being?

What can we do about it?

Here at the SPRINT project, we are passionate about sharing mental techniques, adapted from sport psychology, that not only meet young people’s needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness, but that are proven to build resilience and mental well-being.

How can we use mental skills techniques to help to buffer against the effects of social isolation and loneliness and to help improve your mental well-being? How can you build your resilience in these times by using mental skills?

We know that staying connected to others is one particular mental skill that has been shown to have a strong link with greater levels of resilience and mental well-being. Let’s look at a resource from our Mental Skills Training Toolkit that aims to support young people who face social isolation. This tool can also be used to help you to stay connected during lockdown.

Dream Team

The Dream Team is an awareness building tool that uses a sporting analogy to identify who you have around you and what types of support they can provide. Completing this activity (which you can download from our website) has been shown to improve mental and social well-being. By becoming more aware of who plays what role in your support network, it can help to plan ahead and tackle potential challenges when they arise.

This period of lockdown is a great time to reflect on who we have around us, so why not try mapping out your own Dream Team? For example, who in your support network plays the role of ‘Coach’?

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When did you last speak to them? Have you checked-in with them since lockdown began? You could also let them know that they’re in your dream team as after all, feelings of connectedness can help our mental well-being!

Top Tip

It’s likely that a few of the people in your Dream Team will be people you know quite well (e.g. family or close friends). If you are speaking to these people quite regularly during lockdown, it might be the case that you don’t have many new things to say. So, next time you speak to them, use this time to listen with a ‘curious ear’.

This means that you could try asking questions and treating the answers as if they were gold dust. Can you find out something new about them that you didn’t know before?

If you do try the Dream Team activity, we’d love to know how you got on! You can let us know by using the Contact form on our website (, or on Twitter using #MSTtoolkit

‘You’re never by yourself’

Denise Lewis, OBE

How to stay connected if you’re feeling anxious about reaching out

We have learnt quite a bit now about the benefits of reaching out and how you can do this. But what about those who feel anxious about reaching out or engaging with video calling platforms?

From our experiences facilitating the Dream Team tool, we recognise that reflecting on social support can sometimes be a sensitive subject. Some people might need extra support with this. For example, those who have recently lost someone or felt that their trust has been betrayed in the past.

You can see page 28 of our Toolkit to find out ways to gradually broach the subject.

If someone you know is anxious about reaching out or using video calling platforms, we encourage having an open conversation about how to reduce the stress around this situation.

For example:

  • How often would you like to speak?
  • When is the best time of day to speak with you?
  • What method would you prefer to speak over?

If someone is uncomfortable with video calling, then you could try starting with a phone call and progressing to video calls if and when appropriate.

Upcoming blogs

You can look out for our upcoming blog posts on the Street Soccer website. We will be looking in greater detail at mental skills techniques that we can use to support ourselves at this time. In particular. We also have a series of existing blogs on our website:

What if you want to find out a bit more about the additional resources that are out there?


Well, it’s important to reach out and make use of other wonderful resources that are available to support you.Charities such as Mind and Young Minds  offer information and top tips for reducing stress and increasing relaxation. These tips are a great addition to our resources and they can help to improve your mental well-being.

Want to find out more about the mental skills necessary to improve your well-being and resilience? You can download our Mental Skills Training Toolkit and check out our other free resources.

What are your top tips for looking after yourselves during a time of social isolation? We’d love to hear them in the comments section, or on Twitter using #MSTtoolkit #MST4Life


Photo credit

Nina P and Francesca Musaró on Reshot.

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I will never forget the first time I met Michael. I had piloted a charitable project in East London, named the ‘Street Soccer Academy’ to help vulnerable young people who were experiencing homelessness.

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