Running mental marathon

Even those with only a passing interest in sport can recall a time when an athlete has completely lost it on the court, the field, or the pitch – and while it’s tempting to view these outbursts as entertainment, it’s usually symptomatic of a bigger issue.

For Kas Taleb, countless hours watching her son’s burgeoning football career provided insights into the positives, and the lesser talked about negatives, that come with participating in organised sports. “My son loves football, and I’ve seen so much positive self-growth come from his young career in sport. But the thing that has surprised me most is the lack of training available to athletes on dealing with the unique pressures and responsibilities that come with athleticism.”

Aside from her family’s personal experience, Kas has heard far too many accounts of young athletes buckling under the pressure:

“Not all young athletes have learnt how to express their emotions; they don’t have the right emotional toolkit needed to thrive.”

While clubs and coaches focus on physical fitness, Kas recognised a gap – a way to encourage mental fitness and teach mental health literacy – which led to an idea that is now close to becoming a reality. Kas is the CEO and founder of Arete (formally named Fitmind), a virtual well-being coach in the form of an app designed to “unleash the power of the mind and help build mental resilience in measurable ways”.

Supported and designed by mental health professionals, including psychologists, physios, coaches and dietitians, the app is part mental well-being coach, part companion. It is powered by artificial intelligence using the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help users navigate their emotions with ease.

Arete is one of ten companies, selected from hundreds of applications, taking part in a unique collaboration with Victoria University, LaunchVic, Tennis Australia and Techstars, one of the biggest start-up networks in the world.

The Techstars Sports Tech Melbourne Accelerator pairs innovative and forward-thinking start-ups with 60 mentors, industry leaders and researchers to help transform a strong business idea into a tangible success. Over the past few weeks, Kas has been working closely with VU mentors Alex Parker (Professor of Physical Activity and Mental Health), and Sam Robertson (Professor of Sports Analytics) to help bring this idea to fruition.

“It’s been great to work with the calibre of Alex and Sam – their in-depth knowledge of the issue and supportive natures have been a huge asset to the development of Arete. They both represent an area of expertise that aligns closely with Arete’s direction.”

Kas’s son, who is currently training with Melbourne City Football Club, and is, in-part, the inspiration for Arete, has used the beta version of the app extensively. “My son has noticed a real change. He feels more mentally resilient, doesn’t get lost in negative self-talk and he’s able to handle any obstacles with the skills he has learnt. That’s what we hope everyone gets out of using Arete; the ability to manage emotions so they can focus on what really matters, getting the enjoyment out of their sport again.”

Right now, Kas is working hard, along with the other nine start-ups, preparing for Demo Day on 27 August, when each group will share their achievements over the last three months.

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