Building a resilient approach

We were delighted to welcome back alumna, and former GDST Alumna of the Year 2012 winner, Claire Bennett to speak to our Senior School pupils on ‘Peak Performance – Building a resilient approach’ as part of our 2021 Lecture Series.

Claire’s wealth of experience as a former member of the GB women’s foil fencing team, and a qualified and well-respected performance life coach, made her the obvious choice to deliver a session designed to inspire and equip pupils with practical strategies for the year ahead – and the rest of their lives.

In her role at the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, Claire supports elite athletes to transition successfully in their lives beyond sport. She is also passionate about progressing women’s sport and is a Trustee and the Director of Programmes at the Women’s Sport Trust.

Claire has represented Great Britain in European and World Championships since the age of 14. As captain of England, Claire won individual Bronze and Team Gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Fencing Games.

During her presentation Claire shared her athlete story and reflected on the highs and lows of her elite sporting career. She shared tools and techniques to help build a resilient approach, overcoming disappointment and dealing positively with failure. She also reflected on her transformative years at Sydenham High. Claire clearly has fond memories of her time at Sydenham High and told us that she still has a strong network of women whom she met whilst here. Apart from that, it is where her fencing career began, aged 10! Claire found that she could transfer the skills she learnt from fencing (concentration, focus, discipline) to her academic studies and her schoolwork also benefited. Her fencing coach lit the spark of passion in her and started her journey which saw her travel to over 35 different countries, but it was not without its difficulties and sacrifices.

At the start of her sporting career, Claire missed many events at school and university as she was away competing, and later had injury setbacks as well as developing negative perfectionism. However, she highlighted the importance of seeking to “surround yourself with positive people who are going to lift you up and bring out the best in you” and maintaining a positive mindset with that strong support team. Claire had a stress fracture in her left foot prior to the Olympic qualifying season and not qualifying for the 2012 Olympics was heartbreaking for her. She felt like giving up on trying for anything she really wanted ever again but since then she has re-assessed and realised that she committed herself to it, gave it her all and firmly believes that “if you never give less than your best, you never have regrets”. It was fascinating to hear about how she transformed pain into possibility. Claire taught us that we should always view setbacks as opportunities for growth and that this allows you to gain strength from the experience. She is happier than ever now, and loving being a mentor to disadvantaged young people, a TV commentator on Eurosport and running her new consultancy venture, Perform Be Happy, where she aims to empower others.

To conclude, Claire talked us through the IDEO curve and discussed several important ideas, including:

  • Re-frame (Challenge yourself to replace negative thoughts with positive self- talk)
  • Develop a strong support network
  • Embrace change
  • Flexibility is an important part of resilience
  • Remain positive and hopeful about the future 
  • Develop problem-solving skills, focus on the solution not the problem
  • Keep working on your strengths, learn from others
  • Nurture yourself, self-care is important
  • Commitment
  • Perspective – enjoy the journey and understand that every setback leads to a better outcome

Claire encouraged us all to be the best version of ourselves, for ourselves and closed her presentation with the following words of wisdom:

You really are so lucky to be part of an incredibly inspiring , caring warm family community for life. I still carry a huge sense of pride to be a GDST girl. So make the most of this outstanding education and enjoy your time at Sydenham. Try to stay focused during these uncertain times, have confidence in yourselves that you are all high achievers and that you are part of any incredible team; a team, by the way, who believe in you, who are proud to be standing next to you, who are going to lift you up and bring out the best in you.

Pupils from Year 7-11 asked some insightful questions in the virtual Q and A which followed. A selection of her responses are below.

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