During the first ENAS Virtual General Assembly on the 19th of October 2020, our members voted for the winner of the prestigious ENAS Award 2020. And the winner was…Fontys University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands)  for their project “Sustainable Happiness”Interested in knowing more and replicate it in your university? Contact them: mentalesportbegeleiding@fontys.nl  We asked Nicole Ebben, Sport and Performance trainer, coach, as well as teacher at the department of psychology at the Fontys University few questions about the project “Sustainable Happiness”.

1) How did you get the idea of the project “Sustainable Happiness”?

It is known from scientific literature that good physical, social and mental health are important to perform and feel well. The advantage of the University Sports Centers is that they originally consider two aspects important: the physical and social aspect. Fontys University of Applied Sciences HRM and Psychology discussed the idea of a mental health, sports and performance agency/mini enterprise first at the Radboud Sports Centre. Radboud Sports Centre has played an important role in this by embracing this initiative. She has shown that mental health also belongs to a Sports Centre, followed by Student Sports Centre Eindhoven and Sports Center Tilburg. Why sustainable happiness? The starting point was that it should mainly have a long-term effect (sustainable) and several parties would benefit from this project: both organizations, the students involved and especially the customers of the Sports Centre. Also from a social point of view to contribute to the health of others. What about “the happiness part” on different levels? There is a lot of research being done on this topic. The well-being of others is important for one’s own well-being. Providing help in the mental health and performance of the customers, putting the “customers” first, everyone who is involved from different roles contributes to their own happiness and the happiness of the other.

2) What results have you reached in terms of students involved in the projects? What are their average backgrounds and their feedback during and after the projects?

The graduates, including students who are involved voluntarily, have completed the minor Performance Coaching and Training. Most final-year students study Applied Psychology or Human Resource Management.  We encourage graduates and volunteer final-year students to put what they have learned from the course into practice. Supported by the guidance/supervision of the Fontys University of Applied Sciences HRM and Psychology, the Coaching Office Mental Health and Performance is led by graduates of Applied Psychology. In the role of supervisor, they guide students who voluntarily want to gain additional work experience in this field of mental and performance coaching. After 1 year, the graduate supervisor makes way for the next student who has graduated. He/she then becomes a supervisor. The students involved are given more and more responsibilities during the project and are actually professionals. Students especially indicate that this project contributes the development of entrepreneurship skills, the opportunity and confidence to act independently (gaining autonomy), and thereby develop professional skills and building relationships. The strength of the project according to the graduates is that they get the chance to add a piece of themselves to the project and help them in developing management skills. Both in the coaching and in the workshops students experience that the coaching has a direct effect on others and that gives them a lot of satisfaction.

3) In terms of the goals, why have you decided to focus on Micro, Meso and Macro level?

When it comes to happiness, it can be perceived as a vague concept. However, scientific studies show that experiencing happiness is often in relation to others. By using the concept of happiness from multiple perspectives, the contribution is also from different levels. For example on macro level, the Sports Center contributes to total health by offering and integrating a Mental Health & Performance Program. From a social perspective, this is important. Fontys University of Applied Sciences HRM and Psychology has shown with sustainable happiness that there can also be innovation without technology, within education and spreading expertise outside the school buildings. If we look to micro-level, our students, we know that volunteering can be associated with greater satisfaction with life (hedonic well-being) and with experience of usefulness and purpose of life (eudaimonic well-being). By providing help with practical tips and mental techniques on mental issues, clients of the Sports Centre are able to cope better with situations. By setting their own course, they are better able to deal with mental issues and contributes to the customers’ own happiness.

4) What were the main difficulties/challenges that you faced in the implementation of the project?

It is a challenge to let students commit voluntarily. Students who want to participate from intrinsic motivation, we have agreed that students commit themselves for at least 1 year. However, personal circumstances or study priorities can change this. The challenge in the project is also to connect a University Sports Centre with a University of Applied Sciences. Both parties will have to experience that there is complete confidence in each other’s qualities and therefore the service is properly delivered. The start at the Radboud was so successful that Student Sports Centre Eindhoven and Sports Center Tilburg University also collaborated with Fontys University of Applied Sciences HRM and Psychology. An equal share is providing help in the mental health and performance of their customers.  Unfortunately, Sports Center Tilburg University had to cut back. You don’t have any influence on that. In addition, we have learned that each Sports Centre has its own history and you have to work tailor-made. That is why we changed our course for Eindhoven. Where Radboud Sports Centre focuses more on individual consultations, the Student Sports Centre Eindhoven on the other hand focuses more on teams.

5) What advice would you give to a university/department that would like to replicate sustainable happiness?

The advice is to contact the University of Applied Sciences Psychology. So that there is expertise in sports/performance psychology and you can offer support and guidance in improving mental health, performances, like confidence, stress regulation, concentration/focus, handling pressure and controlling nerves, mental energy levels with self-motivation and other mental issues. Workshops offered in goalsetting, positive self-talk, visualization, focus and concentration are always useful and you can reach more people at the same time. Those techniques are working in different domains: sports, study and work. You need pioneers within both organizations. Which staff members are capable of thinking innovatively and outside the box? Who can spread the subject powerfully? Keep all those who are involved well informed of the benefits and aim for a long-term effect. Position it as a service from the Sports Centre. Customers who want to work on their mental health can use it. By integrating within the Sports Centre, this will also be more accepted and seen as an added value for health.

6) What is the future of the project? Has Covid impacted your activities or you plan to expand it or change the focus to meet the needs of students and employers that you cannot reach physically?

We do know that even without a pandemic Bovenkant formulieresearch shows that students at the university are three times more likely to have mental health problems compared to the rest of the population. Students are therefore considered a vulnerable group. Problems arising from high student pressure, poor interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers, and more frequent social isolation. In practice, we see also a high work pressure for employees. The most important change is that we now also offer online consultations. Fortunately, we are allowed to also offer individual physical consultations. Of course, online contact is different, but we will all have to deal with it in times of pandemic. At the moment, we are already giving the workshops online, so that more participants can participate. Offering online services in addition to a physical service could be more “future proof” to reach students and employees, for example when mental aspects occur as loneliness. In general, a good mental health, but also the physical and social health is important for everyone with or without a pandemic…good physical, social and mental health ensures good well-being and (sustainable) happiness and feeling happy.