Interviewer: Today I’m with Peter Maxton and Sheila Forbes, both sports psychologists helping professional footballers prepare mentally for their performances. Welcome, both of you.
Peter & Sheila: Thank you.
Interviewer: So Sheila, how would you define your role?
Sheila: It can vary depending on the individual I’m working with, but basically, I equip players with techniques to improve their performance. Initially, though, I have to make sure they understand what I do and show them what they’ ll get out of it , so that they’re properly on board from the outset. In my experience, players generally don’t have tangible strategies to deal with the ups and downs that the game bombards them with, so I train them how to ‘think’ on the pitch – how to structure their thinking, be more confident themselves, and not be intimidated by the apparent confidence of others.
Interviewer: So how do you set about achieving your goals?
Sheila: Well, through a range of different approaches. I might set up a simulation of a performance, say, during which I’ll be observing players for signs of repetitive patterns in behaviour and thought processes that can have a damaging effect on what happens on the pitch . Then I’ll set about seeing where they’re coming from, and begin the process of slowly breaking these patterns, using imagery or anxiety control. But players have to feel I’ll respect confidentiality. After all, they’re almost admitting to what might be interpreted by others as
weaknesses in their mental approach, which in turn might raise questions about their suitability as a team member.
Interviewer: So what does a sports psychologist need to bring to the job?
Sheila: Well, during my career I’ve worked in a number of sports, such as boxing and horse riding. None of them are sports I’ve ever performed in, and in any case that’s not demanded. What needed though is that you understand the mental demands of those sports, and are able to adapt your work so that it can be integrated into the performance environment. But if you’re not honest to your clients about what you realistically can and can’t do, you won’t progress very far .
Interviewer: Peter, would you agree with Sheila?
Peter: Well, my experience as a psychologist has been limited to football. But I’d add that you also have to be independent as you often have to make key decisions about an athlete on your own. But I’d certainly go along with Sheila’s point about frankness. That’s paramount, I’d say .
Interviewer: But you played sport as a student, didn’t you Peter?
Peter: Well, I’ve never been a professional sportsperson, but I did play a lot of golf and tennis as a student, and was quite promising, although I don’t think I took either of them terribly seriously. Then I hit what I can only describe as a stale patch and couldn’t figure out why I was no longer up to standard. It eventually turned out that I’d been playing while suffering from an illness, a kind of fatigue syndrome. There wasn’t the kind of monitoring you’d get nowadays that could have detected this earlier, and I was rather taken aback to discover there was no support when I switched back into playing again . That sparked my interest in the link between psychology and performance.
Interviewer: So Peter, is there anything you dislike about the job?
Peter: Well, it does get a bad press in some quarters, with people suggesting we’re simply doing this for financial gain and realistically can’t help top sports people up their game . But all we’re doing is ensuring optimal conditions for athletes to achieve a consistently high level of performance. There’s a constant shift in environments, of course, but personally I find that stimulating – and even within one club, you have a range of players and situations, and the techniques you learn are extremely transferable, as long as you’re creative enough to do that.
Interviewer: So what do you both see as the future for sport psychology?
Sheila: Well, as an industry, it does have a developmental path for professionals coming into it, with young people with specialist skills coming through now. But there’s still some PR work for us to do. We’re still treated with a certain amount of suspicion by fans, simply because they don’t understand what we do. 
Peter: I hope the use of psychology becomes more mainstream in both player development and coaching education. But, as Sheila said, there are still barriers to be broken down and psychology in sport should be put in perspective . It’s part of the process of creating champions, which should be more widely publicised as a force for good.
Speaker 1: My parents weren’t happy when I told them I wanted to study law. The thing is I’m a keen athlete and so having a state-of-the-art track on site to practise on after classes was crucial . They’d have preferred me to study in my city so I could’ve lived at home, which would’ve been much cheaper and easier of course. Anyway, I think I made the right choice. It didn’t take long to start hanging out with some great people I met through lectures and my running. What was more of an issue was getting through all the stuff we were given to do . I had to be up all hours to begin with. I think I’ve finally cracked it now though.
Speaker 2: Nothing prepares you fully for starting university life. I was away from home during the week with a whole new group of people who I would have to get to know. Strangely, though, what threw me most was figuring out where to do my assignments . After various unsuccessful attempts, I settled on a quiet spot in the student centre and then I could really focus at last. Choosing a university was straightforward actually. Since I’m studying history I thought a brand new campus wouldn’t feel right. I wanted to gaze at ancient spires and towers on my way to lectures . That won hands down in the end against studying with one of my former classmates.
Speaker 3: Selecting the right university was tricky. My dad would’ve liked me to study medicine close to home, but I also had to consider how the qualification I got would be valued in future. I mean, would the university command sufficient respect overseas, and that’s what swung it for me . When I actually started, it took time to settle in. It was so different from school, where we all followed a fixed timetable term after term. My lectures are mostly after lunch, but I’ve got laboratory sessions at various times. Working all that out wasn’t easy . Then I had to cook for myself too, though that broke up the hours of study a bit.
Speaker 4: After school, I worked for my father for ten years and then decided to get a business qualification. I thought exchanging working life for one full of lectures and assignments would be demanding, which was true up to a point . I’d also thought getting my head round what the tutors were explaining would be straightforward, but that turned out to be a false hope. I’d taken time finding the right college. Partly because of my age, I followed lots of student blogs from various institutions to find one which offered some sort of mentoring service to help me settle in. That seemed vital . I was lucky that my first choice was surrounded by great mountains, but also easily-accessible from home – an added bonus!
Speaker 5: I’d always wanted to study languages, but exactly which aspect, you know, linguistics, literature, drama and so on, well I kept changing my mind. It struck me what I needed was a university with lots of academic options, so I could experiment a bit . The one I picked also had a huge campus with loads of clubs and places to hang out, which was amazing. So I was never at a loss for something to occupy me on Saturdays. The downside of that massive campus was that everything was so spread out, and I had real difficulty trying to track the various teaching sites . I was forever apologising to tutors for creeping in way after their sessions had got going.
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