Andy – Sport psychologist
What attracted you to this job?
A sport psychologist is a fantastic job. At times I have to do a double take as I find it hard believe I get paid for doing something so enjoyable. Why is it so enjoyable? Firstly, I love playing sport; I get emotional playing sport and like many psychologist’s, I initially explored reasons for my own inability to be a professional athlete! Secondly, it’s a job where you are helping people to achieve deeply personal goals and as such, share in some of their successes. Thirdly, I like the fact that the work is underpinned by science and research. It’s good to believe that time spent researching and publishing studies not only helps your work as a practitioner, but helps other people also.
What does your typical day involve?
It’s varied. I typically get up early around 6.00am. In the summer I wake when its daylight. I use a natural light simulator, a gift from working with swimmers who get up early as part of their training. I usually do a couple of hours work, typically responding to e-mails and sending e-mails. I spend time with my family – I have two children (aged 14 and 16 years) who get up at 7.30am, and then at 8.30am I go for a run for 45 minutes.
When I re-start work I typically begin working on our emotion regulation project. This is a 4-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) along with universities of Sheffield, Oxford, Manchester, and Reading. At the moment we are working on developing and testing intervention strategies designed to control emotions and improve performance. Working on this project will consume the majority of my day. However, I typically multi-task trying to do several things at once; it gets complicated at times. I have several PhD students and we engage in a Skype telephone conversation. I provide sport psychology support for the London Marathon and am currently developing some self-help materials.
I tend to stop work when I am tired. My wife and I go to the gym most evenings. I typically use the gym to watch Sky sports and so we schedule gym visits around football matches!
I will work part of most evenings. I will cook dinner for my children, talk to them about their day, and provide whatever support I can.
What do your friends and family think about your job?
My family thinks my job is great. They think my job is easy. When I gave a live interview for the BBC world service with an estimated audience size of 50 million, my daughter said “your job is really easy”. That’s great. I tell them that if I thought of the size of the audience and all the potentially important people who might be listening then I would get really nervous. So what I do is treat it like a normal conversation and just answer the questions. With live media work it helps to have your first answer prepared so that you feel relaxed (you provide an answer that sounds plausible and confidently delivered to whatever question is asked!).
All my family love sport and so they take a great interest in the work that I do. I would say that being a sport psychologist does mean you are always correct!!!!
Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance
That’s really challenging. I like most of the things I do as a job and as such don’t see them as work. I know at times I have worked really hard on projects and my wife and children have suffered. I try to balance this out and try to spend time with everyone. It’s tough though. My own regulation comes from running and training. My wife and I compete in a 5km race each Saturday (www.parkrun.com). We help set the course up each week, walking around putting signage up. We have a family evening each month where one of takes charge for planning the evening; the kids get £50 to organize the evening.
How did you get to where you are today?
I somehow managed to pass my O-Levels ( GCSE’s as they are now) and then achieved two A-levels in Art and Sociology. After that, I was a builder for 3 years! One day on a rain delayed break I sat in the library and read a “degree course” book. I worked out I could study Sports Science at degree level, applied to West London Institute of Higher Education (now Brunel University) and I’ve never looked back. I passed my first degree and then did a PGCE. I became a PE teacher for 3 years whilst studying part time for a Masters degree. I did quite well on my Masters degree and then took a position as a full-time funded PhD student. I completed the PhD, went into lecturing, taking a position at Brunel University. At the same time I completed professional qualifications becoming accredited by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) and Chartered by the British Psychological Society.
After 12 years at Brunel University, I took up a senior lecturer position at the University of Wolverhampton, March 2000. I was promoted to reader in 2003 and then professor in 2005. In 2010 I became a fellow of the BASES and I sit on an editorial board for the Journal of Sports Science, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, and Journal of Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Education.
Throughout this time I practiced as an applied sport psychologist. I have worked with professional boxers, elite cyclists, professional football players, runners, and numerous other sports.