I want to write a blog about my career as a sports psychologist. It shouldn’t take long because I haven’t had one – with one or two semi notable exceptions. I had a friend, Richard Butler, who is still a friend, in fact we’re going round to his and his partner’s place this very evening. I had decided about 15 years ago, not for the first time in my life, that my career needed a little freshening up. I liked sport, I was a psychologist, got it, I’d become a sports psychologist. What’s not to like? In those days there was no certified route to becoming a sports psychologist, which also quite appealed. I didn’t really want to go back to university, to the rigours of the academic world again. So in those days you found a mentor who was already a sports psych and he or she kind of mentored you. Quite low key really.
Hence Richard and I hooked up and we would meet on a semi-regular basis and discuss matters of sports psychology. He was a clinical psychologist in those days so we didn’t talk much about the overlap in our careers – working with children – because we didn’t see eye to eye on much but sports psych was different he was the experienced mentor and I was the student. This arrangement worked well. Richard was working with the British Olympic Association (BOA), specifically with the boxing team. This was well before the days when every Olympic team had its own psychologist or even team of them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, not easily done when there’s nothing much to get ahead of. However, what a person ‘training’ to be sports psych was expected to do was to go out and find a person or team to work with while being supervised by your mentor. I decided on cricket as my sport and approached the training requirement in a number of ways. I worked with individuals in my own team in an unofficial, let’s meet in the pub, kind of way. It happened that a member of my cricket team also played football and he asked me to help him with his anger management problems. It seems that he had decked the referee (and banned for the rest of the season – although this didn’t stop him playing, he simply played under a different name). The referee explained that he had not been indicating that my team mate was a wanker simply that he had got the pea stuck in his whistle and was shaking vigorously (in a manner that resembled, well, you know) and my man had taken exception – wrongly.
I also worked with another club where I knew the chairman and he was keen to see if my input could make a difference to 3 of that club’s cricketers – as far as I am aware it didn’t. I remember that they seemed to think I was a wanker – sports psych hadn’t really captured the public’s imagination 15 years ago. Deciding that this was pearls before swine, I realised I needed to be more ambitious. I approached Steve Oldham who was, at that time, coach of Yorkshire Cricket Club. He explained that he wanted me to work with the team’s opening bowler as, if I remember rightly, he ‘couldn’t get the bugger on the pitch’. He was always injured. I thought I had made it, unfortunately we couldn’t get him into an office to meet with me either. So that was the beginning and the end of my hands on training with Yorkshire.
Perhaps my proudest moment as a wannabe sports psych was when Richard asked me to make a presentation to the coaches of the BOA. The BOA actually paid for me to fly down from Leeds to Gatwick to do the presentation. You didn’t get that working as an educational psychologist. This was indeed life in the fast lane. Although again not for long. Richard and I had been talking about using the same 3 tier model of organisational development that I was using in my school work to improve pupil behaviour, and applying it to a sports organisation / club. Briefly the model looked at – ethos – organisation – team – individual. It turned out I had no more interest in working with recalcitrant individuals in a sports context than I had working with children in a school setting. So this organisational approach, which I wrote about in a chapter in Richard’s book (see picture at top), was good, or I thought so, but it fell on somewhat stony ground with the BOA coaches. They weren’t much interested in the psychology of organisations. Sports psych in those days was very much about individual work with a little team stuff thrown in, but it wasn’t about organisational ethos or values or culture and the impact this had on teams and then individuals. Pity, I still think there was something in it. However, it wasn’t to be. Incidentally, I started reading through bits of this book, for the first time in many years and found some areas that will help with my self-esteem blogs. So that was nice.
Which brings me to the point of this blog, yes, there is one. The reason I’m writing this potted history is to introduce, probably my biggest moment in the world of sports psychology – the book Richard and I wrote about the psychology of golf. This is the book I am releasing bit by bit in a very random manner through this blog site. This book is called Golf : A Mind Game and it was my idea although I have to admit, without Richard’s expertise and, more importantly, his contacts, it would never have seen the light of day. As I’ve written elsewhere, this book actually did get published and you’re getting it for free. But that’s retirement for you. You don’t need the money. Oh no, I forgot we do need the money but we’re not getting any, so what the heck here’s a few more chapters of Golf a Mind Game.
To read them go to the tool bar above to ‘Golf a Mind Game’ and scroll down to Chapters 1,2 and 3.