It’s all in the head: Q&A with Rebecca Symes
Towards the end of last year I featured an article called “Training with a purpose” by Rebecca Symes on Sports Psychology. It’s a great read and well worth checking out if you missed it last time.
It’s well known how important the mental game is to sporting and life success. I wrote a piece on it a while back which you can check out here.
Anyway it’s taken long enough, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally managed to get Rebecca to give us some more insights into the sports psychology world with this top notch interview. It’s well worth a read and Rebecca has some pretty candid thoughts on many of the questions!
Read on to find out more and let me know your thoughts on it by leaving a comment below.
Firstly thanks for taking the time to do this interview for us Rebecca, much appreciated.
Can you fill us in on your sports psychology background? Where did your interest in the field come from?
My interest in the field really came from having loved sport from a young age and equally being interested in the world of Psychology. After I did my B.Sc. in Psychology, I knew I wanted to follow it through and train to become a psychologist and it made sense to specialise in sport because it meant I could combine two of my passions, sport and people. I then completed a Masters Degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology and did my three year professional practice to become a Chartered Psychologist.
Who are you predominantly working with at the moment?
Due to client confidentially I cannot reveal all the clients I work with. However, I have two key contracts with Surrey County Cricket Club and GB Archery which are well known about and also my work with Nick “HeadHunter” Chapman in the world of Mixed Martial Arts has been well documented. I also do quite a lot of work in athletics and work with private clients in a range of other sports including rifle shooting, skiing and football. I have previously worked in hockey, darts, air-pistol shooting, gymnastics, kick-boxing, golf and laser sailing so quite a broad range.
Sports psychology is certainly a key area for any athlete, broad question but how can it help people in their training and performance?
Sport psychology is essentially helping athletes to understand how their thoughts, emotions and behaviour affects performance. It’s about training the mind in order to get the most out of it, just in the way people would train physically to get the most out of their body. It can help people to understand what their ideal performance state is and how to get into this consistently; learn to control their emotions in the heat of the battle; enable them to perform more effectively under pressure; build their confidence; develop performance routines; improve their ability to stay focused; deal with setbacks and manage the psychological side of injuries to name a few areas. The bottom line is that talent is not enough. Sport is a competitive world, and the athlete or team who performs the best, wins. Simple. So why wouldn’t you give yourself the best possible chance of that being you. Athletes who rely solely on their talent without incorporating other areas to their training are likely to be left with unfulfilled potential.
How does sports psychology differ from say NLP and some of the other options out there?
NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is essentially a blend of other models of psychology such as the cognitive, behavioural, psychodynamic and humanistic models. It focuses around how people “represent” the world and how this influences their behaviour. NLP does seem to be used increasingly in the sporting world although it was never originally designed for this purpose. In short it is just one aspect of sport psychology or to put it another way, one tool that can be used. The difficulty is that there is a real lack of research into NLP in the sporting arena and little is known, from a scientific research perspective, about the effectiveness of NLP techniques. Comparatively, the field of sport psychology has decades of scientific research behind it. In my view, NLP is a well packaged product, that often, but not always, works with symptoms as opposed to underlying causes. That said, if NLP works for an individual then great, and I have come across some very good NLP Practitioners.
For athletes and coaches looking to include sports psychology in our programmes what should we be looking for in terms of qualifications, experience etc?
The most important thing is that if someone is calling themselves, or advertising themselves as a “psychologist” then they must be on the Health Professionals Council’s Register. You can check this by asking for their HPC Registration number and/or checking on the HPC website here http://www.hpcheck.org/ The HPC is now the body that grants a practicing certificate to a psychologist. If someone is registered with the HPC they will also have to be a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society (BPS) if they did their training in the UK so this is worth checking too.
Finally, there are some excellent practitioners who went through the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) training programme for psychology, and they would refer to themselves as a Sport and Exercise Scientist – psychology support. The key difference here is that a psychologist has a psychology degree and sport psychology Masters accreditated by the BPS, whereas a sport scientist will have a Sport Sciences degree, followed by a sport psychology Masters.
With regards to experience practitioners will naturally vary but the key thing is to make sure they have specific training. Going back to the previous question, a Sport Psychologist will take in the region of 6-7 years to fully qualify. An NLP practitioner can qualify in around about a week. That should give some indication of the depth of the two practices. NLP can be very useful, especially for people who are looking to enhance their own personal development and gain a greater knowledge of psychology and use it in their role as a coach, athlete, teacher, executive etc. Just be wary of people who make sweeping statements about the strength of NLP and how much change it can really create.
How does your approach differ from the next sports psych? What is your philosophy?
I describe my approach as an eclectic one and I draw on a range of philosophies including humanistic, gestalt and cognitive-behavioural. I aim to help people understand their past experience, how this influences their present attitudes and performance and how they can use this knowledge to develop greater self-awareness. This enables people to understand not only their own behaviour but also that of others. I will take a client-centred approach which means I will adapt my approach depending on who I am working with, their needs, and what I believe to be the most effective approach given that situation. Ultimately, my aim is to enhance performance and wellbeing. I am a full time applied practitioner whereas quite a few will combine the applied side with lecturing.
Do you need to have something specific to work on as an athlete in order to benefit from sports psychology or can it be applied to anyone?
No not at all. Sports Psychology can benefit any athlete or team. It’s not just there to help those people who are struggling or experiencing performance lapses. It is also there for those people who are already performing at the top of their game. Sport Psychology can help people to have a clearer understanding of their performance to ensure they can repeat successful performances. It’s about enabling those athletes or teams to constantly push the boundaries to see how good they could be. It’s about leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of excellence.
What are the main areas you see with fighters and combat athletes?
I think the main areas are around confidence, emotional control which is linked closely to performing under pressure and preparation. Fighters/combat athletes often have to have a persona that they are overly confident and sure of themselves. However, that is not always necessarily the case in reality, and there is no reason to suggest that combat athletes are immune from experiencing self-doubt at times. So building and sustaining confidence is a key area. Emotional control especially in the heat of the moment is also another vital area for fighters to ensure that their emotions are channelled into their performance in a positive way rather than them being detrimental to performance. This latter point is especially likely to occur under pressure if they don’t learn to control them. And finally I think preparation is a very important area, especially for training as all too often fighters will turn up at training without a really clear purpose and without having taken time to mentally prepare. They wouldn’t dream of not physically warming up prior to training but the same cannot be said for mental preparation. So educating them around the importance of this is often a first step.
Where/How can people get hold of you?
The best way is via the website www.sporting-success.com
Awesome, thanks for that, great interview, I’m sure the readers will really enjoy it.