The other side of my Early Mid-Life Crisis
I have kept this under my hat and told only my closest friends and family until now, but I Like to Ride was always set up to serve two purposes. One of these was the whole learning to ride a bike and riding in a Velodrome thing. The other purpose was not *actually* about getting Paralympians made in Lego and telling them, marvellous fun though all of that is!
I have been interested in sport all my life. My parents met when they were members of the London branch of the supporters club of a tiny little success-starved club called Manchester City in the early 1970s. I didn’t inherit their love of football but they passed on their love of sport to me. Almost any sport. Saturday afternoons for us were not about cartoons and films. Instead, the TV was on and Grandstand was blaring out. We didn’t have the money to go and watch live sport at that point – that came later – but I developed an interest in Rugby Union, cricket and athletics. I also loved the big sporting events that came around every four years or so. The Olympics (summer and winter), the Football World Cup, the World Snooker Championships….
My Dad took me to see some minor counties cricket when I was a teenager and I learned so much from him about watching sport, the intricacies of the game, the tactics, the thinking process behind what was happening on the field and what was likely to happen next (he was often annoyingly right!) My Mum gave me the emotional tools to care about what I was watching and, moreover, invest in the people I was watching. It wasn’t until I was a proper grown up that I was able to watch live sport on a regular basis: Hubster and I were season ticket holders at Harlequins, we watched ruby and cricket all over the place. Then, of course, I actually went to the Olympics and Paralympics this Summer in my home city.
I’m a people watcher. Basically, I’m bloody nosey! I like to know what people are thinking and why. If I don’t know why I’ll hypothesise. I had a wonderful time this Summer watching sport. Then I realised I was watching more than just the sport. I was watching the people playing it and the people behind the scenes that we helping them to do it. Three memories really stick out for me:
1. As a Surrey cricket supporter, the death of Tom Maynard in June was devastating. I didn’t know the guy personally but knew he was a future star and his loss and the tragic circumstances in which it took place affected everyone connected with the game. I was at his memorial game and looked at his former and current team-mates, many of whom by their own admission have led a guilded existence, as they struggled to cope with overwhelming grief. I wondered who was counselling them, who they could talk to, whether they had someone to help them deal with it all.
2. There’s no way I can talk about this without sounding pervy, but, the men’s diving at the Olympics. I attended two preliminary sessions and while the actual dives were fascinating, the techniques that the divers used to psyche themselves up for dives, and how they behaved between dives, was absolutely equal, if not better than the sporting spectacle. How does one prepare to jump off a 10 metre high board into a deep pit of water? How do they remember their dives under intense pressure and scrutiny?
3. Jody. Oh, Jody. The meltdown and the aftermath. Despair and redemption. For me there were three aspects to it: the sheer bloody unfairness of the situation, the fact that it showed the world that Paralympic sport was not about some poor disabled people that we should all pat on the head when it was actually about bloody serious competition, and there was a bloke that had to drag him away and calm him down.
The thread running through of this is that I’d like to be that person. The person that helps a sportsperson deal with loss and grief, that enables a diver to overcome the yips, that acts as the shoulder to cry on when things go wrong. In short, I want to be a sports psychologist.
It’s a massive swerve from what I do now. I joked the other day that I have ‘Three degrees, all of them bloody useless’! Not quite true, of course, but I fell into a profession a few years ago and knew it wasn’t right for me but I tried to fit into it, and make it fit me.
Back in September I started the application process and in January 2013 I start a distance learning access course in Psychology with the University of Derby. After that, I’m hoping to get a place on the distance learning Sports Psychology MSc course at the University of Staffordshire and from there, wildest dreams, pie in the sky stuff this may be, I want to sort sportspeople’s heads out and make them even better at what they do.
So, I’ll not only be charting my progress in learning to ride a bike (done) to Velodrome (next year), I’ll also be writing about the process of (fingers crossed) becoming a Sports Psychologist. It’s not going to be easy – I’m under absolutely no illusions about that – but I don’t want to look back in 20 or 30 years’ time and wonder ‘What if’? I have to try this out. If it doesn’t work, at least I gave it a good go. It’s going to take years to achieve (if I achieve it at all) but maybe, just maybe I’ll be at the 2020 or 2024 Olympics or Paralympics, sorting a sportsperson’s head out and giving them the psychological tools to enable them to achieve success. That’s my dream and I’ll be doing everything I can to make it happen.