Psychology and Kids.

I've been working with young children on and off for a period of 4 years now on a frequent basis and if I was to learn from my practical experiences as a practising consultant it would be from this group. Not only are they unpredictable and energetic but they are also very distractible and unreliable to an extent. Coming from a background in psychology these are just generalisations. There are, as with everything, the exceptions.

I have carried out a few workshop/sessions with young children now and it is incredibly challenging. The youngest don't really care for such things than to climb whilst the oldest are at that stage in life where they believe they know everything and will not take advice from a 'shrink'. There are few solutions to this: act as an observer and slowly blend in, participate in their activity and slowly blend or create a fun activity and slowly blend in. The common theme is to slowly blend into their lifestyle and earn their trust and respect whilst keeping activities upbeat and not too intense. The key words here are time and fun.

I have been helping with The Climbing Academy Squad now for nearly a year and a half now. These kids range from 10 years of age to about 17 years of age, ranging in abilities. There has been a big change as to how the kids perceived me from when I first started to where I am today. Due to spending time rapport building, observing, communication and listening, I feel it has won me a place in the squad as not just a consultant but also someone that the squad can turn to if any issues arise and climbing tips. This kind of behaviour only happens over time. Patience and persistence are required and for me, this is the best approach in working with this particular group.

I have done a few workshops now that have involved a day session or a few hours teaching psychology to kids. So this goes against my previous ideals. How I decide to tackle this depends on a number of factors: range in age, ability level, attitudes, other coaches, length of time, etc. It is challenging to squeeze psychology in a day's session let alone an hour. The mind is not a black and white entity but rather a source leading to an infinity of possibilities, which depending on many other factors, can branch off into other possibilities as well. In this way, it is extremely frustrating. This is especially so when teaching children who have no other reason to be climbing than to climb. They have not yet endured the hardships of their 'hobby'. That is not to say that children do not experience psychological issues. I have dealt with fear, confidence building, motivation, anxiety, return from injury, social comparison and a host of others but this is part of the journey of an athlete and how they deal with these experiences determines their mental toughness later on in their career. Some children naturally deal with certain issues better than others, whilst others simply do not and need tools or aids in guiding them to be the best they can mentally be. The difference is a matter in personality and individual differences but that is a whole different psychology story.

Anyway, how do I teach psychology on a limited time frame. I have tried highlighting common mental skills to children and teaching them how, when, where and why they use it.

The aim of this exercise is raising self awareness. The more aware a child is of their own emotions, feelings and thoughts the more they will analyse and review them. For example, if a child is consistently plagued with negative thoughts before major competitions then it is clear that they are suffering from nerves. Taken a note of these thoughts is always useful as certain words used can indicate the source of the nerves I.e. 'Can't', 'won't'. There will be certain times of an individual's sporting career where psychology is more important than physical improvement. The more common scenarios are periods where we lack motivation, or times where we lack confidence, or perhaps returning from an injury. There are a whole host of common, and sometimes unique, experiences which force us to turn to psychological methods because the physical training is failing us. Another aim of this workshop was to hone down that psychology underlies and dictates our behaviours/actions. We only come to be aware of it during certain experiences like the ones above but it is vital that we are aware of our psychology in our sport in order to use it correctly in such situations rather than fall at the first hurdle.

This approach to teaching psychology was neither well received or ill received. It is difficult to gauge just how much a child has learned if it does not involve a practical lesson or physical testing. The feedback from the older children certainly indicated an element of success whereas the feedback from the younger children indicated confusion (as expected).

In another approach to a workshop, I split the children into discussion groups. By using key psychological issues, I used that to gear discussions about past experiences and their negative and positive thoughts/feelings.

The main aim of this approach was to get everyone talking about feelings and emotions which young children often refrain from doing. The groups were spilt up randomly and had a mixture of abilities and ages. It was fantastic in that each child dug up past experiences, threw it out to the group, analysed the situation, and then reviewed it again from a negative and positive perspective. Everyone got involved. By organising it this way, it showed how much negativity we can take away from any situation but on the other hand, it showed just how much positivity we had as well. We tend to focus more on the negative. For example, a young 12 year old put down on days where she lacked motivation for climbing and the general thought was 'can't be bothered', she commented that she got out of this slump and felt 'revitalised'. Not enough focus is on the period where she managed to feel 'revitalised' again. How did she do it? What exactly did she do? When? Why? Where?

If I had more time and if I had a much longer time frame, my main method of teaching psychology and using mental skills would be goal setting. I use goal setting for both children that I work with on a one to one basis and with adults. Goal setting provides a baseline to compare to and also has an underlying motivational aspect to it which works perfectly well with any psychological issue. The process itself takes patience, time and dedication. This is especially so if working with young children. Despite this, it is always fun working with kids.

Published 24 September 2015

TCA Annual Review.

So it's been almost a year since I started working with The Climbing Academy (TCA) youth squad. Time to sit down and type up some much needed reflection on my TCA work so far.

Feb 2014 Term 2

I joined in March 2014 towards the end of the squads second term. My aim for this term was to set the foundations for good working relationships to form between myself and the squad. This involved getting to know each of the squad members as well as getting to know the well respected climbing coaches, Alan Cassidy and Stuart Lyall, recognising what sort of influences the coaches held over the squad, building respect and trust with both the squad and the coaches, becoming a familiar face at TCA, being aware of the dynamics within the squad and building relationships with some of the parents of the squad members. This type of foundation setting is important in any client work I pursue. This is especially so in a team environment as large as TCA squad. It pretty much determines the type and strength of bond I form with any individual. It is also the slowest (and most frustrating) part of what I do. I am merely an observer at this stage. However, if they can see that I was making an effort with them, then they will make an effort with me, eventually.

May 2014 Term 3

Over the Easter holidays, Alan, Stu and myself managed to meet up one evening and discuss plans. Three main pivotal points came out of this meeting. First, that there was a lot to talk about. Second, the individual personalities of the squad members with respect to behaviour and actions within the squad and with their training. And lastly, the much needed requirement of a training journal/plan for the squad. Although the sessions were structured for the day, it was not so structured as a whole. Therefore, there was no way of evaluating the process of a particular squad member. This introduced the first squads goal setting journal for TCA Glasgow. I introduced the basics of goal setting to the squad by using SMART goals. My aim for this term was to make sure that each member got to grips with the journal and that maintenance was kept by all 22 or so members. This was a lot more challenging than what I had anticipated. As the squad ranged in ages from as young as 10 to as old as 17, different cognitive levels had to be taken into account when introducing the psychology behind the goal setting. There were also plenty of strong personalities within the squad. Additionally, absences meant keeping track of each individuals goals setting journal much more difficult. So as you can imagine, catching up with each squad member can be rather taxing at times. Naturally, some of the squad took to the goal setting process and progressed with it very well. Whereas, others did not take to the process at all. This was expected of course. From my experience, not every case can be won. There is no benefit in forcing anything on anyone. It automatically fosters resentment and lack of ownership. Towards the end of this term I had a pretty good idea of who was happy to continue the goal setting with me.

September 2014 Term 1

Goal setting journals were kept into the following term. The layout of the journals were slightly adapted to keep them user friendly but the SMART concept and short, medium and long term goals were kept. This term, the climbing coaches were assigned a goal setting journal. I even got one.

This term round, squad members were given a choice of participating in goal setting sessions with me. I believed that it was more beneficial for me to work with a smaller group of members that were open to my sessions, rather than spread my resources thinly between all squad members. I also wanted to stop annoying the members that were comfortable with continuing their climbing sessions at their own pace. However, as it turned out, every member wanted to continue their sessions with me.

From the previous term, it was evident that some members took to goal setting more than others. Some members needed more help with their goal setting than others. It was also clear that some needed individual attention with their goal setting. For these reasons, this term was busy and packed. I worked with several members covering a number of different matters: motivation, confidence, injury, commitment, anxiety and fear.

During sessions, many different concepts were introduced and the squad were welcome to integrate any into their training journal. For example, I worked with one squad member who was having problems with big powerful moves like dyno's. We used video to record their particular actions and analysed this video to break down movements and to see where they felt they could improve. By doing this and incorporating it into their journal, the member had more chance to practice the individual moves of the dyno action in order to get the whole dyno move complete.

Motivation was also a key concept worked on during this term as well. For this, the goal setting journal really helped. By setting a number of goals (short, mid and long term), members really pushed themselves to keep in line with their goals for this term. This subconsciously had an immediate effect on their motivation for climbing. Goals did not have to be entirely focused on climbing. A couple of members did really well with core workouts and 'krafting', exercises which they had continually pushed themselves on. This, of course, impacted on their climbing ability in general and also worked wonders on them mentally.

Jan 2015 Term 2

Moving into the current term, it was agreed that I would work with selected individuals. I felt that a lot of my energy and effort can then be funnelled towards these members and my focus would entirely be on them. The selected members were picked not necessary because they needed help or that they had a 'psychological issue', but because they had the potential of improvement and progress if they were accepting. Only two weeks in to this term and I am excited for the outcome.

This brief account should give readers an insight into the work I have done with TCA so far. It is not as simple or straightforward as it looks. To be an exceptional psychologist, a large part of this role is adaptability and creativity. The ability to sell a process, that you have thoroughly researched beforehand, so you know that they will love it can be challenging at times. Especially when you have 22 strong-minded adolescents to deal with. Until the next annual review...

Published 17 January 2015

2014, A reflection.

Looking back at Sport Psych Solutions very first year.

First day of a new year means reflection time. As a company, 2014 has been a hectic year. From its initial launch in February, Sport Psych Solutions has had a great start with the help from some wonderful individuals. With any reflection, I am trying to think back to all the experiences that have happened in what has been a pretty quick year. There have been many positives in 2014 for the company. Too many to note down. Some of Sport Psych Solutions 2014 highlights are the following, not in any particular order.

First highlight for the company was being invited to present at the Womens Climbing Symposium 2014 as a headline speaker. This had me presenting alongside some of today's top female climbers: Shauna Coxsey, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk and Hazel Findlay. As this event is internationally recognised and a large number attended the event, this was the first opportunity to showcast my company on a large scale and present myself as an active trainee Sports Psychologist. To say that I was nervous was an understatement. But the whole event turned out to be a success.

This event led to a number of doors opening. This brings me to my second highlight of 2014. As a company, it is important that the message as to why Sport Psych Solutions was created in the first place was understood. From years of education and practice, it was evident that there was a lack of psychological help/support for athletes out there and a lack of understanding of some common psychological techniques that can be used in everyday training and competitions. I was surprised at the almost null services of sports psychology across central Scotland and I wanted to change this. Not many individuals are aware or trust in psychology sometimes because, simply, they do not know enough about it. I wanted to illustrate the importance that psychology plays in sport and what better way to demonstrate this influence by having the professionals do this.

This introduced our 'Psychological Insight' interview section of the company. This was launched to demonstrate the power of psychology in sport from athletes of varying levels. To launch this section, our first interviews were from two world class climbers that are not short of inspirational to hundreds across the world, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk and Sean McColl. We hope to continue demonstrating how psychology is used by athletes, both recreational and professional, in everyday training and in competitions.

My last, but not least, highlight of last year, was having the pleasure to work with the TCA youth squad throughout 2014. This gave me the opportunity to work on a one to one basis with many of the kids in the squad, work closely with some amazing climbing coaches, having input into future terms training schedules and also getting to know some of the parents of the kids really well. There are many different personalities and characters within the squad, some more 'challenging' then others, but it has been a delight to see many of them change and develop into they climbers they are today. Being a familiar face amongst The Climbing Academy crew as both a staff member and also a boulderer, being a keen climber myself, TCA has been a second home for me. I look forward to continuing my work with the squad next year and I am very excited to see how some of my specific interventions/program's will pan out and to see the reactions to them.

So amongst the highlights there have also been many negatives. However, negatives have to be experienced in order to learn and progress further. One main negative that I have become increasingly aware of is the maintenance of the website.

Sport Psych Solutions is unique, simply because sports psychology is rather unique. It is a service that does not offer clearcut scientific results. Not like, for example, physical coaching. You can say fingerboard training will increase finger strength or endurance circuits will increase stamina but as psychology deals with the complex human mind, every possible outcome imaginable could happen. This is one of the fascinating albeit annoying feature about what I do. And it is why I enjoy doing this work. In this profession, not one size fits all. But sometimes, it is difficult to advertise this service to the audience. My confidence as a psychologist and how I portray myself as a professional has grown throughout the year. Transferring my work and pieces onto the website has been slow. As well as working full time (in order to make ends meet) and working part time as a sports psychologist, studying and climbing I have severely underestimated the time and effort in keeping a website 'live' and up to date. Therefore, this will be my one and only resolution for this year.

And speaking of 2015, this year looks set to be an even bigger and better year for Sport Psych Solutions. We already have a few projects in the pipeline. Mental skills educational workshops will be held across central Scotland, there will be more psychological insight interviews with both recreational and professional athletes, more clients, becoming fully chartered and, fingers crossed, having the opportunity to do what I love (sports psychology) on a more full time scale. Plus, I am sure, plenty more will be found via the journey.

Published 01 Jan 2015

Women's Climbing Symposium 2014 Review.

I was first approached by Steph Meysner, one of the main organisers of the event, to present at this years WCS 2014. The opportunity to present alongside some of the top female climbers we have today was too good to be true: Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, Shauna Coxsey, Hazel Findlay, Emma Twyford, Laeh Crane, the list goes on. Additionally, the brief that Steph gave me for my presentation was like no other that I had been approached with. A challenge that I could get stuck in to.

WCS 2014 was held at The Climbing Academy in Glasgow on the 27th September 2014. In to its fourth year of running the popular event is targeted at female climbers of all abilities round the world. It is an event aimed to inspire, motivate and encourage women to pursue their own personal goals in climbing. And what better way to do that than holding an event that pulls together a host of some of the best female climbers, coaches and professionals that climbing has to offer.

The day of the event saw just over 160 enthusiastic and excited women enter through the doors of Glasgow's TCA eager to learn and be educated in all things climbing. The day was jam packed with workshops, talks and coaching sessions of a rich variety to cater to different learning styles. From physical coaching sessions to personal accounts of personal climbing challenges as well as mental preparation, the event really was aimed at climbers of all abilities.

My very own talk was very research based and professional. I was worried that I was going to lose a few in the audience due to its 60 minute duration. Although I had a few confused faces in the audience, on a whole the crowd were very receptive. It was a chance to put my own ideas through about my approach to psychology and also receive some much appreciated feedback.

I myself attended several talk and workshops throughout the day. Chartered Physiologist, Helen Denton, on Physiology was particularly enlightening for me as well as Jenni Stafford-Curtis' brief workshop on Psych Therapy. And of course, the main talks from Hazel Findlay, Jen Randell, Shauna Coxsey and Mina Leslie-Wujustyk were very inspiring, down to earth and honest accounts of personal challenges and experiences.

I certainly left feeling a whole lot more inspired and determined. Perhaps maybe even a bit emotional. And speaking to several women throughout the day of all types of climbing abilities and from different climbing backgrounds, this was definitely the main feelings portrayed.

Women's Climbing Symposium WCS14

Sports Psych Solutions LTD will be presenting at this years Women's Climbing Symposium, at The Climbing Academy Glasgow. This presentation will focus on gender, specifically if females have an upper or lower hand in the climbing world. We cover topics which include individual differences, personality types/traits, physical differences, psychological differences and society expectitions and pressures.
As well as sport psychology there will be coaching and presentions from top female climbers, a list of which can be found at www.womensclimbingsymposium.com as well as ticket details.

'Psychological Insight' Interviews Explained.

Why introduce 'Psychological Insight'

'Psychological Insight' are interviews that take an in depth look at how psychology has played a part in an athletes performance. It is a unique insight into how psychology has shaped a particular individual into the athlete they are today. It looks at how much effort and time an individual has invested into mental training and what resources (if any) they have had to aid them in integrating specific well known techniques into their training schedule.

We look at not just professional athletes but also recreational through to the everyday athlete, as psychology affects every athlete no matter what level they are at in their sport at. Any interesting issues/comments thrown up during the interview will be expanded upon. We will also talk to coaches, parents and other professionals to see psychology from a different perspective and how they think it affects the individual in question.

The idea behind 'Psychological Insight'

The idea behind this concept is threefold. Firstly, to understand why psychology hasn't played a more prominent appearance in any athletes training despite mental resilience being named as the key to athletic success. Secondly, to raise awareness at just how much psychology we use even (at times) without realising so. And thirdly, to identify where psychology could have helped and how we can capitalise on our performance if only we realised.

What I hope 'Psychological Insight' interviews will achieve

From my experience of sports as both a performer,coach and psychologist, it is clear that there is a misinterpretation of psychology out there in the sports environment. My goal is to encourage and motivate individuals to actively seek psychology and integrate various forms of mental training into their schedule. And to do so, an increase in the appreciation and understanding of psychology and the underpinnings behind certain strategies.

Moving forward

Accepting psychology is half the battle. As psychology deals with the complex human mind, there is no guarantee that an outcome will surface. Each individual is unique and will respond to strategies and/or techniques differently. For example, we all eat protein to build and repair muscle and we all eat carbohydrates for energy. We know this because it has been tested for and results repeatedly shown. Safe in this knowledge, we ingest protein and carbohydrate for the above purposes and we can see the results almost instantaneously.

Mental training is very different. We need to take into account the other pertinent facets that may affect and influence an individuals thoughts, behaviours and actions. Additionally, we need to account for an individuals responses to different stimuli i.e. stress, worry, pressure, environment, fear, failure, adrenaline etc. Unfortunately, the effects of mental training are not as clear cut as the above nutrition example. This is where my job as a Sports Psychologist comes in. To try and manage or 'control' these other facets through theory, applied practice and theoretical underpinnings to create the most effective psychological aid for that unique individual so that mental training can be as effective as possible. The process of encompassing everything we know about ourself and applying it to the sport environment is the best way to fully prepare ourselves mentally.

Read Interviews.

A little insight.

After 2 months (ish) since the launch of my company, Sport Psych Solutions, it is probably time to put in my first blog. I have been thinking about it for a while and beginning is probably one of the hardest things to think of. But I have come to the conclusion that I will just get stuck in.

So..

Welcome to my first ever blog. The ultimate goal with this website and my company is to make people aware of what I am trying to do and to get my services to those that need it. This blog will be designed to provide information, opinions and just general facts as well as promotion, advertising and marketing of Sport Psych Solutions.

A huge barrier that I have come across throughout my training is 'What is Sport Psychology?'. And no matter how many attempts I try to explain the purpose or aim of Sport Psychology the response I get from most people are 'So what exactly is it that you do?' or 'Do you get to read my mind'. Some of the responses I get do amuse me but also frighten me as to the lack of knowledge and insight that people have of Sport Psychology. Even after introducing myself, people often refer to me as a psychiatrist, a physiotherapist, a shrink, a mind reader or even a miracle worker. I am none of these. Believe me when I say it, but Sport Psychology is actually a profession.

So what exactly is Sport Psychology? To keep it brief and simple, Sport Psychologists are interested in the influence of psychology on sports, exercise, athletic performance and physical activity. We use psychology to ultimately improve or enhance an individuals performance. We also use psychology to improve an individuals state of mind. Either way, we are interested in targeting issues specifically experienced by that individual and finding different coping strategies to help with these issues.

This is just a very brief and simple introduction to Sport Psychology. My future blogs will look in-depth into psychology and my experiences so far in it's influence on athletic performance.

Any articles, clips, opinions or just general thoughts are welcome to the blog.

Guest Blog, Tom Livingstone, Experienced World Climber.
on the importance of goal setting in his life activities.

When I worked with Jess in 2011, she suggested goal setting. She recognised it as a weakness in my climbing and saw it as a clear, measurable way to improve my ability. Although I had used goals previously, my perception of setting goals took on a more structured stance. The Acronym SMART was used to guide me through these sessions: Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Timely.

Here's what I've learnt.

1) Setting a personal goal, such as a route. I set myself a main goal (such as a target route or grade) that I wish to reach. I usually research it carefully, picking out the most suitable objective. In the broadest sense, it could be reaching the summit or the top of a route. I'll write this main goal down: 'climb Route X by the end of August 2014.' I'll also choose smaller, more specific 'sub-goals' that will act as stepping stones along the way. This ensures my ability gradually improves, measurably and realistically. You can even plan the sub-goals for each week or month. For example: 'climb Route A in June. Climb Route B in July.'

2) On-route goal setting. Again, the main objective is to reach the top of the route without falling off. But you can break down the climb into smaller, bite-size chunks that are more manageable. This is a great way to avoid becoming 'overwhelmed' by the daunting challenge. Gather as much information as you can before you leave the ground, and keep focussed of the next opportunity - be it gear, rests or obvious cruxes. For example: Section 1: easy climbing to a good rest. Be sure to put lots of good gear in before leaving the rest. Section 2: the crux. Maintain a steady, focussed flow and have confidence in your gear below. Section 3: focus on reaching what looks like a good rest just above. Section 4: keep it together and remain calm as you reach the top.

3) Goal setting in other aspects. Thankfully, I can use goal setting in my training program and for the other sports I enjoy. Training is both measurable and specific - ensure that you build up your ability slowly and carefully, always paying attention to the task in hand. Every so often, allow yourself to concentrate on the 'main goal', and track your progress towards it. Fell running is often goal-orientated, and racing against the clock is a good way to push yourself. A 'real-world' example: I wanted to climb the classic E5 test piece 'Right Wall' on Dinas Cromlech. The previous year, I climbed the other, easier Cromlech routes and ensured I was comfortable with the style of climbing. After a month's trad climbing on a road trip round the UK, I was able to consistently onsight several E4s in a day and had even onsighted a couple of E5s. Once comfortable with this new grade, I climbed Right Wall. Thanks to goal setting, I was able to work towards this target gradually, slowly building up my ability. If I had tried this route before I was ready, I'm not sure I would have been successful.

For more on Tom's adventures, please follow at www.tomlivingstone.co.uk

Scottish Schools Climbing Competition

Congratulations are in order to Sport Psych Solutions client Matthew, who placed 2nd in his category in the Scottish Schools Climbing Competition 2014 at Glasgow Climbing Centre on the 8th of March 2014. Sport Psych Solutions were on site to show support and cheer on all competitors.

Glasgow Youth Bouldering Squad

Sport psych Solutions are working in partnership with TCA Glasgow to help prepare the Glasgow Youth Bouldering Squad for upcoming competitions and events.