by Rhian Cleverly, Senior Captain of Hofstra Women’s Soccer
Eight months ago I was extremely lucky to be given an internship opportunity with Ferranti Empowerment. At the time I was so excited to get my first taste of a career in Sport Psychology. Not once did I anticipate the benefits it would have on myself as an athlete, on my soccer team, and more importantly, my values and attitude as a person.
Going into my senior season as captain of Hofstra University Women’s soccer, I was dreaming of having a big role on the team, and contributing to winning a championship ring. Fast forward four months, as I reflect back on our achievements:
- CAA Championship winners
- Unbeaten in regular conference
- 1st round NCAA
- Ranked 23rd in the country.
It’s crazy to think how the dream became a reality, and how we managed to achieve this success.
Don’t get me wrong, this season wasn’t all smiles and success; at least not for me, as it didn’t go quite to plan. From starting centre back in my first three seasons, to starting centre bench in the middle of my senior year. I had spent all summer working extremely hard, so not having the “big role” on the team was very difficult to accept. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to feel? Thankfully, help came from an unexpected source: My internship at Ferranti Empowerment!
What I did …
Ferranti Empowerment is a Mental Skills and Sport Psychology company run by Amanda Ferranti. She believed the best way to help me learn the field, was to receive sessions from her, as if I was one of her clients. On a weekly basis we met up or skyped to discuss my “weekly wells” (moments when I believed I performed well during the past week), as well as any problems I was facing. Then we came up with strategies to help optimize my training and performance, which included:
- Goal setting
- Mental preparation
- Decision making
- Experiencing emotions
- Post-match analysis
- Training smart rather than hard
- Embracing the lows and highs in sport.
How it helped …
You might think, this all sounds like an excellent educational experience, but does it actually work?
Setback to Comeback: After not starting for a few games, I worked with Amanda on rebuilding my confidence, and embracing emotional highs and lows. It paid off! I was thrilled to gain a place back in the starting team for our opening conference game. I was desperate to prove to myself and my team mates/coaches that it was deserved. Just before half time, we were given a free kick just outside their box. I recall reminding myself of Amanda’s advice, “Don’t overthink. Don’t compare to others. Play to your strengths”. Noticing an unorganized defense and the keeper unprepared, I took a quick free kick to score my first HUWS goal and give us a 1-0 lead. As I watched the ball fly into the top corner of the net, I understood the importance of embracing the highs and lows, AND more importantly, the positive impact sport psychology can make.
Re-evaluating my Role: During my time on the bench Amanda challenged me to think of alternative ways I could achieve a “big role” on the team. From team bonding activities (see image below) and scouting the other team, to offering support to other players and pre-match motivation. Not only did this strategy help me maintain a positive mind set during a difficult time, I also truly believe this was a factor that contributed to our unique team spirit and success throughout the season. For instance, below is a lovely message from one of my team mates, which is just one example of feedback that I have received.
“Hey Rhi, just wanted to thank you properly for this season and let you know how much I personally have valued you in my 1st Hofstra season. The way you have dealt with everything and still acted so selflessly, always putting the team before yourself and bringing us all together has been incredible. I honestly would not be so happy here if it wasn’t for you and just wanted to say that your effort in all the team activities, videos and motivational speeches has not gone unnoticed. You are an asset to the team.”
What I learned …
This experience has opened my eyes to the field of sport psychology. It has made me realize how an hour simply sat talking about how you think and feel, can be as beneficial to time spent in the gym or on the field. Unfair/unlucky moments are inevitable in both sport and life. Sport psychology won’t always be able to change these negative situations, but it definitely helps you learn how to effectively deal with them.Sport Psychology is so much more than a strategy for when an athlete and/or team is struggling. Despite recently gaining support, it’s definitely still neglected as a tool to optimize performance AND help athletes become the best versions of themselves. As athletes and coaches we focus far too much on physically training our bodies, yet we rarely allocate time to mentally prepare our minds. Everyone involved in sport knows it’s the little details that often makes the difference between winning and losing. Sport psychology is without a doubt a way to get these small, but significant improvements to gain success.So yes, I admit it is very cliché “everything happens for a reason”. However, as I reflect on the season I’ve had, it’s hard to overlook whether it would have been the same without Ferranti Empowerment and sport psychology. The experience I’ve had over the last eight months has ensured I will never again underestimate the mental side of the game.
If you actually made it to this point, I appreciate you taking the time to read my first blog, and would welcome any feedback! More importantly, I hope this has shown you the benefits sport psychology could also have for you.
Finally, big thanks to Amanda Ferranti for not only letting me learn, but turning my struggles to smiles, and helping make my senior season such a success!