From the Pitch to Pep Talk and Beyond : A Graduates Journey from the PESS MSc. in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology – Cathal Sheridan

Life outside the Bubble

Strandhill is one of Ireland’s premier surf beaches, and I’m fortunate that it is only five minutes down the road from my family home in Co. Sligo. It certainly could not be regarded as a calm beach, as the waves can get pretty rough, especially in the Winter. That being said,  in many ways it is the most peaceful place on earth.

Injuries are very much a part of the game in professional rugby, and I took my fair share of them during my career. After recurring injuries leading to what is termed a ‘non-normative transition’ – those interested in this work see the review by PESS Adjunct Professor David Lavallee– I retired from Munster rugby in Jan. 2017. My masters dissertation entitled ‘Involuntary career transitions of Irish Professional Rugby Union Players: A qualitative Study’ was kind of like studying myself. The participants’ challenges clearly echoed my own experiences and this added issues of transference to the interview process. A systematic review by Lavallee et al. (2011) suggests that it takes about a two-year period before you find out what you want to do next from such dramatic transitions and in my case I’m still discovering my career trajectory.

The tail that wags the dog

When I retired, not having that outlet into nature certainly had an effect on me. I’m a firm believer that it’s detrimental to one’s physical and mental health not being able to get outside and moving. Nature, and what I later learned to be the blue mind phenomenon provides us with a space for reflection. It took me some time to build a nature habit into my regime but having a dog helps. My dog has dragged me out on days when I would prefer Netflix. Having a dog is the perfect guilt trip to get you up and moving.  Among the first questions I now ask as a practitioner is ‘Do you have a dog?’ Not just because they are the best animals in the world and I automatically judge people who don’t like dogs, but because having a dog creates ownership, responsibility and ultimately positive habits for getting out and about in nature.

Listening to my own Voice

Being the inaugural interviewee for  a book chapter entitled Tracks and Trails: Case Studies in Green Exercise with PESS graduates interviewing me including Andree Walkin and Greig Oliver, it helped me re-live my  experiences of the outdoors. GOGREEN workshops were my first forays into exploring mental health challenges of elite sport in a public setting. The Psychological Society of Ireland and Mental Health Ireland are great ambassadors for the promotion of mental health. It’s important to have support for the voices of change.

Tackle Your Feelings

My background in psychology and my foreground in rugby led me to be an ambassador with the Rugby Players Ireland well-being program ‘Tackle Your Feelings’. Taking part in this program was incredibly nerve wracking, but one of the most rewarding initiatives I have ever gotten involved in. The perspective I gained from TYF, and having access to mentors in PESS (Tadhg MacIntyre) with the RPI (Crede Sheehy-Kelly) and also some colleagues over in the US educated me on the importance of being willing to discuss thought processes and helped me recognise my own feelings and how they could mediate in the consulting process.

A Pep in my Step

Workplace well-being consultants Peptalk Ireland invited me to join their team upon my return from working in the US. It was a very creative role in which we developed interventions and micro-interventions in the business context with the ultimate goal of boosting employee engagement. For me, it was a window into the issue of contextual intelligence-how to apply and share knowledge for optimum effect (see Charlie Brown’s paper for further info.). Peptalk’s founders and my colleagues came from a diverse background of previous start up success, as well as sustained success on the GAA pitch. Leaving Peptalk was difficult, but a curiosity for further educational challenges is taking me on a new path.

Next Play

This is one of the key words I tried to use as a player to recover my attention after a skill production error, but I now apply this action trigger in my daily life. One of my biggest frustrations in life is feeling as if I am standing still and not learning and progressing. While my more compassionate accepts the elements of life that one cannot control, the competitor in me still wants to drive on and get to the next level. I now know that learning in elite coaching and psychology is constant. You have never arrived. But the fun and the reward is in the effort, and in the journey.

For further information on the Masters programmes at PESS in sport psychology see here. PESS also offers Summer internships and funded studentships.

About the Author

Cathal Sheridan  graduated from UL with a joint degree in psychology and English, was awarded a distinction in his MSc in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology at PESS. A former professional rugby player with Munster he was a mental health ambassador for the Tackle Your Feelings program which is now led by campaign manager and PESS Graduate Dr Hannah McCormack. He is currently Mental Skills coach with Munster Rugby Academy and Sub-Academy and Director of Rugby for UL Bohemians RFC.

View Cathal’s profiles at Linked-In   or on twitter: @catsherida1

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