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Sport and Exercise

One on one… with Peter Olusoga

‘I love hearing people’s stories’

17 August 2015

One thing you love about psychology
I love hearing people’s stories. It’s really as simple as that. I’ve always been interested in what motivates people to behave the way they do, why people might think certain ways about certain things. If I can work with athletes to help them make sense of and perhaps take a greater degree of control over their own stories, then that, to me, is fantastic.

One sporting event that has captured your imagination
I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see some of the basketball at the London 2012 Olympics, so my brother and I went to watch the GB vs. Spain game. To be honest, I was a bit sceptical about the Olympics coming to London, but the atmosphere across the capital was genuinely wonderful, the Olympic park was spectacular, and as GB came close to upsetting Spain, the noise inside the arena that night was nothing like I’ve ever heard at a basketball game before. As a basketball fan and a sports fan, it genuinely made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

One alternative career
I thought about becoming a speech therapist for a while after graduating.
One challenge faced by sport psychology
The stigma attached to using psychological services within sport is still a huge challenge. Within a lot of sports, physical prowess and mental ‘toughness’ is still the ideal, and sometimes that doesn’t fit well with the idea of using a psychologist. The perception tends to be that we work with athletes who have ‘problems’ or are mentally ‘weak’. It’s definitely getting better, and I’d say the majority of athletes and coaches are certainly starting to understand the benefits that using a sport psychologist can bring, but there’s still a level of uncertainty, distrust, perhaps even fear in certain quarters, about what we actually do. I remember watching a segment on sport psychology during the BBC’s coverage of the London 2012 Olympics and I was so pleased to see it getting positive media coverage. Then the presenter referred to it as a ‘Dark Art’ which sort of ruined it!

One defining moment in your career
Quitting my office job on a whim. It was one of those ‘just graduated’ jobs that was supposed to last a few months but two years later, I found myself still there. I handed in my notice, ended up working as a part-time basketball coach, taking out a career development loan, and going back to university to study for my MSc. More of a moment that started my career than a defining moment within it, but an important moment nonetheless. I realised I wasn’t happy with what I was doing, so I stopped doing it.

One film
Hugo. It’s a Martin Scorsese film I watched by accident last Christmas and it’s beautiful.

One place to visit
I love the coast, but I find sand really annoying, so I much prefer wandering around cities. Cadiz is pretty nice, and I love Paris, but I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a couple of months working in Stockholm and I completely fell in love with it. It’s expensive, and I went in January so it was freezing cold, and dark pretty much the whole time (I’m not really selling it, am I?), but it’s a wonderful, vibrant city, full of lovely people, and even lovelier cakes and pastries. Oh, and the Vasamuseet (a museum built around a salvaged 17th-century ship) is, somewhat bizarrely, genuinely impressive.  

One book
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami. Go and read it immediately!

One thing you couldn't do without
Well it would be obvious but entirely true to say that I couldn’t do without my wife, Alice. And it would be even more obvious, but entirely untrue to say something like my phone, or the internet. I think I could cope quite happily without being constantly connected. It’s one of the things I love about going on holiday; I can turn my phone off and the rest of the word ceases to exist for a week or two. I suppose one thing I couldn’t really do without is exercise. I get grumpy if I can’t train, lift weights, go for a run or do some sort of physical activity. I know it’s only anecdotal evidence, but I can absolutely testify to the positive impact of physical activity on psychological wellbeing!