Contrary to what people might have been thinking, I haven’t died. Not yet.
In fact I’ve just returned from a two week Sports Psychology speaking tour of America. Fourteen days and fourteen seminars across seven states at some of their most respected Universities, Colleges and Soccer Clubs. It has been an absolute privilege.
I had, prior to that, kept a fairly low public profile, curtailing many of my media duties whilst also cutting down on my UK based keynote speaking commitments. I’d never have considered putting the latter to one side without an exceptional reason for doing so and the reason for my temporary ‘withdrawal’ from working life has been a very good one.
I’ve been studying for my Masters Degree in Sports Psychology. I think I’ll be the first Premier League Footballer to have attained that academic qualification.
I was still able to do some practical work which I combined with the long hours spent in my office/dungeon. Four days a week studying whilst the other one was spent continuing in my role as a Mental Performance Coach at Crystal Palace’s Academy.
Which was, and remains, something I really enjoy doing. But then I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent all of my working life doing things that have given me a great deal of pleasure. I was a professional footballer for nearly twenty years. Lucky enough to have shared the same pitch as some of the greats i.e. Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul and Thierry Henry.
When I stopped playing professionally, I was fortunate enough to be paid to attend top class football matches on behalf of media outlets such as Sky Sports, BT Sport, talkSPORT and the BBC. I’ve also been a keynote speaker for some massive international corporations delivering talks on performance and how individuals can attain their personal and professional goals. I was having the time of my life.
This wasn’t my experience whilst studying for my Masters. Because, for the first time in my life, I realised I was doing something I didn’t find enjoyable. I struggled on numerous occasions and there were times when I wanted to give it all up and go back to my comfort zone. Something I could have done very easily.
The reason I didn’t was because I realised there is an important dichotomy between those individuals who have coached at the very top levels of professional football or the top class sports psychologists who work within the industry compared with those who have played the game and experienced all the ups and downs that life as a professional sportsperson performing at the highest level will inevitably encounter.
In essence therefore, you have the great theorists and master thinkers. Men like Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger. The people who understand the theory behind performing at a world class level. Then there are the great players. Messi. Ronaldo. Iniesta. The people who understand the reality of performing at that level.
With my Masters Degree in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology I now have professional and practical expertise in both. I can apply the theory whilst understanding the reality. I offer clients empathy; the ability to understand and share the feelings they’ve experienced for themselves.
Because citing theory is one thing. Sharing a mutual experience is another.
As I struggled with my two years of intense study, I occasionally felt overwhelmed. Just as I did when Nigel Worthington informed me, before my career had barely started, that Norwich City valued my presence so much, they’d happily give me away for nothing!!
Football pitch or lecture theatre. In both cases I had potentially career changing decisions to make. In hindsight, the choices I made were the correct ones. Now, as a result of my studies, I’ll be able to let those feelings and emotions they provoked in me help with the work I’ll be doing with people from all over the world. Whether they are a Premier League footballer or a senior manager within a multinational organisation.
I found the self discipline required for that study difficult at times. But I also feel that life is too precious not to spend it doing the things that you really enjoy. Which is exactly what I am doing again now.
The last two years have thrown up numerous challenges but, as I await the results of my dissertation, I can only hope and pray that I’ve done enough to become the first Premier League footballer with an MSc in Sports Psychology.