‘It’s not a flaw to plan for life after football’

As one of the UK’s top performance psychologists, Katie Warriner has worked with the biggest names in global sport. As well as helping the footballing and rugby elite with everything from dressing room bust-ups to penalty-taking, she assists players with preparing for life after retirement and has also worked behind the scenes with Team GB for years. As well as her day job, Londoner Katie, 38, has co-authored a new book with national treasure Marcus Rashford and sports journalist Carl Anka, aimed at inspiring younger generations. We caught up with Katie to hear more about her work…

Hi Katie. What can you tell us about your book with Marcus and Carl? 
“Well, not too much I’m afraid, but it’s due out later this year, and it focuses on helping young people be the best they can be and unlocking their potential by working hard. It’s about recognising the spark of brilliance that’s inside everyone. I’m super excited and honoured to be involved. The concept of finding your voice is what Marcus is really passionate about.”

Sounds great. So how did you get into performance psychology? 
“I used to be a gymnast for Great Britain and was training 30 hours a week by the age of 12. But while I loved the sport, I had a terrible relationship with my coach. I also suffered a series of injuries and ended up developing
a total mental block.
I stopped competing when I was 17, and after that, set my heart on supporting athletes in the way that nobody had helped me. I went on to do a Sports Psychology degree, and then got my break in 2011 working with the Canoe and Slalom team ahead of the London Olympics.” 

What does your day-to-day role involve? 
“It’s about helping athletes, players and their coaches connect. Or it can be working with a footballer on their confidence, or on things outside sport – such as relationship challenges, and life after they stop playing.
There’s a grieving process when it comes to players retiring, but it’s OK to go through that. If you’ve lost your dream and identity, it’s important we create space to talk about it.”

‘It’s about helping athletes, players and their coaches connect. Or it can be working with a footballer on their confidence, or on things outside sport – such as relationship challenges, and life after they stop playing’

Players do struggle with those adjustments, don’t they? 
“Absolutely. They often think, ‘If I’m no longer a footballer, then who am I?’ We try to show that it’s not a flaw to plan for life after football, but a big step forward. The strengths you have as a footballer – such as discipline, confidence and resilience – can help you excel in life. For instance, lots of sportspeople I’ve worked with have gone on to study psychology – or become psychologists themselves.” 

How has your work been impacted by Covid-19? 
“I’d just came back from maternity leave the week before lockdown one, after having a baby girl. Most of my work went virtual so I wasn’t too badly affected, but I really felt for the athletes. My partner Remi works with the England rugby team and he was in and out of their bubble, going through all the restrictions and PPE.
He went to an eight-week camp last year, where everyone ate meals in their rooms, with no socialising. It’s been tough.  Although rugby players and footballers were lucky to keep playing, it came at a cost, as all the things they love about the game disappeared.”

Have you been helping players preparing for the Euros and the Olympics?
“Yes, but we still don’t quite know what’s going ahead, and how. Uncertainty is one of the worst conditions for the human brain, and it’s especially hard for athletes, who’ve been training for years. We’re all just making the best of it – and that’s why I’m such a believer in the power of the mind and being kinder to ourselves. We have to accept what we can’t control.” 

Is performance psychology more accepted in sport these days? 
“It’s getting there, but in football, some people still think it’s weird and happy-clappy, or that it’s for weak people. In Olympic sports, it’s been embedded for years, and you won’t find a team anywhere without a psychologist.
The brain is the most complex organ in the universe, capable of up to 150,000 thoughts a day, and we’re not given a manual for it. So why wouldn’t you want to optimise that?”

Do we still need more investment in this side of sport? 
“For sure. Football captivates the nation more than any other sport, so it makes sense to me that the Government should take better care of it and provide more education to understand the role of psychology in it. Some of the top clubs are starting to change though. I’ve had approaches from them, and it’s exciting to see it being taken seriously at last.” 

To find out more about Katie’s work got to ignitesport.co.uk

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