“Still a huge stigma working with a sport psychologist”: An interview with Anne Marie Kennedy
In a recent announcement on funding support for the Ireland Women’s cricket team, a much-overlooked part of the story is potentially one of the largest impact supports that the team will benefit from heading to the ICC World T20 tournament in November – Anne Marie Kennedy.
Ms Kennedy, Cricket Ireland’s consultant sports psychologist who originally hails from North Tipperary, will travel with the women’s team to the Caribbean for the tournament. She started working with Cricket Ireland in 2017, supporting the National Youth Academy, the Women’s Senior International Team and the Men’s Senior International Team. She also works across a range of other sports and athletic disciplines, including golf, rugby, and with the Dublin GAA Senior Football Team, Swim Ireland and Cycling Ireland.
“There are clear differences across sports in terms of the technical and physical demands. However, research and experience indicates that the psychological traits required to be successful are universal,” said Ms Kennedy.
“I have always been fascinated with how resilient people are in spite of great adversities and how they can turn these great adversities into their successes! I feel very privileged every day that I get to help people unleash their potential and achieve their goals. I take great pride in watching the athletes I work with grow and flourish into not only elite athletes but good people.”
On her role at the World T20 tournament, she said:
“I will be travelling with the team to Guyana in a supportive capacity, reinforcing all the hard work and preparation we have put in over the past few months. Along with the other coaches, I’ll be ensuring the players adjust to the environment and deal with the pressures that competing at this high level requires.”
“We are going there to compete. We have set our goals and objectives of what we want to achieve. Ultimately we are looking to perform to the best of our ability. We are very much looking forward to the challenge and no matter what the outcome, the journey will continue for this hard-working, ambitious and driven team.”
Image: Anne Marie Kennedy pictured with President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Ms Sabina Coyne at Áras an Uachtaráin
She observed that the role of sports psychologist is still a misunderstood one at times: “Unfortunately the perception out there among athletes is that you only go to a sport psychologist ‘if there’s something wrong with you’ or when things are going bad. There is still a huge stigma around working with a sport psychologist among not only athletes but some coaches too.”
“The sport psychologist is hired to enhance performance through the use of various mental strategies, such as visualisation, self-talk and relaxation techniques to help athletes overcome obstacles and achieve their full potential. We help athletes at all levels to develop coping strategies to deal with competition pressure, pressure from parents and coaches and also their own expectations.”
“We also work with athletes that experience difficulties such as getting injured, performance anxiety, dips in motivation and confidence, which can be a cause of great worry and distress for an athlete. Any work that you do with athletes must be player-centred. Their mental health and wellbeing will always be of paramount importance. It’s important to remember that the athlete is a person first and then an athlete.”
Asked what her topline advice would be for athletes, sportspeople or people wanting to improve their mental health, Ms Kennedy said:
“My key message would be to understand that your mental health is just as important to look after as your physical health. To mind your mental health you need to:
1) sleep well,
2) exercise regularly,
3) good nutrition and stay hydrated,
4) do things that you enjoy and are passionate about,
5) manage your self-talk i.e. be your own best coach,
6) stay sociable, don’t isolate yourself and reach out for help if you need it,
7) be mindful, learn to use and engage conscious breathing to help keep you calm under pressure or in stressful situations.”
“Meditation has been the single biggest positive influence on my mental health over the years. I try to spend at least 15 mins a day centring and grounding myself. When I meditate in the morning I use it to prepare myself for the day ahead, to kickstart an optimistic mindset and to prepare myself for potential challenges. When I meditate in the evening I use it to help me let go of whatever has happened in my day that doesn’t serve me, to let go of any stress, worries or frustrations so I don’t carry them into my sleep or following day.”
Anne Marie Kennedy, BA (HONS), MSc, RYT, MBPsS is a sport, exercise and performance psychologist accredited by the Sport Ireland Institute.