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Going for Gold


 Professor Peter Terry

There appears to be much merit in the psychology of going with the flow for Professor Peter Terry. His career path has been anything but linear and yet he has achieved great success and contributed to some of sports most exciting events.

Professor Terry was a gifted sportsman and academic as a youth beginning his educational journey studying English Literature and Sports Sciences in Britain. He wanted to extend his studies through a PhD at Oxford University with a dissertation on the Theatre of the Absurd but when this option proved impossible, almost on a whim, he moved to Canada to complete a Masters in Sports Psychology.

While in Canada, Professor Terry attended the 1983 World University Games in Edmonton to conduct research into athletes' coaching preferences, which is where his passion for working with elite athletes was ignited. After this experience, he returned to London and lectured in Sport Psychology while completing his PhD in Psychology.

Through research, passion and understanding, Professor Terry was beginning to find his fit in life. He worked with young tennis players, not yet at the professional level, as well as many professional players. Throughout the 80s and 90s he trained British tennis stars at Wimbledon to improve their mental toughness.

Simultaneously, Peter developed the minds of the British Bobsleigh team at the Winter Olympics. At first it was trial by fire to test his theories and abilities, with the team insisting that he compete alongside them to “walk his talk”. He must have performed pretty well because after 10 years he was still there and helping the Bobsleigh team win an Olympic Medal in Japan in 1998.

Professor Terry gained a lot of publicity in the 90s through the work he was doing with various elite athletes, not only the Tennis and Bobsleigh teams but also in Cricket, Canoeing and Horse Racing. As a result of this publicity another opportunity arose in 1997, to provide psychological support to the British Shooting team in the lead up to the 2000 Olympic Games, after which he settled permanently in Australia.

Many of the Shooters gave credit to Professor Terry for contributing to the Olympic medals they won in Sydney. Peter said:

They have to be good in the first place but sometimes it’s just one small aspect holding them back. It may be that a part of the athlete’s personal life is a distraction, or a slight lack of confidence, or any number of factors. The key is to train the athletes to empty their minds of distraction and behave like an Iceman with no thought or emotion; to be robotic and play a role. Sportspeople are performers who need to act in a certain way for at least the duration of the competition.

Now he is fully committed to the Australian team and has recently returned from helping the Aussie Shooters at the 2012 London Olympics. Over the years, Professor Terry’s professional tactics have changed. To begin with, he adopted a mental training approach of teaching athletes a series of skills like stress management, motivation and concentration. This has evolved to a more person-centred, one on one approach, looking for the additional 1% that may be the key to winning.

The role of the Sports Psychologist can be all consuming. During an Olympic year Professor Terry would often travel and live with the athletes as they moved around the international competition circuit, in an attempt to fully understand their environment, frustrations and mind set and those areas that might disadvantage their performances.

To him, it is the best job in the world.

It’s the sheer exhilaration of being associated with the best in the world, gold medal winners. After ‘98 I said I was going to retire and I’ve said the same thing every four years after that.

Next year though, Professor Terry will not travel with international teams as he focuses more on his other roles at USQ. Peter is a Professor in Psychology, in which role he lectures and supervises research, and he is also the new Chair of the Academic board. When asked what he would like to have achieved before leaving planet earth, he responded:

While I am not yet ready to leave I have achieved more than I ever hoped for. I would have loved to help one of my sons make it to the Olympics though.

If you agree with Professor Peter Terry and would like “the best job in the world” in Sport Psychology you can work towards this now.

Start your degree in Psychology, complete your Honours and then specialise in Sport Psychology at Postgraduate level. The bottom line is that a Sport Psychologist needs to be well prepared across the board to address all sorts of conditions with athletes – depression and anxiety are commonplace and one needs to understand that athletes are not superhuman as may be suggested in the media.

From the sounds of it, the psychology used to assist elite athletes would be useful for us all. Fear of success is a genuine issue but don’t be afraid to be the best. Always go for Gold!