Samantha is the Managing Director of The SAM Centre. She is a Clinical Health Psychologist, and a Sport and Exercise Psychologist. Samantha has 30 years experience in private practice in well-established multidisciplinary clinics, and as a consultant to private businesses, peak and sporting bodies, tertiary lecturer, and clinical leader in corporate and public health organizations.

Highlights of the episode:

  • Importance of getting out of your comfort zone
  • Getting experience in elite sport as a sports psychologist
  • What it takes to develop a champion’s mindset
  • How to improve your recovery and performance with diaphragmatic breathing
  • Mental skills athletes can start practicing now to become elite

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Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I am your host. And today my guest is Dr. Samantha McLeod. She’s the sport psychologist for the Richmond Football Club, managing director of the SAM Center, clinical health psychologist and sport and exercise psychologist with 30 years experience in private practice in well-established multidisciplinary clinics and as a consultant to private business, peak in sporting bodies, tertiary lecturer, and clinical leader in corporate and public health.

Before we start this episode, our mission here at Prepare Like A Pro is to empower aspiring athletes and staff with practical knowledge from some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals and to strengthen the AFL community. If you like the show, please show your support by following us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

Welcome, Samantha. Thanks for jumping on. 

Samantha: Thank you very much. That was quite a mouthful. Wasn’t it? There was a tongue twister, that intro.

Jack: Yeah. A little bit of a tongue twister, but there’s plenty to unpack over the next 60 minutes. So really looking forward to sharing your story in working both in the clinic business, as well as, of course, elite sport. Take us back to the very beginning, Samantha. What age did you recognize that you had a passion for psychology and then eventually working with athletes?

Samantha: I remember a lady came out when I was in year nine and I didn’t really know what psychology was. I think she was actually a child psychologist at the time. But prior to that, cause I was an elite basketball player. So like everyone who’s an elite athlete thinks they’re gonna end up in sport.

I thought I was gonna be a PE teacher or a physio, and I’d done some placements with my auntie who was a teacher. And then I’d gone into hospitals. Do any physio rounds. And I thought, I sort of ignore the average. I really was only interested in the people who are really quiet or the people who are arching up in the playground. So I wonder what those people do.

And then this person spoke to me in year nine and I just knew, and I thought I was gonna work with young people which I do, but ended up in the elite end, really even not just sport, but work with gifted kids and adults as well. So I knew pretty early.

But, I say actually, people, I have one of those faces that people just tell me they’re stuffed, even if I’m sitting on a bus . So I think since I was a kid I’ve been holding everyone’s secrets, trying to find what I was meant to do when I grew up. 

Jack: Oh, very good. That’s a special power for a sports psychologist or any psychologist. What about strong influences or mentors throughout your career today so far?

Samantha: I remember we did a HHH session at Richmond. And when I first came on and I was thinking, oh, who are my heroes? And they were all male, which is ironic, like throughout my whole life.

I did have some teachers that had a bit impact on me, but probably one of my first real elite coaches in basketball when I was playing at Buso and then played national league. He was a real innovator and pioneer, and we were doing probably since state teams, since I was 14, doing a lot of sports. He was a PE teacher, but he would just learnt rapidly.

And so I learned all about a mental rehearsal I would do for my own games. He would prepare us like professionals. We would do all the stuff like that. So I had that grounding really early on. And then it was his probably thirst for learning and being on top of the game. And still he’s like over 70 and he lives in Queensland and still rings me up every now and then to pick my brain and vice versa.

So he’s been an influence my whole life. Probably the next man I’d say was when I was doing psychology and that was my mentor and supervisor. He professor Rob Kirkby. He was quite a well known sports psych at the time. And he actually really suddenly died. My last year of my PhD, he was my PhD supervisor, but he was like over 60 and he would just run.

He just thought he was like 30. So he died doing what he wanted, running, and just had a heart attack. So that was very difficult, but he was my mentor for about 10 years. He worked with Australian Cricket. He worked with a lot of national teams and I was his little protege and he would take me to all the trainings.

He would put me on the spot, try and make me run the sessions as a BU little sports. Like when I was there, I was like, oh my God. My heart was going on maybe miles an hour. I had to deal with the performance anxiety. So he really threw me in the deep end and he pushed me, and he was amazed because I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to do health psychology, which was more like medical psychology, or sport and exercise psychology.

And so he basically designed the pathways that I could simultaneously qualify for both. So that’s why I’ve got endorsements in both now through opera and he, out of his own time, ran all the sports, like course content and everything after hours for me. And then I did a joint thesis. And he took me all around the world to his international conferences and made me get up in front of people. So I think professionally he really inspired me. And still does.

And then the other guy is someone that’s cross paths my whole career. And that’s Dr. Peter Carport, who was the AFL medical director. He’s the director also at Aton Sports Medicine clinic, where I worked for 12 years when I first came out and we also worked in a space of compensable care TAC and work safe on the clinical panels together.

And we always seemed to refer to each other still. And then ironically, I ended up in the AFL and he’s just resigned. He’s still in the AFL, but we just keep crossing paths. So he inspires me. Well, he worked in my sport. And still does so bear from other people. 

Jack: Some great people. It sounds like fantastic growth experiences all throughout. Take us back to, as you mentioned, being thrown in the deep end, early on in your career, how important for practitioners listening in is it, do you think, to have someone that does take you outta your comfort? In a safe way, of course. 

Samantha: Very and even, I do supervision for placements, for students and things. And I feel like they’re still quite nervous to go out, like they’ve had the training, but to actually run the interventions, even take someone through a relaxation script or a meditation script he used to make us, like we would run the groups and we would be the participants.

And we had to do all of that. And then each of us had to be the facilitator of the group and do all this practice. So he really was into building the efficacy for us. And I think a lot of the courses aren’t run like that anymore, but I certainly do that for my supervisors is, say, if you go, give it your best shot, you’re gonna learn something. But the way to do it is actually do it. 

Jack: Get practice.

Samantha: Yeah. So, even the ones at my clinic, my practice are still very nervous actually. And you can understand that cuz they’re dealing with people in mental health most of the time. But they’re getting used to me pushing them and getting them out of their comfort zone because like I said, that’s how I got where.

I used to say, even to Peter har or like, I don’t even understand why you keep referring people to me. Like, how do you know if I’m any good? And he would go, I know a lot of people and a lot of people talk and it’s cuz he just put them there and I had to step up. So a lot of the strategies that I’m teaching people, you actually have to use yourself in those settings. 

Jack: And to develop confidence at that earlier stage while you’re building your experience, is it a matter of reflecting on an experience to improve on the next one? Or is it rehearsing in your own time? Take us through to start building some momentum behind your practice.

Samantha: It’s probably pretty similar to what we do with younger players, but development players going through the pathways, you do have to think. I think I was fortunate. I think playing elite level basketball, I use those transferable skills really. A lot of people tend to think in the domains they’re in and they think I haven’t done this before, but I always say, you gotta look at your past successes, look at what you’ve done and look at your transferable skills.

And that gives you confidence that you don’t need to know everything. Like the people who come outta sports think they have to know everything about every sport, the rules. And I said, that’s not your role. You can learn that from the athlete. You don’t have to SW up about that. So looking at those past successes and knowing if you have transferable skills, I think is really important and also preparing.

So, one of the things Rob used to say to me is. Don’t be so arrogant to give somebody something that you haven’t tried yourself and that if you’re going to do things, know whether they work, how they don’t work, what you have to do to tweet them, because that actually builds efficacy in the intervention when you can talk to someone like that. So that has been really big with me and I push people to do that.

Cuz I have heard people that give people relaxation scripts, and they’ve never done it themselves. They wouldn’t have what it’s like, I think, well, when the person comes back and says you, which they do athletes, high performance athletes push you. And they come back and they say that doesn’t work. That’s too simple. There’s no way that’s gonna fix my problems. I’m not gonna do it. You have to know where to talk from, to be able to get them to know, well, yeah, it didn’t work for me when I first started, I could only do five minutes or this is what I had to do to fix it.

You have to get the buy. Yeah, really. So I think all those strategies that you try and teach someone, you have to actually use yourself rehearsing and Rob told me to write out my script to run a relaxation session and just go over it in the mirror like you were doing so that it becomes automatic. So once I did that, I don’t think I’ve, you may tweak it, but it’s basically become a bit more natural.

I had an interesting experience when I first tried to make some relaxation CDs, and it was somebody took me to their studio, but he had been a past client and he was really good with audio and music. All of this. And when I was trying to do the real, I was talking to this microphone, he stopped and he said to me, Sam, I just want you to talk to the microphone, like you’re talking to me and just do it naturally. Like I’m here in the chair.

And it was the best thing he could do because I just completely changed my tone. I didn’t do that really daggy meditation voice, that people put. I knew that. I practiced that. So I felt way more comfortable doing that. 

Jack: So it makes a lot of sense, like you said, it is very similar to any skill I guess, is rehearsal, reflecting and repetition, practicing over and over again. So it feels comfortable. In terms of getting a foot in the door, but as a sports psychologist, how challenging is it? Early days while you’re building your network base and your skill set, and I guess your reputation, how challenging can it be to get some experience in elite sport?

Samantha: I think in Australia quite challenging because in a lot of other countries it could be a full time job. I think probably more so with the increase in mental health problems in athletes, that that’s where psychs are now getting the roles in elite sport. But really unless you’re aligned with an Institute, it’s very unusual to get a full time role.

So that’s why I always say to my students, you have to learn to generalize and have good clinical skills. Not just be a performance psychologist, because you’re not gonna be able to get a role like that. My whole career I’ve probably had numerous consultancies running at the same time.

So working with a number of teams or organizations, doing it in private practice, lecturing in it. So there’s a variety of roles of sports I can take, not just one-on-one or with a team. So I try and get them to think more broadly about how you can use your skills. 

Jack: And then obviously from a financial point of view, that makes a lot of sense in terms of job security and building to a full time wage, if there aren’t many full-time contracts out there. But do you find also by doing that without a generalist approach, getting exposed to a lot of different environments with different clients that there’s good reference points when working with athletes because you’ve had more experiences or different variety of experiences?

Samantha: Absolutely. When I first came because Avington was a clinic that I spent a lot of time as a basketball getting rehabbed out. They didn’t have a sports site, like I’ve been there since I was probably 10 right at the clinic.

And I remember Peter saying to me, when you graduate, I want you to come in as a sports site, cuz we’ve never had one. And I have no doubt that me doing in a multidisciplinary clinic and doing diverse work with all kinds of clients is what set my career up because all of those doctors, all of those people still refer to me now, this is like a very long time ago.

And actually when I was at Aton, I was getting a little bit too busy. So I said to them at a time, listen, I don’t wanna leave, but if I don’t set up my own practice, then we are just referring these people out to people. I don’t know. And I would rather set up my practice and bring like-minded people in. And then we network. So we now in network where the psychology and I send them there for sports medicine and lots of other things.

So those referrals keep going your whole life, but I don’t think people are getting those experiences coming out now. So, they don’t know how to market. They don’t know how to build that network. And I said, it takes, I volunteered. I volunteered for two years while I was graduate, under supervision. And that was at a place that was actually really heavy mental health and coming off prescribed medication.

So I got a massive experience in mental health. Now they offered me a job at the end of it. And I think people have to be prepared to do those things because how do you know you’re any good until you start getting the outcomes and people start referring back to you?

Jack: Absolutely. 

Samantha: Yeah. Although that first client, I’ve got this one first client who has malt and still all these years later, somebody that’s connected to keeps coming. 

Jack: That’s just amazing.

Samantha: Yeah.

Jack: Great paying dividends later on. What about for the athletes listening in, more specifically footballers, obviously working at Richmond. For those that, like you mentioned, not everyone has access to a sport psychologist at local grassroots level or even semi-professional potentially. What are some things, if you don’t have a coach like you were lucky enough to have that is passionate, that area and quite holistic and is working in that space. What are some simple things that athletes can do themselves to enhance their performance from the mental side, in terms of mental skills? 

Samantha: Yeah, I think the first thing is, because there hasn’t been full time psych really in football, it’s starting now. At least the teams are starting in AFL, it’s more broad that psychologists are going into them and because they’ve got more access now through tackle your feelings program, where they can go out to community clubs. So they’re starting to hear about psychs.

And I think the main thing with younger players trying to break in is they’re thinking mainly about their physical skills, their strength and conditioning, how to be elite in that way. And sometimes it takes the young guys some years before they’ll get to their peak.

But we’ve gotta think about the mental side of it actually being immediate. Because you don’t have to wait to build the strength through your gym program until you can be a rock or play a big position. You can actually start mastering these skills and putting them into training immediately.

And many of say the veterans may not have had that when they first came in, they’re learning now. So I think also we are seeing some of younger guys coming in and already, because they could come from any stage, they may have actually had access to sports. And it’s an advantage already.

They’re really familiar. They love it. They wanna come, they make it their norm, like the dietician, everybody they’ve got, they see it as part of their team. So I think the earlier that they can get into that and practice it because I think what people think that it’s aimed at game performance, but really just like your kicking skills, just like you’re marking your defense skills, you need to be practicing these in training. In combination with what you’re doing.

And also I think the big thing we’re trying to get, because some of the young guys, they change states and their whole lifestyles changed. They don’t have their friends, their normal routine. So their wellbeings affected and those strategies that you would use for performance, you can use for your whole life to actually get that really balanced lifestyle that you got a lot of keeping your energy up.

Because I think it’s really hard for some people, particularly if they’re brought from remote areas, rural areas into big city teams, it can take years to actually be a professional. So I think if they can at least get this basic foundation skills to build resilience, it helps with that adjustment over the years and protects against mental health as well.

Jack: It’s an interesting point that you made or a few there, but that the aspect of how normalized, normal it is to work on your athleticism from such a young age. But the mental. For most part isn’t touched on until maybe you become elite already. So your physicality, if you had a bar chart or something would be in terms of the hours you’ve put in is up here and the level that you’re at with your mental skills in terms of time, energy that you’ve put into it is at the beginner stage.

Are you seeing, like you’ve got your finger in the pulse, you’re in the industry, are you seeing shifts in that, like you mentioned, there’s more awareness around mental health now? And by the sounds of it over the last few years, more from a performance side as well, do you think that high schools potentially and state programs start to put a little bit more time into sports?

Samantha: I think the schools, like the sports schools, like Marilyn Bong and Ville and some of the private schools, I do a bit of work out there that they’re actually bringing sports psych into their programs to help the kids with their sport.

They may be a golfer. They may be a judo player and they’re bringing in, put someone that works in the field to help them with their sport, but also teach them the strategies. And I think that that’s fantastic because actually all the strategies that I would help someone with you can use for your study, your exams across the board.

So I think that’s definitely happening. And I think there’s definitely particularly in primary schools with what we’ve gone through for the pandemic mental health awareness and building resilience in kids as in schools. And I think that older students are really getting into mindfulness and things because of what they’ve gone through.

But I would say like the amount of Zooms I did with sporting organizations, like all sorts lifesavers and all sports that were struggling with their athletes, with mental health during the pandemic. Gave them real access to people that they wouldn’t normally have thought about. I think, because it got so hard to manage what was going on in their associations that now they have the network. To pull on and know the names and the faces.

And so I think it will happen more and more, and it would be ideal to put it into schools, actually, especially any of the athletes that are, I mean, some private schools have some of the best athletes coming out into the program because they play sport a lot.

Jack: Absolutely. And tricky question. There’s probably not an answer to it, cuz there’s a fair subjective side to it, I imagine. But the pandemic to a side, like with mental health and AFL players, it’s been reported over a year or so there’ll be a few that retire early due to mental health. And do you think that as a society, we are just generally more aware of our mental health? Or do you think there’s actually increased mental health issues over the last sort of decade?

Samantha: I think both. I think our mental health literacy is improving so people can detect it more. And I also think particularly in AFL, once somebody leads and role models talking about it, it makes it a lot easier for everyone else that happens all across.

When there’s abuse that happens too. If people speak up, you get 16 others who are gonna tell their story. So I think, and particularly, for me, in male mental health that’s really important because we know it’s underreported and we know the suicide rate is higher, particularly in young males. So it’s important that people feel comfortable doing that.

I do think, particularly the demands of professional sport are getting are impacting on mental health. And I particularly worry about the media lately and how they don’t understand the damage that they can cause and how these people’s lives and wellbeing get affected.

And I think they need to be educated and I don’t think they should be able to come out into journalism without really hearing a story of what I have to sit and witness. So I think the demands are much bigger now. 

Jack: Thank you for sharing that insight. It’s really good to hear your thought process in that. And it makes a lot of sense. So with the media side of things, do you think that the ethics have been crossed, do you think over the last few years with players and some of the stories that are shared. How can we move with it, do you think?

Samantha: I think, and I’ve said this for a long time. It’s one of my pet peeves, I really like to sometimes I’d wanna run onto the stage and interrupt because they don’t understand, they don’t understand what they’re saying and they don’t understand what an athlete could be struggling with that they say such things. 

So their mental health literacy is poor and they can’t imagine what they’re doing. They wouldn’t imagine what it’s like for someone with social anxiety. So I do think that what’s starting to happen is the athletes are speaking up. But there’s been some quite tragic circumstances for that to happen and it should never get to that point.

And I also think we’re definitely as a college of sport and exercise psychs, we are starting to feel that we need to have a voice in that area and make sure that it’s understood and speak on behalf of the athletes that we treat. So it is something that I think we’ll move forward and there’s certainly a lot of discussion among the psychologists in Australia about this.

And we wouldn’t wanna let it get to the point that there was a suicide. Because you see this stuff in schools, right? If people feel bad and harassed and provoked and tarted to some degree when they actually know they struggle with mental health issues. We’ve seen that schools.

So I don’t know why, I dunno why that’s necessary. Most elite people and professional people who’ve been able to deal with media can answer most questions and should be given the right to actually say. I don’t wanna answer that. I don’t understand why somebody would want to keep provoking somebody who already has enough stresses.

Jack: Yeah, absolutely. I was trying, couldn’t dream. And going back to the athletes but for developing listeners, you mentioned how important it’s to start practicing mental skills when you’re working with an athlete for the first time. What do you like to see in terms of how coachable someone is and what can young athletes take on to make the most of working on their mental skills and mental health literacy in terms of their mindset when they’re working on these skill? 

Samantha: I think they do have to be open to know that if they want to be elite, then they’re going to need both. I always say it’s like the secret weapon. If you have the mental stuff, everyone’s gonna get the same training. They’re gonna get the same access to resources. The difference is there are people born that just arrive with these what I call champion mentalities. They’re mentally agile, they’ve got grit.

They have a thirst to learn and grow. They’re internally driven. They focus on their own mastery rather than where they should be in comparison to other people. They just have a deep belief in themselves that they will get there. They just need to persist. These are the characteristics of some of the most successful people on the planet and they know how to stay composed.

They know it’s necessary. They can adapt to adversity. These people don’t really see obstacles. They don’t describe things as negative. They actually see everything as an opportunity to grow. And they don’t even see emotions as negative. They accept them all. So some people have that, but all of those things that I mentioned there can actually be taught.

And even some of the veteran athletes, I might see haven’t had that. And they may have the characteristics, but it’s just gone a little bit hay and we need to bring it back in the pocket of where it will work to their advantage. So people can learn. There’s quite a bit of evidence that says, if you see a successful person, find out what they do and mimic them, do what they do.

Because it works. And we know that peer modeling is one of the strongest motivators. So, I’d say, look at the people you think, I always ask athletes, who do you admire? Who have you got on your pedals still? Who do you think you wanna be like? Because that’s the driver to say, well, we’ve gotta find out what they do.

Even if it’s an injury, they’ve never say they do an ACL and they’ve got no idea and they don’t wanna do all. You see little exercises, they call them, they don’t wanna do all that, but when they know that that person did that, then they will do that cuz they see their back. So I think that’s important, and speaking a lot to people similar to business.

I remember when I was opening up my practice, I spoke to so many business owners and PR private practice owners, found out everything they did wrong. So I didn’t have to make that mistake. I was gonna start off wrong. Oh, I’m sure I’m gonna make mistakes, but not those. And so if they could, the more they talk to successful people and have those mentors.

We know that mentors actually are even in the gifted people. It’s hard for them to find mentors, but we know the ones who really succeed will have mentors in their lives. And so I spend a lot of time trying to find those people too, for elite and professional people. Because otherwise they won’t be challenged. They need to be challenged.

So I think there’s so much of where they can start. It doesn’t really matter that it’s, people will take their one strategy if somebody might like the breathing and that’s where they start. And somebody else is really visual and likes the imagery doesn’t matter. But what I say is just get a couple of things in your tool. Make them automatic, as soon as they become as automatic as your physical skills.

Now we go for another one and another one and you keep building and then that foundation skill you gave them should actually be the foundation to different levels to optimize their performance. So they’ve already got a bit similar to their physical skills. You got that now, now we are gonna move to here. We’re gonna do this. 

Jack: So the process. 

Samantha: Yes. Over time. 

Jack: And like you mentioned, like even veterans that are champions in the game are still working on this area. So it’s fantastic for young athletes to know that, like you said, it can be an advantage there, the younger you start no doubt in terms of setting up your career. For those listening in that want to strengthen their inner belief or strengthen their ability to compose under high pressure moments in a game, you mentioned the importance of practicing it in training for transference on game day performance.

What would it look like you don’t to name players, but what would a process look like for some of the Richmond players when they’re training during the week to help a specific area? Like the ones you mentioned, the elite. 

Samantha: So, I might be looking at say doing their breathing, like the diaphragm breathing, because that will help, they’ll help them sleep the night before. It’ll also reduce performance anxiety. We know that if they’re in the fight or flight response, if the game gets tense that their blood goes away from their center moves into the extremities that makes them more uncoordinated. So very stilted and tense. So it keeps them relaxed, which gives them a chance for the automatic physical training and motor learning to occur.

So instead of just thinking, oh, you only use that when you actually feel. We would be getting them to train it, say with set shot, kicking use it, practice it in between any breaks of play quarter to quarter to reset, even just center bounces while they’re all walking back. They’d have scrimmages, those kind of things.

If the coach is yelling at. Use it then to stay composed so that your arousal doesn’t go up so that they were trying not to go up and down like this with the game. We’re trying to stay in a certain pocket.

Jack: Yeah. Cause for the reason being, would that be quite exhausting if you’re spiking up-down.

Samantha: Yeah, it can be exhausting, but also it means you are very reactive to what’s going on. And what we are trying to do is build resilience, which means your inner world is what you can regulate and what you can control. And the external world is gonna be chaos sometimes. That doesn’t mean you need to match it in your internal world.

We have to keep this grounded because we expect that to get chaotic. But the more you can stay grounded. In fact, when you teach people this kind of real groundedness, this is where they get into the zone and into the flow experience by being able to do that because it feels so weird, so surreal. That they can feel all of that when it’s going real fast out there. And they feel like it’s chaos. 

Jack: Slowmo.

Samantha: And everything slows down and the wild wide field of vision. So the more we can get them practicing it earlier. So, for me as a basketballer, there would never be a set of foul shots that I wouldn’t do. The breathing exercise that I teach others, was as I’m waiting for the reft to pass me the ball I’m doing that. I get the ball, I breathe out and I’m following through. Then I start again. Next shot. Do it again. So that’s a training.

We were doing all of that at training, so that it’s paired together that I felt is paired with success, which also then leads to imagery, mental rehearsal, where we want you to be rehearsing it in the state. You want to be not tense, not anxious. And the more likely you are to achieve that state, then the more likely you’ll see successful outcomes in that imagery. So that’s what I mean by there’s a foundation block that we start from.

And then you put other skills in there. Confidence building and changing. I think the big thing for young footballers coming through, usually they’ve been the superstars, right? If they’ve got drafted, they’ve been the superstars in their junior teams and playing well, but then they come in as now, small fish in a big pond with people they’ve idolized. Most of their lives and they feel like they’re behind the eight ball on everything.

If they’ve gotta catch up on strength, on speed, on diet, on mental stuff and they come in and they’re like, oh, how can I possibly absorb all of this at once? And for them to understand nobody does that. They do it over time and to give yourself patience, but the mental skills, you don’t have to wait for. You can do that immediately. And that might actually help you while you’re a little bit impatient that the other things have to build up over time. 

Jack: And throughout all that you can reckon, you can start to see how important it is to have awareness, especially in a fast-paced, chaotic game, like football. So you can have all the skill set, mental skill sets in the world, but if you don’t know, like you mentioned having that pairing of when an umpire or pass through the ball or you’re lining up for goal to be able to tap into those into diaphragmatic breathing. Yes, I imagine that is at the same process that by doing it and practicing it throughout training, that starts to become automatic.

Samantha: Yes, becomes automatic. So, my supervisor used to always say to me, you don’t learn to swim when you’re drowning, you won’t know how to swim, right. So you actually gotta practice that. You’ve gotta practice that a lot so that when you’re drowning, you’ve got a good chance of getting out of there.

And that’s what I say to the guys. These have to be practiced. So I want you to do like I did it. I remember when he took me through all these groups and I had to do it. I did it every red traffic light. Cause I had a million jobs. I would do the breathing. I would do it before and after eating because I got six times a day, I would do it at basketball.

I would do it to go to sleep. So I was getting so much practice. It doesn’t have to be just in your sport. This is a skill. This is a life skill. And so is imagery because we know the evidence shows that those who can visualize what they want will more likely get it right when they create clarity and map it backwards. So all of these skills can be loose.

And that’s why I say I use performance psychology for all my clients, because doesn’t everybody wanna be the best that they can be. In every moment. Even if it’s in their relationship, even if it’s just at school. So, why would we save it all for elite professional athletes? It’s just that the demands get higher. So they get more rattled, there’s more sports specific factors like, major injuries, performance issues, contracts. 

Jack: And for athletes listening in that wanna start practicing and pairing it with their activities in life and at training, what would be a simple method to follow?

Samantha: I think let me think where you would start. I probably think the biggest thing is the real awareness. So what people tend to do is they worry about their mistakes. They worry about making mistakes because they wanna be better. But mistakes is completely expected, right? That’s just the chance you’re doing something that you’re learning.

We expect mistakes. I would say that the people who even when they’re still playing, when they’re 60 playing their sport and they love it, they’re the ones who recover from their mistakes the quickest. So I’d say as young athletes, the first line would be, are you spending 50% of your concentration on that past mistake, which only leaves you 50% concentration on this present moment.

And then they wonder why they get a role of mistakes, because they’re actually not able to have a hundred percent focus here and they can’t tell me if it was a goal for a swing or something like that. If they’ve got 50 back there and 50 here, when I ask them what went wrong in your technique, they can’t tell me.

But when you’ve got that focus here and you recover quickly into here. So that’s what I would say for young people, as they wanna achieve, they get very critical of themselves because they think they’re trying not to make mistakes. That’s never gonna happen. What we’re trying to do is recover the quickest. On anyone on that ground, you wanna be the quickest that recovers from a mistake.

And if you keep doing that, then you are gonna mostly for maybe 90% of the game, be the one who maintains the focus and endurance for longer. And we know that persistence and being present to bring predictors. So I’d say that they need to stop criticizing themselves and learn how to propel themselves into the next. 

Jack: And going back to your career, Samantha, so we had talking about challenges that you’ve faced both from a professional sense, what’s been a major challenge that you’ve faced and how did you learn or grow from it?

Samantha: It’s probably been heaps. I think even from when I had my PhD, so I started like I was playing national league basketball and I was doing my Master’s still. So I was trying to do my masters and I was running around the countryside. I had like a hundred jobs. I was still working as I was a psychologist, but I was working at the foots grade, TAB and in a sport shop because they needed the income.

And then I was sometimes working with other teams, so I was doing my own base and running around. And then it got to the point that did my PhD. Like it took forever cuz I had to do it part-time cuz I was working. I was like,, what am I gonna do now I’m playing. But now I’m working with the teams. But are my competitors giving them the secret weapon against us?

And it was a really tough decision because I loved both, but I couldn’t keep doing that ethically. I was like, I knew I was gonna play my sport as long as I could, but I also knew that I wanted something outside that. So making that decision to give up basketball, even though I was still pretty fit. I could probably have still played. It was more that I knew I needed to put that energy into that because it takes a long time to earn the respect and reputation. You actually have to go through the hard work.

So that was one big point for me. I think my supervisor dying in the middle of my PhD and he was my clinical supervisor. That was massive. It probably took me about 12 months to get my head back, to finish the PhD. And I was working full time as a psych then too. So that was massive.

And then I think the weirdest thing for me was probably because I’ve worked in my sport. Obviously it was the easy pathway for me. I could work with national league teams. I could work with my own club. And I think I’ve noticed this with other psychs too. It’s actually harder to work within your own sport somehow because you’re well-known.

You’re well-known. People know you and it’s much harder to cross that cross and just step into the professional realm without people having all of these other ideas about you or even giving you the professional respect. So usually in other sports, I worked in bug and soccer and all these other sports clean slate.

I could just go in and I didn’t expect that, and that probably was hard, cuz you’re so passionate about it. But once I realized that. Then it was like a light bulb moment that freed me and said, oh, okay, well, I’ve done that. I don’t have to do that anymore. And that’s when I actually decided to take the gig at AFL.

And in the end I realized it was probably what my whole career, everything I’ve done has amalgamated to come back to this because I think I was always passionate about male mental health and helping high profile males achieve what they wanna and still say same.

Jack: So it’s amazing to hear and it’s definitely been a common theme with all the guests that have been on the show is that the journey isn’t all laid out in front of you and line you sort of take what’s in front of you and make the most of it. And see where it ends up. That’s great. And on the flip side, over your career, what were your proud moments? 

Samantha: I was thinking about this question when you said it and I think I’m very similar to what I try and get my athletes to say, to be like. Actually my most enjoyable moments is actually just doing the work. I feel so fortunate. And I feel really privileged to share and witness some of the staff and build the rapport and trust I do with some of these athletes who have had really difficult times.

And when I think about it, I’ve been able to help my own grassroots basketball club when they were struggling in the pandemic, which meant a lot to write up to the opals, trying to prepare for the Olympics and they were in a pandemic. There’s moments like that, that I think I’ve really been lucky. I’ve been in multidisciplinary routines, which I love. Cause I learn heaps about that. I worked with gifted people who challenge me and make me be a better practitioner.

And I learn, and I have revelations and I have to keep on my toes, but I actually think just the whole thing I just feel like the whole thing is incredible. It’s incredible to witness people’s journeys. And I think the only time I get really emotional is when they get happy when they get to their holy grail. And then they’re like, oh, eyes tear up.

And they can tell me all these tragic things and I’m like, just going through it. But when they make their dream come true. When they fight through stuff that people would not realize they’re going through. I can’t even describe it in words really. It’s incredible.

Jack: I can imagine some special moments you’ve shared with many people, that’s inspiring work. We’ll move into the personal side of the podcast. So the get to know Samantha or AKA Sam, as you’ve referenced, some people calling over the podcast, a favorite inspirational quote, or life motto, do you have one? 

Samantha: Well, I was thinking about this and I love quotes. I read so many books. I’ve got that many quotes, actually write them down, but I think I’ve got this, my own little quote that I’m gonna have tattooed on my body someday. But it amalgamate everything of how I’ve lived and how I wanna keep living. And it’s just a really simple sentence that is: ‘be here’. Be true. Be love, be more. And there are all the things that make me keep being the best version of myself. 

Jack: So, that’s almost like your value system, but also a reminder to be present in the moment. 

Samantha: Yeah. In the present and to strive, to keep being better. 

Jack: That’s a good one. Thanks. What about, do you have pet peeves in your work life and they fire up or it could be in your industry as well? 

Samantha: Actually, I’m a pretty passionate person. and so I might get just as excited, but I get just as fine up about stuff. There’s like a whole list, but I think the hard thing. I do think people anywhere taking advantage of great situations and people’s generosity to help them. I do think that the generations coming in now have a strong sense of entitlement without actually earning it. Without earning the right. And people would expect me, I’ve put a lot into my mentoring and supervision and growing people.

They really don’t understand. We never had anything like that. We had to just work it out and find it. People are coming out expecting their first gig to be like where I’ve been working 30 years, that kind of thing that I cannot understand that. It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t also give them the grounding. They need to work with people like that. 

Jack: And to have success and make an impact. 

Samantha: So that’s a big pet peeve. The other pet peeve is I cannot stand sport supporters who bag their own teams and abuse them. Wait for a team and abuse them. Like they’re supposed to be your favorites. That’s a really big one for me. 

The media, of course, I’ve said to you, I feel like that. And I think because I’ve been in team sports, even in my practice I’m trying to build a team culture. I’m trying to make them feel like they wanna come to work and this is a great team and it’s hard if you’ve not really got them team mentality in the first place, they should have been individual athletes, that kind of stuff.

I mean, all my teammates and anyone that I’ve been in a team with know, they were gonna get told off by Sam if they did anything that was against the team and not the team first. So that’s probably one of my pet peeves. We’re in it together. And it doesn’t matter whether you like anyone, we are working together and don’t ever leave anyone out. Don’t bag a person, don’t ostracize them, or you’re gonna get Sam’s rap. We’re here working for the same thing.

Jack: Fantastic. You’re sounding like a coach. What about your favorite way to spend your day off? 

Samantha: I had more days off, but my favorite day would fluctuate depending on where I’m at and what I feel in my life. So, the biggest thing for me, I love to reflect. I love to reflect on where I’m at, where I wanna go, am I actually using all my own strengths? Am I reaching my own potential?

So I often don’t get enough time these days to do that. I used to love to immerse myself in nature. I could sit on the beach for hours, but I’m really doing all of this visualizing and planning and stuff myself. The daydreaming, I love that and I love the beach and sometimes I can’t get the break, so I’ll do what I call little urban retreats and I hook myself into a city hotel and I do the float tank and massages and pampering.

And I just stay overnight in a really comfy bed. And it’s like a 24-hour thing that I do. So I introduce those a couple of years ago and for me, urban retreats, even retreats. And I actually thought what got business idea I should start, absolutely busy business women. Start the urban retreats. My question is actually to get more days off next.

Jack: Yeah, well, it sounds like you’ve got plenty opportunities going on. But you deserve it and like you mentioned up there, you’re now up north and you’ve done that. You’re practicing what you preach, so good to hear, recharging the batteries. It’s important for all of us. What are you excited for 2022? What’s on the horizon with all the things? 

Samantha: Well, it doesn’t seem like there’s much left of it. I can’t even believe it goes quick. 

Jack: You don’t have counts. Yeah. 

Samantha: Can I say I’ll be excited when I get a break at the end of the session, I’ll be excited about that because really I’ve been working, that’ll be almost three years through the pandemic with, really not a decent break because I had to run my practice through COVID, through all the, you know, to just keep the practice going. So I’ll be looking forward to that.

I’m very excited to watch Richmond and how they go each week and hope that they really find the best within themselves. It’s not really about the finals, but just feel proud of what they’ve done by the end of the season. I’m excited about lots of the little holidays I’ve planned for myself. Cause I think nobody’s been anywhere like in Melbourne, everyone’s planned and that’s exciting. The simple things really, I’m excited about. 

Jack: And you mentioned your clinic, for those listening in that wanna get in contact with yourself online, but also potentially booking a place with your people, where do you get in contact? Where’s the best place to find your clinic? 

Samantha: Well, probably the website. I’ve actually just done a massive, we are about to relaunch the new website, but the number in contact details. So it’s www.samcentre.com.au and that’s got the contact number or email address. 

Jack: And what would be some common sort of ACEs or scenarios that people will come to SAM Centre for?

Samantha: I’ve tried to basically build the team so that I have someone for all my specialties. So the health psych we’ve got, so that would be anyone with like medical conditions, chronic conditions, injuries. We have health psychs. We also have clean psychs, and me and some others that do quite a bit of mental health work.

We would do a lot of child adolescent work, so young. I’m training a team because I’m so busy with the sport psych, that I’ve probably got about four proteges at the moment that I’m trying to, they do a lot of the referrals that I can’t take. So we’ve got quite a big focus on sport and performance psychology, and also the kids at school, cuz we use a lot of work for that.

They’re probably other, probably the most, I mean, I’m the only one who works in there. Cuz after I finished my PhD, I went and did a Master’s of gifted education. So the reason I did that was because I was attracting elite people with mental health, but they also wanted a bit, like what I said, they wanted more than just their sport. They were interested in making a difference outside their sport. So, it married quite well. So I specialize in that and working either with young people or gifted adults. Which there are quite a few in sport. 

Jack: Absolutely. Well, for those listening in, it might be parents, it could be young athletes or coaches, practitioners that work in performance that want, or business owners as well. Make sure to get in contact or add the link in the show notes. Last question for you that’s just popped up in my head.

You mentioned how important it is to have an open mind for these methods. You do hear some athletes potentially, maybe more experienced athletes that stuff’s not for me. So close-minded however you wanna word it, but yes. What would be your approach to when hearing an athlete that, is it a matter of just letting them be and they’ve gotta come to you or do you feel like at times you can start to shift that close mindset towards being more open?

Samantha: Oh, definitely. I think people just psychology per se think, oh goodness, this is scary. It’s a little bit scary. But I definitely think I got way more referrals for probably athletes that needed mental health treatment, but it seemed a little more cool to go to the sports psych than another psych.

So coming to the sport psych, they just seem like they’ll deal with some performance stuff, but you’re really treating the other stuff at the same time. For sure. And at the start they are guarded. And they think that it won’t work. But how I work is if they’re elite, if they’re coming through an elite pathway or whether they’ve actually made it into professional sport, all of those people have already done something.

They know how to play their sport because they’ve been picked. So it’s not necessarily about teaching them and trying to get them to do these new stuff. It’s trying to be a mirror and let them see who they really are and what they can do. Because a lot of really prolific athletes don’t know how to turn on their strengths because they don’t see them as strengths. They’re so natural to them.

So sometimes it’s not about saying you need all this mental skills, sometimes it’s about saying, what have you got? Do you know you have this? And what about if you just turned it on consciously? What would happen?

Jack: Yeah, that’s great. Well, well said. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing with us your journey as a sports psychologist, working in the clinic, running your own business and everything you’ve lived full life and there’s plenty more to come, of course. You’ve mentioned your website for those that wanna connect with you, maybe practitioners where’s the best place? So you’re on social media or is it LinkedIn? 

Samantha: We’ve also got the SAM Facebook page and we’ve got the SAM Centre LinkedIn page. We’re on Twitter. The email address also is on the website. So, usually it’s emailed through to reception and then whoever needs to go to, they’ll forward it on.

Jack: Perfect. Awesome. Very good. Well, thanks again, Samantha. Thanks for jumping on.

Samantha: Thanks, Jack. It was lovely to see your face. 

Jack: Yeah, we’ll have to catch up in person at some point and share a coffee in Melbourne or something like that. But lovely. If we have time. Yeah, I will make it. We’ll make it.

And thank you for all the listeners as well that have tuned in. If you tuned halfway through the show, make sure to watch it on YouTube and we’ll release it on our podcast next Tuesday. Now next Prepare Like A Pro live chat show will be with Abram Rim. He’s working at Blackburn Rovers as a rehab physiotherapist, and that will be at Friday 3:30 PM Australian Standard Time on August 12th. I’ll see you guys then.

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