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Hill sprints in Font Romeu

A Day in the Life of: a Sports Psychologist

POSTED Friday 27 April 2018

With so many experts hidden away in the Performance Centre of Sport & Fitness, we thought that the annual visit to the Font Romeu training camp, attended by athletes and practitioners alike, was the perfect chance to chat to our experts about what a typical day in their lives is like. This week, we meet Matt, our Head of Sports Psychology.

Hello everyone! I’m Matt, the Head of Sport Psychology at the University of Birmingham. Very recently I had the pleasure of joining the University Athletics Endurance group on an altitude training camp in Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees. Font Romeu is a beautiful part of the world and we had a fantastic group of athletes training hard there – so I couldn’t wait to join them! I often have athletes and coaches ask me ‘how can I feel more confident?’. Well, Font Romeu is where BUAC athletes earn their confidence. Here is my day in the life of…


After a couple of ‘snoozes’ I turn my alarm off and drag myself out of bed. I get ready for the day ahead and begin the hunt for coffee.


(I have found coffee!!) I am in Head of Athletics Luke Gunn and superstar alumni Hannah England’s apartment next door where Luke is leading the morning monitoring of the athletes. Physiologist Ollie Armstrong is doing his thing assisting with monitoring and imparting his wisdom on those that need it (check out his Day in the Life of blog for more info). This is my first opportunity to do a ‘mood check’ of the group since I arrived last night. Everyone seems in good spirits. There is music playing and a couple of jokes flying around (as well as those who would rather still be in bed!). Generally the ‘irritability’ scores are low – a good sign that the training/recovery balance is being managed well and there is harmony in the group!

9amWith some of the women’s endurance group at Lac de Matemale

The group jump in cars and head to Lac de Matemale to do their long runs. I am sharing with some of the women’s endurance group. One of our student-athletes is playing some cracking air guitar anthems to get the group going. Vocals are on-point. At the Lake I take the opportunity to catch up with the great man and athletics coaching legend Bud Baldaro to see how the athletes are doing from his perspective. As always I get great insight and Bud highlights a couple of athletes that it would be worthwhile for me to meet with while I am here.

The guys get in great runs and it is a pleasure to see them in action.


We head back to the apartments via the local bakery Le Fournil de Bolquare. In line with Font Romeu tradition I get a delightful almond and chocolate croissant from Marie. Of course, it is a taste sensation!


I meet with Head of Athletics Luke Gunn to get his perspective on how the trip is going so far (the guys are roughly halfway through their camp).

The guys doing a hill session

Altitude training is tough – the athletes will be running slower than at sea level and yet it will be feeling harder. They are also sharing apartments and living in close proximity with people they may not usually live with. Alongside this the race-season is getting closer and some will feel pressure building. As I have arrived midway through the camp I am expecting fairly high levels of stress as people are over the excitement of arriving in Font, but not close enough to the end of the trip that they can see the light at the end of the brutal training tunnel. Bearing this in mind Luke and I discussed the state of the group, with a particular focus on the scholar and performance athletes I work most closely with and I am pleasantly surprised to hear that, in line with the information gathered at monitoring earlier in the day, the group are in very good spirits. This means that rather than being reactive and working with athletes that are struggling, I can be more proactive and look to meet with athletes to help them get the most from this trip and begin to prepare for race season.


I meet with an athlete. We walk around a local trail (actually a golf course in summer) and discuss the athlete’s performance challenges at the moment.


Lunch! Head of Physiology Ol cooks up a storm in our apartment. Lovely omelettes for roomies Bud Baldaro and myself.

3pmMatt observing a strength and conditioning session

Head to the performance gym for the groups S&C session.

Every athlete is unique. There is something about them that makes them an individual and different to everyone else. For this reason I see each athlete I work with as a new jigsaw puzzle. The more pieces of the puzzle I get, the more information, the clearer I see the picture, the better I understand them, the more effectively I can support them. Observing athletes in different settings including various training sessions, training camps and competitions, helps me to understand that athlete and be more effective for them. Observing S&C is a key part of that. It also allows me to get insight from our great S&C coaches like Ray Jakeman who was also on this camp.


Walking back from S&C I get the opportunity to catch up with another athlete on how their training is going in relation to their goals. I think the view of the mountains help give perspective.


I meet with another athlete. We walk down the hill into the delightful town of Font Romeu and back. On the walk we discuss their current training and how that is progressing them toward their goals. The athlete is returning to full training after injury so are showing good emotional control to keep their thinking rational and their motivation high.

7pmview from the apartment

I take a moment to get some notes down. I can’t get everything written up so I take skeleton notes and will find time later in the week to reflect on them.


Dinner time! A student-athlete has masterfully crafted a lovely paella for 12 of us that have popped round for dinner. We have a wonderful evening nicely punctuated with a game of family fortunes which brings out a few competitive streaks!


Time for bed. Tomorrow is a recovery day which provides me with lots of opportunities to meet up with athletes and work on their psych programmes with them. The day after begins with a savage hills session. I can’t wait!

Check out what else Matt gets up to on Twitter, and keep an eye out for our other ‘Day in the life of’ blogs.

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