When our thoughts and beliefs start to tell stories in our mind, Amy Spencer

Det har väl inte undgått någon att Sveriges strategi för att hantera situationen med covid-19 har skilt sig från andra länder. I den här artikeln kommer du att möta Amy Spencer som arbetar med prestationspsykologi i fotbollslaget Southampton FC som spelar i Premier League. I England var det en lockdown av samhället under stor del av våren. Vi ställde några frågor till henne om hur covid-19 påverkat (påverkar) hennes vardag och arbete samt hur klubben hanterat (hanterar) denna utmaning.

Sammanställt av: Karin Hägglund

Starting with the big picture, how has the lockdown in England been? What changed in your everyday life when the covid-19 pandemic started?  

Initially when the covid-19 first put the country into lockdown, it was a bit daunting. From speaking with loved ones to colleagues, listening to the news from around the country, a state of fear clouded over a lot of people. I personally believe that this was due to the unknown. 

As a human race, when we are unsure of something, our thoughts and beliefs start to tell stories in our mind. When fear of the unknown is introduced, we attach ourselves to these thoughts creating more anxiety and apprehension. From people I spoke to, this was definitely the case. Not knowing when the lockdown will end, death rates increasing, and strict government guidelines all fuelled this fear in people. 

Personally, I found the lockdown period tough. Being a very active person, having to sit at a laptop for hours on end was something that I was not used to. Staring at a screen constantly and trying to wrestle with my thoughts of the unknown was difficult. However, it allowed me to truly reflect on my skills as a practitioner. Learning and exploring the best ways for me to reduce the noise in my head and be able to truly focus on the task at hand while ensuring that my well-being was also being looked after. 

Continuing on the same theme: what changed in the everyday life of the Southampton FC? For example, how have you handled training during the spring? And the fact that there were no matches?

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The staff from the club were very well looked after during this period. All staff members continued to work throughout, and the club was very flexible with work times, especially for colleagues that have children. 

From a performance/well-being aspect for the players, the psychology team was on hand to support. It was a busy period as we were supporting not only players but staff also. We also created different mediums to support such as podcasts to infographics. 

From a performance psychology perspective, all focus went on the first team as they had to finish their training and as a collective, we felt that support needed to be placed there. To ensure effective support, all first team staff were split into PODs to support a group of six/seven players. The POD consisted of a Physiotherapist, Strength & Conditioning Coach, Psychologist, Coach and Massage Therapist. This allowed for stronger support networks to be created for the players and those staff within the POD. This was an effective way of working and all feedback from this approach has been extremely positive. As a club, we fully believe that this helped and supported the players to come back both physically and mentally fit. From a performance aspect, the first team was extremely successful when the season recommenced, and this is credit to the players and staff’s dedication and support throughout the lockdown period.  

If you compare your normal work situation to what your work situation looked like during the spring and now; what are the differences? 

The biggest aspect of the role that has changed is the use of computer software. Zoom and Microsoft teams has been a major shift and change in the way that I have had to deliver as well as the rest of the psychology team. Despite everyone in the company also having to use this medium of communication, the challenge of not being able to read the softer signs with players has been a challenge. It can be uncomfortable for some, if not all to sit in front of a screen to communicate, the lack of expression that happens was a real eye opener for me in comparison to working with players face-to-face. 

Now that the season is preparing to start again, it has been slightly easier due to being back on site with players. However, ensuring the correct protocols are still maintained can still provide a challenge. For example, wearing masks that cover half the face. On the positive side, the enthusiasm for players and staff to see each other face-to-face (while maintaining a safe distance) has had great impact on those relationships between all. It really highlights the need for human interaction and the positive benefits this has not only on performance but also on well-being. 

In order to meet this extraordinary situation, what strategies do you and the club work with? 

The medical team at the club have worked over and above during this period to ensure the safety of all. Maintaining government guidance as well as Premier League guidance has been a massive feat for the medical team and those surrounding this team to support the full operation of getting players back safely. As a club we have worked from a POD policy whereby a set number of players are only allowed to train together which is based upon position but also where the players live. A lot of the academy players live in host families and therefore ensuring that there is limited cross-interaction between players and host families has had to be taken into consideration. 

Cleaning facilities after every POD has been on site has been undertaken including poles, balls, cones etc. Marquees have been erected to ensure that players have their own space to place their belongings and maintain that safe environment to ensure that we all can still perform in this elite environment to a very high standard. 

In terms of well-being for the players, on a regular basis, players have had contact with all members of staff. During the lockdown period, zoom sessions were undertaken to ensure that all players stayed fit both mentally and physically to allow for a smooth transition back into pre-season training.

From your professional role, what challenges do you see (or have seen) for the athletes?  

One area that has been highlighted from players is homesickness. Although the players are in training and the season is about to start, due to the strict guidelines that have been set, players have stayed within their residential homes. For a lot of the players, during the initial lockdown period they were with their families for five months. Although all players wanted to come back and were very happy to get back training and on track to perform at the highest level, the lack of face-to-face contact with their family since being back in training has been limited. Staff have been very mindful of this and therefore as a collective are doing all to ensure that this is resolved but within a safe environment that is suitable for all parties as well as abiding by guidelines. 

From your professional role, what strategies do you see as beneficial for athletes in order to handle the situation? 

As part of my PhD research, I am exploring mindfulness within the realm of football. Players have been exposed to mindfulness practices, throughout the lockdown period, podcasts and one-to-one support when back at training to help with performance. 

Part of the psychology curriculum that the department has written incorporates resilience, therefore a lot of the sessions that have been conducted have focused on strategies for individuals as well as from a team standpoint to help with resilience, both to cope with coming back to training and starting the season as well as helping with performance. 

Do you see anything that you think will affect sport in the long run as an effect of covid-19? 

From a performance standpoint I believe that football clubs have worked painstakingly to ensure the safety of the sport, the players and staff. Unfortunately, due to guidelines and safety it is unsure of when a full stadium full of spectators can return to enjoy the sport once again. This potentially could have performance impact, as players through academy systems as well as professional players across clubs enjoy performing in front of crowds. Numerous amounts of research has explored the benefits of home advantage on performance; this could potentially be impacted due to covid-19. 

About Amy Spencer


Sport and Exercise Psychologist

Role in Southampton FC and how long you have worked there: 

Performance Psychologist Lead for the Professional Phase. I have been at the club for eight years.

What is the most exciting about your work? 

I love working with players and joining their journey regardless of where they are in the pathway. For example, I get a ‘buzz’ when you see players that you have worked with make their first team debut to working with players that have suffered with injury and you see them come back and make their first match minutes. It is a real pleasure to help and contribute a small part to them achieving their goals.

Why did you choose this line of work? 

I have always been interested and participated in sport. In particular, the mental aspect of being able to perform; holding focus when in pressurised situations, having the resilience to ‘bounce back’ from mistakes and by having a greater understanding of myself so that those nerves I experienced could work in my favour. 

The whole psychological element I found fascinating and therefore that stemmed my interest to study this discipline further. To be able to take that knowledge that I have learnt and still learning to help facilitate elite performers to achieve their performance outcomes makes every hour of studying worthwhile.

Best memory from sport:

Although the memory is not from football or from me as a practitioner, the most stand out memory that will stay with me was being involved in the London 2012 Olympics. I was fortunate enough to volunteer and be part of the opening ceremony as well as be around the Aquatic Centre in the Olympic park. 

I will always remember finishing my part within the opening ceremony and walking through the athlete parade (before they joined the world in the stadium) and listening to ‘Chariots of Fire’ thinking ‘WOW, what a special moment’. I was surrounded by the world’s best athletes and knew that sport was the career path for me. That memory still makes me smile and give me shivers down the spine every time I hear that song. 


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