Olympian Richardson-Walsh working as psychologist for Tottenham

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Helen Richardson-Walsh poses in front of the Purplebricks mural at St Alban's Catholic Primary School in Cambridge
Helen Richardson-Walsh poses in front of the Purplebricks mural at St Alban's Catholic Primary School in Cambridge

Retired hockey hero Helen Richardson-Walsh arguably now has her toughest assignment in sport: instilling a winning mentality at Tottenham Hotspur, writes Josh Graham.

The four-time Olympian, 39, won gold in Rio 2016 before hanging up her stick and finishing her studies in psychology. 

After completing a masters in organisational psychology from City, University of London, the die-hard Spurs fan has been helping her club on the pitch by working with the women’s side as a performance psychologist for one day a week since November.

“Hopefully the fact that I’ve also been there as an athlete might help some footballers open up a bit more or might not, it might have the opposite effect,” said Richardson-Walsh, who is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo.

“I actually think that is the beauty of people, that we are all different. The more we recognise that and bring it into the work we do then the better it is for everybody.

“I’m really enjoying the role at Spurs and in my head, I'm thinking ‘yes this could be somewhere I would like to go’. But I'm keeping all my options open. 

“It’s challenging going from being an athlete and an expert in something to being a psychologist and I don’t feel like I'm at the level I was as a hockey player. 

“I’m happy to build up my experience and hopefully become an expert again.”

Richardson-Walsh was captained to glory at the Olympics five years ago by her wife Kate and she hopes to take some of the lessons she has learned in elite Olympic environments into football.

“I work with the players on their mental game - how they can get the best out of themselves mentally,” she added.

“I’m also really hoping to work with the whole team and staff on their culture because understanding what you are about as a team is fundamental to how you perform.

“The environment that you create has a huge impact on performance on the pitch and how much you enjoy what you do every day.

“Particularly for sports people there’s so much pressure and it is a bit of a weird world to live in.”

Richardson Walsh and artist Ben Martin celebrate the Purplebricks mural for Team GB with primary school kids in Cambridge
Richardson Walsh and artist Ben Martin celebrate the Purplebricks mural for Team GB with primary school kids in Cambridge

Richardson-Walsh’s interest in psychology stemmed from her own battle with depression brought on by serious injury setbacks.

“My own struggle with mental health was also one of the main reasons I went into psychology,” she explained.

“I missed out on the 2014 World Cup selection because of my back injury, and I really struggled and suffered from depression at that time.

“I now know that we all have mental health and it’s a message I like to share.”

She admits the role of a psychologist now is unrecognisable to the first professionals she encountered in her playing career.

“It’s worlds apart from the first psychologist we ever had,” she said.

“It was like looking around at this person not saying anything and just watching. ‘What are you doing? Who are you?’ It was just this random person. 

“But by the end it was someone who was fully integrated, and they really developed our culture and were part of the team and really helped us as individuals.”

Purplebricks is working with communities, athletes, and local artists to create commemorative murals for Team GB, encouraging the nation to show home support and get behind the athletes at the Tokyo Olympics. Visit @PurplebricksUK or https://www.purplebricks.co.uk/team-gb

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