Confidence is a fragile thing – it can take years to build but seconds to destroy. I’m sure many of you will have suffered from a lack of confidence at some point. Having a toolbox of techniques to help you with any knock and pick yourself back up again is vital.
Charlie Unwin Sports Psychologist has trained elite performers from a range of different industries including multiple Olympic champions, special forces soldiers, surgeons, musicians, fighter pilots and senior executives. His aim is to teach techniques that enable you to perform at your best under pressure.
Charlie has always been interested in psychology from a young age. He remembers this interest being sparked after reading a book by Steve Backley, the Olympic javelin thrower. In this book he talked about how his success was down to his mental attitude.
He was very much into sport growing up and because he lived on a farm horses were always around.
“I loved competing,” says Charlie. “I did a lot of pony club triathlon, which was an education in itself – but it wasn’t my intention to make horses my career.”
Charlie went to university to study psychology and ended up getting into modern pentathlon, a sport that he competed in for many years on the British team. After graduating in 2001 he joined the army as an officer and was in the royal horse artillery. So again, not necessarily through choice, he found himself with horses.
“I’m not sure why and it wasn’t a conscious thing, but I've always gravitated towards horses. I guess it was inevitable that my career would involve horses – and it does as a sports psychologist.”
It was during his time in the Army that Charlie realised that no matter who you're working with when you're under pressure, when you set high aspirations or goals for yourself, psychology plays out in everything that you do.
Charlie is one of the world leading experts who presented at the Horses Inside Out Conference 2023 – Upward and Onwards.
His talk title was:
Creating a Psychologically Informed Environment. Why all Equestrian Professionals Have a Part to Play.
The Importance of Goals
Charlie explains the title of our conference upwards and onwards immediately brought two things to mind. The first was how people move towards their goals and ambitions, whether that's professionally or as a rider.
“Very often as coaches and trainers you’re often working towards the goals of the riders that are your clients but you also have your own ambitions. If you don't you’ll find yourself meandering quite a lot in your career and what's important to you. In terms of upwards and onwards it implies a sense of where are you moving towards and being really clear from a personal effectiveness point of view,” says Charlie.
Creating a Psychologically Informed Environment
The second thing that came to mind for Charlie was more about the opportunities within the equestrian industry as a whole. Having spent many years working with riders and helping them to achieve their own goals and aspirations. He’s come to realise that he can’t work with everyone as much as he’d love to as there’s simply not enough time. After years of working with coaches Charlie has realised that coaches spend most of the time with riders and yet coaches were either reinforcing or perhaps undermining some of the stuff that was so important to the riders psychologically.
“It’s important to spend more time working with coaches and helping them to understand psychological principles and what they do,” explains Charlie. “This is the reason I set up Centre 10, which primarily focuses not just on coaches but equestrian professionals as a whole – grooms, vets, and physios to create a psychologically informed environment.”
Charlie firmly believes that we all have a part to play in helping all riders and professionals achieve their own ambitions and enjoy what you do, love what you do and be the best version of yourself. It’s a great opportunity within equestrian sports to be more collaborative - psychology isn't the be all and end all, it cannot exist in isolation of other things.
Physiology is such an important part of our psychology, in what our body is doing, the sort of feelings and the sensations that manifests within us when we're under a bit of pressure. When you’re not feeling so confident when you’re questioning yourself – yes, we’ve all been there.
It’s those feelings that changes our psychology and you can't just address the psychology without understanding the physiology and the impact that that's having on you in the moment. Charlie describes it as jigsaw and it’s a case putting all the pieces together.
His talk revealed the simple principles that we all can do brilliantly and that can have the most impact on all of us. Here at Horses Inside Out we found Charlie's presentation fascinating.
Enjoy this video where Gillian interviews Charlie: