"That initial fascination was trying to understand the mind and how it was so powerful"

Sophie Carrigill is a Paralympian and co-captain of British Wheelchair Basketball. She is also a psychology graduate, and she spoke at the British Psychological Society's Psychology 4 Graduates event in 2017. Our Assistant to the Managing Editor, Debbie Gordon, was there to ask her a few questions.

Why psychology?

Psychology has played a massive part in my whole life really. Most importantly when I was in a car accident when I was 16, I became paralysed, and I was fighting for my life, the crash was pretty traumatic and going through a big trauma like that, the power of the mind is just so important. I think I was told quite soon after my accident that my body had totally given up and it was in fact the use of my mind and the strength that I had within my mind that actually saw me through. It really did make me survive.

Since then, I’ve been able to use psychology and the skills that I’ve learnt through doing my A-levels and my undergraduate in daily life… just to overcome challenges that anyone would face. It showed me that I can be positive and that I did have things going for me, that I could still live a normal and abled life.

In terms of studying it for my A-levels I was just so passionate about learning. It was about understanding why I couldn’t remember the accident, and I knew that that was to do with psychology. And it was learning those things like why you repress memories and why I might not ever remember it… Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe my body couldn’t ever deal with that, so my mind represses those memories.

For me that initial fascination was trying to understand the mind and how it was so powerful.

During your talk here you talked about the Backup Trust. Can you explain who they are, what they do and your work with them? 

They are an incredible charity. It’s unbelievable how they helped in in terms of building my confidence and making me realise that life wasn’t over and I didn’t just have to be a disabled person, that I could live a life just as able as anyone who could walk. So really that was done through doing a course with them, in the Lake District. I went away for a week… it was probably the first time I’d been away from my parents and I had to look after myself. So that in itself was a challenge that I overcame and realised just how strong I could be, and how independent I was. I did things like canoeing, abseiling and horseriding and even tried swimming. It really opened my eyes to what can be possible. It just shaped my future. It was the one thing that made me go and try out wheelchair basketball. And I really do thank them for putting me in the position.

You talked about working with a new psychologist. What did he bring to the table?

Every psychologist is going to be different, how they work with individuals, how they work with teams. I think it’s good to have a mix up with who you work with. Mike Stoker, who’s working with us at the moment, is doing a really great job of introducing this pressurised training. So we are doing a lot of work with understanding how you perform when you’re in a pressurised situation, learning how your body reacts. So instead of just doing it on the court, we’re doing a lot outside of that, in terms of understanding our bodies and how our minds work. Before we go into court and start playing, we’re implementing all this pressurised training, having things like rewards and punishments for winning or losing a game. It’s things that the girls are buying into.

How have you managed to juggle your academic work alongside you sporting career?

During the third year of my undergraduate I was trying to complete my dissertation as well as compete in my sport in the Paralympics, which were both equally as important to me. I think I juggled it well because I had a lot of support around me. So with the basketball team we had performance lifestyle advisers, we had a Psychologist who was constantly helping us manage our lives outside of basketball. And then of course a lot of support for the University of Worcester in terms of having a mentor there as well, and my lecturers were very understanding of the position that I was in.

Being selected for the team was amazing. I was fortunate to get that opportunity. And I will always be grateful. We came fourth, which unfortunately meant that we missed out on a medal. But looking back its was a really great place to finish as we are just as hungry now for the next one in Tokyo!.

What’s next for you?

At the moment I’m working at the University of Worcester in the Marketing Department. I’m a Graduate Ambassador which means I go out into schools and try to recruit students and show them what university’s like really. I’m really enjoying that and trying to put psychology into that department is really important to me. I am also thinking about studying a Masters next year, so I’m currently looking at some options around a Sport Psychology Masters. For me it’s about learning more about that topic and trying to understand it more, and maybe implement it more as an athlete. It’s a really fascinating subject for me. Whether or not that will lead to becoming a Psychologist I’m not sure yet. But I know that I definitely want to learn more about the subject.  

- Sophie Carrigill spoke at the British Psychological Society's Psychology 4 Graduates event.

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