Alumni profile – Tom Short, sport psychologist
When Tom was at school and college he wasn’t particularly sporty and envisaged a career as a forensic psychologist. In fact, had you told him that he would end up as a sport psychologist then he would have laughed at you! Fast forward a few years, and not only has Tom graduated with a Masters in sports and exercise psychology, but he is studying for a PhD in performance and management psychology and has set up his own business, Leading Edge Performance. In Tom’s words ‘Don’t be afraid to find yourself travelling a different direction’. Read on to find out how Tom made the most of every opportunity to reach his goals.
What A levels did you do at Richmond Sixth Form College? I started with Psychology, Biology, History, and Maths, but dropped Maths after my first year to concentrate on my other subjects
When did you first become interested in psychology and what prompted this interest? I have always taken an interest in why people act and behave like they do, and love real crime documentaries. Combine that and the fact that Psychology was a new subject that I had never done before and you can see why it was the first subject that I chose to study. However, had you told me that I would end up as a sport psychologist, I would have laughed at you!
Which sports do you play, for how long, do you or have you played for any teams? I took up cricket while at Sixth Form, and have played for Barton C.C. for most of the years since. This season will be my 7th for them (8th season overall). It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 10 years since I started my A-levels.
Where did you study after your A-levels and what did you read? I successfully applied to study Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, eventually achieving a 2:1. Some of the subjects that I studied were similar to those at A-level but in greater depth (such as social psychology and human behaviour) while I also was able to study areas that were completely new to me, such as forensic (crime), developmental (human development) and clinical (mental illness) psychology
Did you do a masters? If so, what in? I studied for my masters in sports and exercise psychology at Northumbria University. Like I said before, if you told me that I would end up as a sports psychology I’d have laughed at you as I had never been the sporty one in my family. However, in a module in my undergraduate degree, we touched upon sport psychology. I really enjoyed the content and saw myself working as one down the line.
What is the subject of your PhD at Loughborough and when will you complete this? My PhD subject is titled “Performance and Management Psychology” however it is not as boring as it sounds! As Loughborough University specialises in sport, I am looking at the role of sport psychology in high-performance sports. So far, I have looked at sport psychology at the Olympic Games, and how it is used to get the best out of athletes. My PhD is currently part-time, meaning it can last up to 6 years (I would finish in 2026) but a full-time PhD would typically last 3-4 years.
When did you set up your business, Leading Edge Performance? Leading Edge Performance began as a lockdown project of all things. When the first lockdown began, I found myself, like a lot of us, with extra time on my hands but I had just started my professional qualification to become a sport psychologist. To become a sport psychologist, you have to gain hands-on experience/work placements to demonstrate your knowledge and capability of working to a high standard. Essentially, it’s on the job training. With sport clubs shutting down and taking a long time to return to ‘normal’, gaining experience was hard to secure. So, I set up my own business to develop over my two-year training to gain experience and hopefully use as a job, whether part-time alongside a full-time role once qualified, or as a full-time role if it was possible to! Fortunately, the lockdowns gave me the opportunity to learn how to set up and maintain a business, including how to develop a website.
Tell us a little about your business and the work you do? A sport and exercise psychologist’s role is to help athletes, of all ages and experience, to get the best out of their performance. This could be anyone – from those who have just started a new sport to those competing at the Olympics. I may be helping a footballer improve their confidence after an injury one week and the next I am helping a cheerleader overcome their anxiety about being thrown into the air. However, sport psychology isn’t just about helping those with problems though (following an injury/overcoming anxiety), I will also help those who want to improve what they are already good at. For example, I might work with a cricketer who wants to improve their bowling speed by creating goals with them or with a sports team to improve their communication.
What advice would you give students who are interested in following a career in psychology?
1.Be patient! It’s a long journey, and a lot of work, but if it’s something that you really want to do you won’t feel like you’re working at all. Now I’m at the other end of the studying part, I’ve realised that it’s so worth it.
2. Don’t be afraid if you find yourself travelling a different direction. I went to university to study a psychology degree thinking I would become a forensic psychologist and ended up training to become a sport psychologist, quite a difference!
3. If you have an idea what you want to do, try to secure some placements/work experience. You may get knocked back hundreds of times, but I’ve found that it only takes one to show an interest and it’s all worthwhile. Be careful though, as many placements may be unpaid so be prepared for this.
What keeps you motivated? As I said before, I’ve found myself working in one sport one week and a completely different sport the next, and often I end up working with an athlete or a team in a sport I have no idea about. I enjoy the process of learning about new sports as it keeps me on my feet! While I frequently work in similar sports, each new case is different and the challenge of cracking the puzzle of the best way to help the athlete certainly keeps me motivated. I also enjoy watching an athlete/team develop while we work together. Not just as someone who plays a sport but as a person/people as well, a rewarding experience as a sport psych.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Richmond School and Sixth Form College? I’m lucky to have many fond memories of school/college, and I could be here all day writing about them. When I was there, the James Tate building was being built and the Clarke Hall building was updated which meant that I was fortunate enough to spend the majority of my time being taught in the best classrooms with the best facilities and equipment. I never excelled in extra-curricular sports (another reason why my career choice has surprised!) or participated in any clubs, but I took up learning to play the drums, and this is something that I still do. I can definitely say that finding a hobby to escape the pressure of work, like learning an instrument, and the friendships that I created during my time at school and college, have both helped me to get to where I am now, and that is something that I will always be thankful for.
A special mention to Mrs Mawer’s ‘Cake Tuesday’ though, which made A-level History all that more entertaining!
Are there any teachers you would like to mention – anyone who went the extra mile to support or guide you? I want to thank all the teachers that were a part of my journey so far, there’s so many that I could be here writing all day! I’m fortunate enough to have been taught by so many amazing teachers while I was at Richmond, all who have played a part in helping me get to where I am now, and it feels unfair just to name only a couple!
You can find out more about Tom’s business here or follow him on Instagram @leading.edge.performance