After Kent – Sport and Exercise Psychologist, Alexandria Olton

Alexandria graduated in 2015 after studying Psychology and Sociology BSc at the University of Kent. Alexandria is now a Sport and Exercise Psychologist at the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago and cherishes the skills, memories, and support gained studying at Kent.

What course did you study at Kent? What attracted you to the course?

I pursued a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and Sociology at the University of Kent with an International Foundation Year. I actually applied to Kent through clearing on the advice of my university rep as I hadn’t made the entry requirements for my original university choice which was Southampton. But once I took a look at the campus, courses, and sports facilities I was sold! It was really a blessing in disguise as I can’t imagine having gone to any other university for my undergrad.

What are you doing now?

I am currently an Officer of Sports and Performance Psychology at the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago. I plan and deliver sport psychological programmes, support, sessions, workshops and seminars to our national elite and podium potential athletes and umpires/referees of all age ranges and sporting disciplines representing Trinidad and Tobago. I also work closely with their coaches and technical support staff in providing a holistic approach to supporting top-performing athletes. In addition, I also provide sport psychological support to the respective national governing bodies (NGBs) who may reach out to our unit for workshops for specific staff and athletes, or for us to speak at conferences and conventions on a particular topic.

How did studying Psychology and Sociology prepare you for your current position?

During my time at Kent, the opportunities that I was afforded to gain knowledge and experience were innumerable. The quality of the academic work, the depth of knowledge of my lecturers and the exposure to research and conferences truly equipped me with my analytical and critical thinking skills. While the more social element of sport participation, involvement in the union, and various societies aided me in developing interpersonal, communication and organisational skills. Kent provided me with an all-rounded experience that moulded me into the practitioner that I am today.

Could you describe a typical day in your current role?

On any given day, I may have a number of one-to-one sessions, team sessions or training and competition observations scheduled with the individual athletes and teams I work with. It’s a real joy to work with national athletes/umpires/referees helping them through Olympic cycles or for competitions such as PANAM Championships, Commonwealth Games, World Championships etc. Those sessions may be around competition preparation, competition debriefing after a competition has ended, or just general mental skills development while training and preparing. Additionally, I may have team workshops to provide support for a particular team of athletes. There’s a lot of prep work/research and note writing that goes into being an effective sport psych as well. You probably spend more time doing that “behind-the-scenes stuff” compared to actually delivering sessions.

What do you love most about your role?

This may be cheesy, but I really do love what I do, even the mundane stuff. I have certainly found my passion. The greatest joy, though, is seeing all the “puzzle pieces,” come together and seeing that sense of fulfilment and joy in your athletes. That doesn’t always mean gold medals and accolades but might be something simpler like hitting a personal best, getting to a higher level of competition or simply achieving a goal they set for themselves. It’s that moment when the athlete realises how big a role their mind plays and how much they can empower themselves.

What steps did you take to get into your current role? What was the process during/after University?

I pursued a BSc. at Kent and then went on to complete my MSc. Sport and Exercise Psychology at Brunel University, London. Upon completing my Masters, I returned to Trinidad and completed two years of supervised practice before then taking up my current role. Here in Trinidad an MSc. and supervised hours are the pre-requisite for practice which are far more lenient requirements compared to the BPS. Practitioner requirements do vary depending on what region/country you are in. Throughout my time as a practitioner, I will say that I have engaged in a lot of volunteer work and continue to do so to gain experience with athletes of different sporting disciplines as well as to support marginalised communities by utilising sport as a vehicle for social change.

What employability support did you get from the University?

I perhaps didn’t fully access all the support available to me because at the time I was going straight into my Masters following graduation. However, the support I did access I received a lot of advice on my CV and drafting cover letters/job applications.

What skills did you gain at the University, not just from your course that you use now in your career?

During my time at Kent when I wasn’t in lectures or completing assignments, I was a very active player/member of the Women’s Rugby team taking up roles on the committee as the PR officer and then ultimately chairwoman. Second, to that, having many friends involved in the operations of the union, I volunteered a lot of time at various outreach and charity events, attended political talks/forums, volunteered during union elections and assisted in organising various student activities. And finally, I also hosted a weekly radio show on CSR entitled Island Rhythms exposing listeners to the sounds of the Caribbean. From all these experiences I gained first-hand understanding and exposure to project management, fundraising, event coordination and planning. I certainly developed skills in a number of areas including time management, effective scheduling, effective communication, leadership skills and task-delegation. Further to all these I certainly believe it helped me grow as an individual to gain a better understanding of human behaviour and ways to better understand and empathise with people – socialising with individuals from various backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of coming to Kent?

When considering which university is right for you always think of the bigger picture. Yes, it is predominantly about the academics and sure you’d like to attend the institution that tops for your subject area, but you also have to live there, build friendships, find relaxation and enjoyment, and ultimately create memories not just get a degree – so find a place that ticks all those boxes. The University of Kent is the kind of institution that creates a place for everyone. The content-rich courses, the depth of knowledge of the lecturers and the consistent research-led approach makes it an excellent academic institution. Tied to that is the student-led, student-first approach that is adopted and very much felt across campus. From the sports teams and societies to all the staff it is large enough to know you’re at uni but small enough that you feel like a family. It’s an added bonus that both the campus and the surrounding city of canterbury are so beautiful in all seasons.

What’s your best memory of studying at Kent?

There are genuinely too many to count but one that certainly stands out was the year that we (Women’s Rugby) won varsity. Picture this…Venue (the campus club), a lot of snakebite and the memory sort of blurs from there until I then remember having a greasy breakfast from Woody’s the next morning. I truly have great pride as a Kent Alumni. I have built lasting friendships that have endured the years and we often look back with warmth and fondness. The all-nighters in the library, sports night on a Wednesday, a society for just about every interest, amazing diversity of individuals…The University of Kent was and will always be home.