David Charlton – Me and my role as a Sports Psychologist

10 February 2024

Mental Edge Newsletter

Helping You Gain A Mental Edge

David Charlton – Me and my role as a Sports Psychologist

I don’t give huge amount away about myself and my role as a Sports Psychologist so thought I’d do so today…  In August 2007, my life changed dramatically, I’d been married for 4 years to Alex, she had been suffering from cluster migraines for 6 weeks according to our GP at the time.  Then one day her mum called me to say that she had fainted and that we needed to rush her to hospital.  I was at work, my role then was as a Branch Manager at Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a corporate travel company.  I dashed home and we took her to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle Upon Tyne.  24 hours later my head was spinning as she was lucky to survive a terrible evening as she had several seizures.  We then went on to receive awful news over the next week that she had terminal cancer.  I was shaken to the core, to say the least.  Alex sadly died 15 months later after fighting a brave battle with the illness.

Why am I telling you this? During those hugely difficult 15 months, I was a carer for Alex which meant I had a lot of time on my hands when she was recovering from chemotherapy, radiotherapy and numerous operations.  We spent a lot of time ticking off things on her bucket list and enjoying her last days as much as we could.  I also spent a lot of time thinking about the future, worrying on occasions and day dreaming too.  I felt guilty as I knew I had a future and Alex didn’t.  One thing I began to look into more and more was my future career and the field of Sports Psychology, I read many books on the topic and researched who was doing it well.  Here are some examples of some of the books that I read and still go back to today from time to time:

In Pursuit of Excellence: How to Win in Sport and Life Through Mental Training – Terry Orlick

Golf is Not a Game of Perfect – Bob Rotella

Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance – Jean Williams

I also completed some short courses on psychology at the Open University to see if my brain was still working properly after over 10 years of being out of an educational environment!  The seed had been sowed I was sure I wanted to become a Sports Psychologist and support elite athletes.  In April 2009. I was then given the news that my role at Carlson Wagonlit would be no longer as they decide to shift our operations to a call centre near London.  So in October 2009 my journey to become a Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist began as I started a BSc Psychology degree at the University of Sunderland.

At the time did I know what a Sports Psychologist did?

I’d done a lot of research but in my mind it was all about helping athletes on a 1-2-1 basis likely in an environment which was away from their sport.  In a comfy chair or so I thought! How wrong was I…

15 years on here are the different places I’ve found myself working and some of the ways that I have gone about things.

  1. On golf courses having fun with teams setting up different skills challenges with golf coaches sometimes with oversized equipment, balance pads, hammers etc.
  2. On football pitches with individual footballers challenging players to improve their skills (practicing keepie uppies and working on their touch under pressure as an example).
  3. In the cricket nets helping players control their emotions better and remain present despite sledging taking place .
  4. On my bike, chasing triathletes whilst understanding their thought processes in different situations (on steep inclines).
  5. Observing coaching staff and player behaviours and communication in professional football, rugby and cricket stadiums.
  6. Attending professional tournaments and a major, the British Open Golf Championship as part of a support team helping professional golfers.
  7. On Boccia courts leading training sessions and drilling performance routines.
  8. Hiking hills with clients as we be mindful and explore the outdoors and their mental strategies in a relaxed environment.
  9. Not so glamourous – in cold and sweaty changing rooms leading group sessions when you can’t see everyone in the room.
  10. A very common place since the COVID days – on my laptop doing many zoom calls supporting clients around the globe.  Sometimes when it is snowy at home (it is now as I type this!), outdoors, yet boiling hot and very sunny outside for the client who is on the other side of the world on a golf course or surfing in the sea (very jealous I can get in those circumstances!).   

What is important to me? At the heart of my professional philosophy and my work are my core values: Excellence, Empathy, Fun, Freedom and Trustworthiness.

Excellence – this drives everything that I do, where I always look to be the best version of myself and with my clients supporting and challenging them to strive for excellence.

Empathy – seeking to understand what other people feel and experience, their view of the world and seeing things from their point of view is a vital ingredient of being a good practitioner.  I’d like to think my life experiences have shaped me in this respect and have improved my line of questioning so that I can get into the head of my clients better.

Fun – life is short, as I appreciate more than most and enjoying what you are doing is essential in my book.  In sport, the intense pressures and scrutiny especially in professional sport can ensure the joy is short lived.  A bug bear of mine is – children aren’t allowed to be children today where there is far too much pressure on them from an early age especially in sporting environments.  Let them play I say!  As a consequence my role is often helping them overcome fears and get the playful side of their personality out.

Freedom – Being at the head of my own organisation gives me freedom, yes there are certain tasks that I don’t enjoy doing and are mandatory however I also have got myself into a position where I can live around my work not let my work dictate my life.  It’s a nice place to be.  It hasn’t always been that way and it’s been very difficult at times however I’m very grateful for my freedom now as it stands.  For clients, playing with freedom and trust is one of the biggest things that I encounter and help people with.  I’ve been there as a decent golfer (2 handicap now) and it’s not a nice place to be when you play your sport with your hands tied behind your back in a straight jacket.  A huge part of my role I find is to help clients free themselves up and play with a smile on their face.


This is the big, big thing as a practitioner psychologist registered with the Health Care Professions Council as I am.  We’re bound by high professional STANDARDS.  Ethics, confidentiality and privacy are integral to our work.  For those interested in the field of Sports Psychology or looking to work with someone please do check the credentials of who you work with out, it’s hugely important – there are many people out there who have read a book or listened to some podcasts and try to sell themselves as Sports Psychologists.

Performance Profiling

Some things that I have learned:

  1. The field of Sport Psychology has grown dramatically since I started on my journey.  In those days one job would appear on the UK Sport website every 3 months now there are new roles coming up on a daily basis.  It’s an exciting time to be a Sports Psychologist.
  2. The field is undervalued.  In my opinion psychology sits in the middle of tactical, technical, physical, social and lifestyle.  It all starts with our thoughts, perceptions, emotions and our decisions yet psychology is still often the last thing many clubs and organisations want to spend money on.   Thankfully, this is changing and there are a lot of great practitioners helping people see the field differently however there is a long way to go.
  3. As sports psychologists educating people about what we do and how we do it is vital.  My biggest mistake in the early days was to rely on doing so by posting a lot on social media.  Content which was gone in the blink of an eye.  Long form content (books, podcasts, blogs, video’s) is best so that people can go back to it time and again and get a deeper understanding of the field.
  4. It works, sport psychology tools and techniques really do work (yes I know – I am biased!!).  As a chartered practitioner the tools I use are evidence based with many studies being conducted not just in sport, but also across health and organizational psychology.  The reason I mention this is there are many people are still on the fence about the use of sports psychology.  There are coaches who understand that the mind plays a big part in peak performance yet refuse to open their eyes and work more closely with sports psychologists.  The parent who notices that their child can’t freely express themselves and plays their sport in fear but waits too long and what could have been a small issue becomes a much bigger challenge to overcome.  Ot the athlete who keeps making the same mistakes as they focus too heavily on the technical, tactical and physical sides of their sport neglecting the psychological.
  5. People are complex, really complex.  A one size fit approach rarely works.  Selecting tools and techniques to suit the individual in front of you and their personality is paramount if you are to get the best from them.

BONUS – Sports Psychology is full of myths, unfounded myths in a lot of cases. This Mental Edge is laid out to bust some of those myths and help you learn more about the field.  

Below are some helpful resources too:

What’s the fuss about – Sports Psychology Explained

How Sports Psychology for Children works

Sport Psychology Impact Stories


In today’s short BITE sized episode HCPC Registered Sport Psychologist, Michael Caulfield me about the challenges and pressures that elite professional football brings whether you are a manager or player.  He shares his thoughts on what mental toughness is in this environment as well as offering insights into his role as a Sport Psychologist when working with and supporting managers in the English Premier League.

The mind in sport


We’ve recently started a regular newsletter with tips and tricks for those interested in the psychology of football or soccer. Feel free to sign up today. 


David Charlton Sports Psychologist

Best Wishes 

David Charlton

Online Sports Psychologist | Mental Performance Coach who supports many highly motivated athletes, young and old, developing their skills or who are already highly skilled so that they gain a mental edge and get the most from their talent across the globe from USA/Canada to Great Britain and Ireland to UAE, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, using ONLINE Video Conferencing.    

Managing Director – Inspiring Sporting Excellence

Host of Demystifying Mental Toughness Podcast

Founder of The Sports Psychology Hub 

Author of The Mental Edge

With over a decades’ experience supporting athletes, coaches, parents and teams to transfer their skills from training to competitive situations, under pressure.

T: +44 7734 697769

E: [email protected]

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