Madeleine Eppensteiner - Sport Psychologist

"A lot of sport psychology is reflecting our own behaviour and thoughts, and we hardly ever actively do that. Most of the time we do things how we used to do things, or how we’re told to do them. We rarely ask ourselves ‘What are my intentions behind this, why do I act like this?’ Starting these reflections is actually really good, that’s how we get to know ourselves better.

My favorite sport is bouldering and sport climbing - bouldering more than sport climbing, in climbing I love to push myself and try hard, but the other stuff I’m rather chilled. I just love being outdoors, I love hiking up the mountains in summer, cycling, skiing and ski touring. I started ski touring this winter and it was the best decision, I can only recommend it to anyone!"

"I’ve been climbing for almost 17 years, I started as a kid when my parents took me to a market festival with a climbing wall. I immediately got into it. I was also doing acrobatics and skiing, but climbing was the one I stuck with. When I was about 17 I was competition climbing, and I worked with a sports psychologist. I was really really nervous, from stomach ache to nearly vomiting. I wasn’t working with her for a long time, but her work really impressed me. I have to say that I didn't figure out what we were working on and why I felt better, but it was really fascinating. It had a great impact and this was the first milestone that pushed me in the direction of studying psychology.

I work with all kinds of athletes from professionals to amateurs. I work a lot with young athletes, with individuals and in a team setting. You can never predict who will be the pro, obviously there are many factors to it, their environment, how they’re built, stamina, endurance, how they build up power. Where there are two athletes with the same strength, really alike in many factors, I think the mental part can make the difference. Generally pro athletes don’t give up when they can’t do something, they see the potential. They ask ‘What can I learn from this situation, what can I do differently next time?"

"A lot of people say that sport psychology is to help people think positively. It's good to have a positive perspective, but the main point is to also be realistic. For example if a climber wanted to be world champion next year, as positive as they could be about it, if their goal is unrealistic it could really pull them down. Unrealistic perspectives don’t foster self-confidence and long term motivation. It’s about trying to estimate what you are able to do.

In sport psychology we work a lot with a vision or a goal. When we have a goal we put more effort into how we can reach the goal. Just thinking about how we can reach it makes us focus more on the little steps and the essential parts. Pro athletes possibly have these characteristics already, or they’ve been working on them for a long time, but these are things that everyone can work on. If you have a goal, as a climber or in business, it actually makes you move forward a lot.

One of the main issues in sports, and youth competitions particularly, is pressure - dealing with being nervous and being compared to others. Comparing ourselves to others can really hinder performance, you can only compare yourself to yourself. You can't control others' performance, you can't control how they look, how much power they have and whether they are taller or better. That's not something we can change, so we should focus on what we can control and what is in our own power."

"Of course there are some factors that you can't influence, for example bad weather. But there are a lot of factors, like your mindset, your preparation, your time management, where to a certain point you have a responsibility of how you create the whole setting.

It’s a really interesting question, looking at what’s hindering us. Whether it’s being scared, or not having time, I always ask how important is it to make a change, on a scale of one to ten. When they say ‘It would be really important but I don't have time’, there are three different positions. You have the dream, ‘I’d really like to go climbing twice a week.’ Then you have the critical person that says ‘Yes, but I don’t have time.’ People forget the third perspective, the realist who says ‘Ok, what needs to be changed in order to reach this dream?’ You have to take different perspectives and see what can be changed in your current behaviour. 

The best part of the job is that it’s really creative, it never gets boring. With psychology every person is different, you have to adapt to the person so you're always creatively challenged. I love working with athletes, particularly young athletes. When they have this Aha experience, they realise 'Oh actually yeah that works!' When you can help someone, that’s the coolest feeling."

Find out more at Madeleine's website ME Psychology - Sport & Business.