By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Franky Mulloy, a biomechanics lecturer at University of Lincoln School of Sport and Exercise Science, probably wasn’t far wrong when he tweeted that Wednesday morning’s opening presentation of the College Research Showcase was most likely, “the first academic presentation ever to open with a Camogie stick in hand”.
Making the presentation was Dr Trish Jackman, lecturer in sport and exercise psychology. She is also one of Waterford’s greatest Camogie players, and the 27-year-old has returned to the Déise fold for this summer’s Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship after an “indefinite pause” of three years. Jackman was just 15 when she made her debut in 2007 and Waterford claimed Division 3 honours in that first season, adding Division 2 spoils in 2010 and 2015.
Championship defines status however and after coming up short in the All-Ireland Premier Junior Finals in 2009 and 2010, they got over the line on their third consecutive appearance in the decider by a point over Down. It was far more comfortable when they returned to Croke Park in 2015 to claim Intermediate honours and they have progressed annually at the highest level since.
Jackman was a pivotal figure throughout all that, combining county success with five Ashbourne Cup triumphs at Waterford IT, a record-breaking seven-in-a-row run as national Poc Fada champion and becoming the first female to be named overall Waterford GAA Player of the Year– a feat since replicated by Beth Carton.
She was beginning to feel the strain of the commute as she studied at University of Lincoln however and after getting through Waterford’s first ever season at Senior level, came to a crossroads. “I played for the first two years of my PhD and being honest, the second year was hard.” Jackman reflects. “Physically and mentally it really did take a lot out of me and it’s probably taken the guts of two years to come back from that. Being in the third year of my PhD was a huge focus for me. Trying to be a PhD student and an athlete in another country is nigh on impossible. I also had an opportunity to go out to Australia for eight weeks to work on a research project there but primarily to have some time to get support from my supervisor, Christian Swann, who is actually from Donegal but had left for Australia. He was the primary reason for me coming to Lincoln because I was fascinated by his work. Support from a supervisor is invaluable so that was one of the main reasons I went out there.”
Within two weeks of getting her PhD, Jackman was being interviewed for a job at the university and she has been lecturing for two years. She loves everything about her work and workplace, and enjoyed being able to pursue her other passion of walking//hiking. Walking part of the Camino solo last year was a lifetime experience.
Teaching, mentoring, consulting and supervising are all key elements of her work but so too is continuing the research. The presentation on psychological states underlying excellent performance in sport was received well but already she is looking forward.
“From a conceptual perspective we made some progress of late but we really need to start moving towards developing an explanatory theory for these optimal experiences. At present we’re at a point in the field that we need to advance our methods in order to be able to do that. That’s something we’re working on at the moment. The two optimal experiences are described as ‘flow’ and ‘clutch’ states and what Jackman and her colleagues discovered was that goal setting differs depending upon which state an athlete is in.
Flow tends to be derived from the feeling of positivity and increased confidence that comes from doing something well and getting plaudits for it. Goals established in this state tend to be open goals, which aren’t necessarily specific, measurable, outcome-based or time-based.
Clutch tends to occur in pressure situations and the goals set in that state tend to be smart goals that are specific, measurable, outcome-based and time-based. Notably, a conscious decision is taken in this state to work harder as it invariably occurs in the definitive period of a game or race.
“So the clutch state tends to be more intense effort but flow tends to be more blissful, effortless” Jackman summarises.
Of course she doesn’t have all the answers, and freely admits that applying what she does know in the heat of battle isn’t always easy. There’s a huge amount of things that need to come together to deliver a performance and being a team-based sport, there are a whole range of factors that can influence that. I’m quite lucky, even beyond the optimal performance states, in terms of having an understanding of strategies that could be employed at various points.
“But I always say, just because a biomechanist studies biomechanics, it doesn’t mean they have a perfect swing! Just because I study sports psychology doesn’t mean I always use it in the right way or the most effective way.”
She has been interested in the psychology in sport from before her teenage years.
“Anyone who knows me would know I’m a fairly reflective thinker. I was always fascinated with how oftentimes, I was coming off the pitch after we’d lost but thinking it was a magical experience. That’s what sparked my curiosity as much as anything. I’m really intrigued about learning about optimal experience, how it can be promoted, how it can be prolonged and how we can use research to help people more generally in society to have those experiences more often and reap the benefits that come from them.”
Hold on. The magical experience of losing?
“Often it occurred during unexpected victories and defeats in my teenage years, both in Camogie and basketball. A primary schools county final when I was aged 11 and in fifth class in 2003 and Waterford’s first win in a Camogie Primary Games against Clare in Thurles in 2004.
“After that, my curiosity transcended to other athletes in GAA and other sports. I wanted to know what their experiences were like.”
When Waterford manager, Dónal O’Rourke called in November wondering if she fancied a return, she took a little while to think about it.
“In my own head, I knew it would be hard and I knew the mistakes I made the last time (while commuting). And it was a case of I would have more regrets if I didn’t try it, than if I tried it and it didn’t work.”
Having been training for three months, she started Gailltír’s All-Ireland Intermediate Club Championship Final – her first start in any Camogie game since they had lost the Semi-Final two years previously. The one-point loss was agonising.
Getting fit was tough too but she got there and has been very influential. It is interesting to note how she views the advances made in top-flight Camogie since she was last involved.
“In the three years, I think it’s phenomenal the level it’s got to. And that’s one of the things I’ve really enjoyed from the last three games, is being in the middle of athletes and seeing opponents doing amazing things, and seeing my own teammates doing amazing things. I think it’s come forward incredibly in a short period of time.
“There’s the skill level but the huge thing I take is the conditioning of players, the strength of players and the athleticism that is now in the game. And also the tactics – there is so much tactical insight and analysis. I think it’s fantastic.”
Her first goal for the week has already been achieved. That was surviving Thursday’s 11-hour trip back to Waterford. And now, with Clare coming to Walsh Park this evening (5pm throw-in) an even bigger target of putting themselves in a prime position to reach the knockout stages of this year’s Championship.
“On a collective front, all you can think about is the first ball, the first 30 minutes. It should be a great encounter and it’s games like this, week-in, week-out that you dream of growing up. Ultimately, every team is gonna have a goal going out there and they’ll know what they want to do but it’s just a case of focusing on the process that the team needs to go through. That’s the important thing.”