Former Durham University psychology graduate Charlie Unwin speaks to Alison Goulding about the art of coaching an Olympic team.
No less than four Olympic teams have Charlie Unwin on their payroll.
He’s the go-to man for athletes who want to make sure their brain power matches their muscle power.
Specialising in applied psychology, Charlie has first-hand experience in delivering results under pressure.
He served for seven years with the Royal Horse Artillery and toured Iraq as a platoon commander conducting counter-insurgency operations.
After the army, he was selected for the GB Modern Pentathlon Team for the World Championships.
He competed in five World Cups, and became British Champion in 2007.
Now he runs a coaching business called Performance Legacy and his prestigious clients include FTSE 100 Companies and the Olympic teams for pentathlon, equestrian, fencing and beach volleyball.
Charlie, 31, said: “There’s not a single Olympic athlete that doesn’t get incredibly nervous - they just have an incredible ability to focus on their goals and the story they give themselves. They generally have a much stronger imagination than a lot of people. They can naturally imagine the key steps in their performance as if they were doing it. They rehearse it again and again in their minds and then recreate it.
“Top athletes make it look easy - people don’t recognise the effort behind it.”
But it’s not just Olympic athletes who can benefit from Charlie’s approach.
He said: “Applied psychology is a broad field that a lot of people can relate to.
“What might happen is that someone comes to you with a specific ailment - it might be that their performance is dramatically affected by nerves - dealing with that isn’t always so complex when you see what’s behind it.
“What’s more complex is being able to help that person go from there and sustain high performance in whatever they do.
“The success is really in creating the right environment around that person to perform their best.”
So why did he choose the North East for his degree education?
Charlie joked: “I really wanted to live in a castle! And the psychology course was one of the best in the country.
“Durham was phenomenal - I can’t praise it enough. I have so many good memories. It’s just one of the those places, and I think they’ve even worked out the figures, something like 80 per cent of couples who meet there end up getting married, and I can really see why.
“It’s one of those places where you have a special experience.”
Charlie cites the army and his athletic career as his two major influences.
He said: “In the army I learned what performance under stress meant in a military sense, but sport has also had a massive impact on me.
“The army came first for me and was very values based. Planning is a key army value and so is delivering plans to others. You can be overwhelmed with information and there’s only so much you can take on before you become bogged down. It’s about realising - what information do I need to do my job really well that will allow me to focus and lead?
“As a sportsman I was a lot more focused on being an individual but recognised key elements of motivation, like getting up at 5am to train and recognising how my day-to-day goals drove my motivation.”
Through his own experience, Charlie now helps others reach their peak.
He said: “We can minimise the things that stop us from doing our best.
“In some senses it’s common sense that’s not commonly applied.
“My aim is to get people comfortable with being uncomfortable - to realise that uncomfortable situations don’t feel nice but that needn’t stop them from being their best.
“It’s great to see someone break through a barrier in what they’re doing.”