Like most Irish students, Emma McLoughlin wasn’t given a real chance to build a career in sports when she came out of school. She pursued psychiatric nursing and eventually wound up in psychology in college before the possibility of working in sports became apparent.
“I ended up loving psychology and I just had a really good lecturer who said ‘Why don’t you try and do sports psychology?’ I was always coming into college with busted hands and busted lips so everyone knew I was playing football.
And he said you seem to really love sport and psychology so why don’t you marry the two of them.
It wasn’t on my radar back then that such a thing even existed or that you could have a career in sport you know…I think it should be made clearer to Leaving Cert students that a career in sports is a serious option. I was in an all girls school and there was no real emphasis on those of us that played sport.”
Emma found out that she could have a more fulfilling and lucrative career in sport with her psychology degree but also by branching out into analysis with her company Mí Analytics.
“It uses vision mapping and statistics in terms of performance analysis. It flags when teams are becoming vulnerable to concede scores and it also flags when you’ve got the opposition vulnerable. I did my PhD in decision-making so I was trying to understand why players are making certain decisions.
I realized I had to understand what the opposition was presenting them with at that time…the more time you spend looking at oppositions the more you can see the patterns of attack and defending.
[It can be applied] to any sport where you have to defend and you have to attack, so rugby, soccer, Gaelic, soccer, basketball.”
Mí Analytics is the first of its kind analysing team sports using cluster analysis.
With her B.A. in Psychology, her MSc in Sports & Exercise Psychology and researching decision making in Gaelic Football for her PhD, education was never far from Emma’s life. But after returning to Ireland in the midst of a recession, she wound up spending a few years working with mental health patients away from sports.
Lecturing in sports psychology wasn’t something she had even considered and there wasn’t a fairytale story that brought her to Portobello.
As Emma notes herself, she just saw an advert to become a lecturer one day, it felt like it could be a fit and she applied without thinking too much of it…but that was seven years ago and now Emma can’t imagine life without lecturing.
Having compiled so much experience engaging people in different roles, both sports-related and not sports-related, Emma fit perfectly in a classroom with students.
“I didn’t actually have lecturing in mind…but I love it. I really do. I love the discussions and the psychology side of things. Yes, there’s right answers but everyone knows it’s based on your perception, and I love that discussion, the deep thinking and the critical thinking.
Encouraging that in students to not just take everything at face value.
The mental health side of things really enables you to see how people form different perceptions and how they’re so deep rooted. Changing behaviour is a big massive thing and it’s not as simple as go in give a talk and everyone is confident and you leave.
Human beings are quite complex.”
Those students who come to Portobello looking for experts in their field not only find a lecturer in Emma who is that, but for mature students who are changing careers they also have someone who has undergone the transition they are undertaking.
Changing from mental health into sports as a full-time career after graduating college helps Emma to empathize and engage with students who lack clarity or confidence in what they’re trying to do.
“I can appreciate the fear of ‘Will this actually end up being a career for me where I can own a house and own a car and have a family should I decide to?’ A lot of people around me thought I was leaving a very lucrative job to go into something that was a bit less known and a bit less steady so I do definitely empathize with people.
I learned first-hand the influence and guidance good lectures can offer, I hope to be that type of lecture for the students at Portobello. I believe in guiding the individual holistically not just the academic student.
While I think grades are meaningful, I don’t think they are the be-all-and-end-all…It’s about personal growth and this critical thinking, skills that they can take from the classroom and actually apply them to teams and to athletes.
How you develop interpersonally for me is far more important.”