Inside the Mind of a Student England Volleyball Star

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Sophie Szyszko started playing volleball competitively when she was 13. “I played for fun before then because my dad played it,” says the Durham University final year physics student. By 15 Sophie was in the England Cadet squad, which is the under 17 squad, and then between 15 and 18 she represented England at junior level.

 

“When I was 17 I went to the youth Olympic qualifiers and got absolutely annihilated, but it was still a great experience.” 

This gives a glimpse into the positive mindset of the aspiring banker. Since then she has collected 13 indoor caps and two beach caps for England. Sophie came to Durham University on a sports scholarship, and received her first senior England cap in May last year. We asked her a few questions about her process and how she has coped with a demanding degree and playing elite sport.

 

How has the Uni experience been for you?

Uni has been very intense. My course is in the top 5 at the university, I believe. Durham University is very different to other universities in that they appreciate sport, so they give us time to participate, but it’s still quite challenging.

 

Do you think you will be able to transfer the skills you’ve learned at University to banking?

I see a lot of transferable skills from physics and sport into finance. For example, the competitiveness and collaboration – you get that from sport  – and I’ve developed analytical and numerical skills from physics. And I just love finding solutions to problems. So, the soft skills should be in place.

Any recommendations for successfully studying and playing high level sport at the same time?

A good night’s sleep is definitely one of them! Then, because I get quite paranoid before games, and exams as well, I have to mentally calm myself down. I’ll do that by listening to music or doing meditation and visualisation. I get myself in a state of calm because you don’t want to be over-excited and you don’t want to be lethargic.

 

What techniques do you employ so that you ‘win’ big moments?

I take myself out of those situations for a bit. I had a sports psychologist and he had a few different techniques, for example, you mentally write down what went badly on a piece of paper, put it in a black box and forget about it until after the game.

Or if I make a mistake — you only have about 10 seconds between each point in volleyball – I sometimes turn away to not be with my team mates for a couple of seconds. Even though they will try and cheer me up, I’ll take a moment to face away from my team and breathe and then turn back in and be like, “yeah, okay next point,” kind of thing.

 

Have you had any exposure to financial services so far?

I’ve been to a few networking events. One of them was the recent Jefferies Women in Banking event where I was exposed to the women staff and others who have just started,   including those doing the job I’m hoping to get. I realise that as you get older there are other things you need to consider – not just the financial side. For example,  company culture is important.

 

How are you planning to manage sport and the working world? Are you ready to quit?

I’d like to keep going for now. I don’t think I’ve reached my expiry date, I just want to see where this takes me because it’s opened up so many doors, and I’m sure it will open up some more.

 

Is gender equality an important factor for you when choosing a career?

Yes, in physics there’s a gender imbalance. But it’s never been enough to say, ”Oh gosh, I’m surrounded by men.” I am encouraged, though, how progressive financial institutions are in addressing the imbalance and their push to attract females from a sporting background. My competitive nature will mean no matter the environment or gender mix I will strive to be the very best.

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