James Craigen: My Psyche
“Alan Archibald said to me after we won the Scottish Championship that we should enjoy these moments because they don’t come around very often. I’ve not won anything since,” James Craigen tells me whilst we’re sat in the corner of an Edinburgh Starbucks.
Having graduated from university with a degree in Sport & Recreation Management, competed at the highest level of Scottish football and now proving a vital cog in the machine of a business that focuses on ensuring a smooth transition for retiring athletes, James is somewhat a natural multi-tasker and juggler.
Capable of listening to Alan Archibald’s wise advice? 100%.
‘Yeah, I absolutely made the most of it. I went out for two weeks straight!’
For those of you that have read any of PSYCHEDIN’s previous ‘MY PSYCHE’ posts, it has primarily looked into the minds of athletes who have struggled with certain mental challenges throughout their career and explains their coping mechanisms or how they have managed to get through it. Instead, however, in this interview, I am speaking to someone who I believe has maximised their potential as a result of their mental strength. Having initially not made the cut within the youth ranks at Preston North End, it would have been easy for the ex-Partick Thistle, Raith Rovers and Falkirk utility man to have given up on his dream of making it as a professional footballer. Instead, James took the somewhat less trodden path of reaching the top flight of Scottish football through playing football at university.
“I’m glad, looking back now anyway, that I focused on my studies too because things didn’t really go to plan at Preston. I ended up applying for Loughborough, Edinburgh and Leeds Metropolitan University. After speaking to Loughborough, they said that they’d give me a place because of my football but they ended up rejecting me. I then got accepted to Edinburgh and when I found out that, it was the only place I wanted to go.
“I’m so glad that education has given me a platform and without doing that I’d have probably struggled to get into University, which obviously allowed me to play football professionally.’
These days, identity and image is a hugely prominent issue among individuals and youngsters in particular. Inside, naturally, we like to build up this solid idea and perception of who we are, what we stand for — almost attempting to create a short Twitter bio inside our heads. Because of this, many promising sporting youngsters fall into the trap of viewing themselves solely as the boy or girl who happens to be extremely talented at kicking a football, consistently shooting three pointers or can run the 100 metres in under 10 seconds. As a result of high performance in one specific area, this can create a sense of rigidity and a struggle to focus on anything that doesn’t fit under the identity that the athlete has placed themselves under. Education is often the first to be thrown out the window when this happens. This isn’t the case however for James who, whilst still believing he’d be a footballer, wouldn’t use it as an excuse to not try his hardest at other things. Whereas some may view the likes of gaining skills in the likes of English, Science or Business as time that could be spent focussing on their chosen sport, James instead views everything as an opportunity to get used to understanding the recipe for success.
“In terms of looking out for the future, I’ve always had a lot of advice but if you asked me what I wanted to do it would always be to play professional football. I did have that call from my parents that, yeah, I could focus on football and try my best to be a footballer, but there’s not any harm at all in putting other things in place just in case.
“I always think that doing lots of different sports, too, especially at a young age, is brilliant. I was a good tennis player and played tennis seriously up until I was about 11 years old. It then came to a point where it was obvious as to the fact I wanted to properly focus on football. I played rugby too. I played in the county squad until about under 13’s. I played a trial at Lancashire, went along but told the coach I had a training session at Preston so I could only stay for half an hour and then need to go. I got on the pitch, played at scrum half, won a lineout against the head and then did a kick into their 5 metre line and we scored off of that. I then needed to say to the coach that I needed to go. Despite only throwing one pass and doing one kick, I got into the next round of trials where, admittedly, I was a bit out of my depth.’
This ability to be flexible and try his hardest regardless, it seems, has continued onto his professional career.
“Growing up I would always play centre mid but since I turned professional it was more about filling in any roles that the gaffer would need me. Whether that’s centre mid, left back or even at Dunfermline playing right back. I’d do well in these positions and then coaches would ask you to play there, here and a bit there. It’s good in-season because you’re playing most of the games. It’s the case of if someone is injured, aw Craigen will fill in there. Outside of the season, when you’re trying to get a deal, people are questioning is he a centre mid? Is he a full back? This, I think, comes down to how you perceive yourself as well. I think I’m quite personable, approachable, I don’t try to please everybody but I want to be liked. If a manager asks if I can play somewhere, never in a million years would I say no. I’ll give everything I’ve got, 120% effort.”
This mindset comes from a clear ability to stay 100% fully engaged in tasks. Other individuals, more caught up in the need to rigidly define who they are, are likely to automatically convince themselves they are going to have a bad game in a bid to subconsciously prove themselves right or straight-up refuse to play in that position. This, James says, is completely related to the different personalities and mindsets every individual has.
“I like to process things when I’m speaking to people and, I guess, know my audience. People take on information, person to person, very differently. I like to think about how people best receive information. I’m different, I like to receive information in a more personable one-to-one way than maybe being blasted in front of the whole group — some would prefer that and react to it differently than I would.”
This ability to communicate fits extremely well with his current role as a Partnership Manager at Life After Professional Sport (L.A.P.S). As a clear and positive example of someone who has prepared in the best possible manner for a life after sport whilst still performing to the best of their ability, James feels that now is the perfect time for athletes to reap the benefits of creating security outwith their sport.
“L.A.P.S started in 2017 and was set up by Robbie Simpson, who is an ex-professional footballer. He’d just left Cambridge United and was in that period where he didn’t have a deal on the table. He then realised that there just wasn’t nearly enough support for not just footballer but any athletes looking to transition or create a greater sense of security for their future. So he then came up with this idea of a free platform for athletes, who are either retiring or current professionals.
“What we do is help them with offering career advice and speak to them about what they’d ideally like to do and talk about their different options. Whether that’s university or jobs.’
What James feels isn’t nearly emphasised enough is how much value individuals who have performed at a high level in sport can provide to the workplace.
“We’ve now got a membership of over 4,000 people which is why I’ve been brought in to help athletes and organisations who want to tap into these athletes, their skillsets and endless transferable skills.
“Playing in front of 50,000 or even 5,000 people, a lot of people would crack under that pressure. (Working in a bar), people waving in your face shouting “I’ve been waiting here longer than them” or “that’s not what I asked for”, it’s all about keeping your composure. If you can perform in front of 50,000, you’re used to being in situations where it’s vital you don’t crack under pressure.
“If any athletes are interested in finding out a little bit more about what we do or, especially during these times, are looking to put a few things in place for after their career, they can just go onto https://www.laps.careers. Businesses, too, who are looking to make the most of the amazing transferrable skills of an athlete should also get in touch.”
Are you more introverted or Extroverted?
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Honest, approachable and passionate.
How would your family and friends describe you in three words?
Loyal, family and friend-orientated and sociable
Are you more motivated by a fear of losing or a love of winning?
Fear of losing.
Biggest mental challenge in career?
Coping with insecurities of football. Not having a team, contract running out. Things like that.
What is your biggest personality strength?
What is your biggest personality weakness?
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
Still playing football. L.A.P.S with a membership of way over 10,000 and the go-to platform for current and retiring athletes.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
From my mum, just be true to yourself.