Naomi Riches, Paralympic gold medallist

Jackson Wray, Saracens RFCAthlete Career Transition

Naomi Riches is a former elite rower and has been a key driver in the development of para rowing. Despite being diagnosed with a visual impairment at just eight weeks old, Naomi never let her disability stand in her way and she and her crew took the Gold medal to become Paralympic champions at London 2012.

Prior to this, she claimed a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. During her career Naomi also won a staggering six world championship titles.

She tells us how psychological profiling helped her overcome a difficult time in her career and ultimately achieve her goals.

The challenge

Riches’ sporting career, like many athletes, wasn't all plain sailing – or rowing if you like. In 2010 she suffered a setback when she was beaten to a seat in the world championship's crew by less than a second. The defeat was a seismic moment for Riches, who knew that she had to make the boat for the next season in order to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

“The thought of quitting at that point was simply not an option. It was just two years until the London 2012 Paralympic Games; competing at the highest level in your sport and in front of a home crowd is something very few athletes get to do, yet it is every athlete's dream.”

Riches knew that the journey ahead would be tough and would require every ounce of her mental strength.

“During the long and lonely autumn and winter of 2010 I changed – I had to. I was regularly training alone rather than in the squad environment, because the team were in New Zealand at the world championships and then on their end of season break.”

It was then that the team's performance lifestyle adviser, who worked with the Para-Rowing team, gave her the opportunity to complete a psychometric assessments. “I started to learn a lot about myself and part of that learning curve was completing a psychometric assessment. I answered a series of slightly strange questions and what I received in return was a report describing me incredibly accurately using words I would never have thought of using. Telling me how I behave, what environment I work best in, what motivates me, my fears and insecurities and in what environments I struggle. It did not just tell me about myself though; it also gave me an insight into how others might respond when I behaved in certain ways.”

The results

In the 2011 season, Naomi managed to get back her place in the boat, making the team that would seize gold at the 2012 London Paralympics.

She attributes part of her success to the self-knowledge she gained through the power of psychometric assessment.

Psychometric testing, I believe, is part of the fantastic formula that got me that gold medal in London.
 

“My belief looking back at 2010 is that understanding myself and those around me was a key part of me making it back into the boat for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. It made me realize that without losing sight of who I was, I could still modify the way I behaved in certain situations to allow the people around me to get the best out of me – and for me to get the best out of them.”

Today

Riches now works for Thomas Sport as a trained associate. She is able to use her experience as a Paralympic athlete to help current and potential clients see how Thomas assessments can be used in their world, and has been instrumental in the development of a sports-specific PPA tool. This tool is geared at helping athletes succeed in their fields through self-awareness as well as helping them with the transition into business careers once they have retired from sport.

The possibility that I could use what I had learnt during my decade in sport to help others achieve their goals, through understanding themselves and those around them better, really appealed to me. I am very excited to be working for Thomas.