Being a Sport Psychologist
eBook - ePub

Being a Sport Psychologist

Richard Keegan

  1. 304 Seiten
  2. English
  3. ePUB (handyfreundlich)
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eBook - ePub

Being a Sport Psychologist

Richard Keegan

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Über dieses Buch

What makes a great sport psychologist? Is there an ideal style or approach? What do you need to consider when working with a client? In this practical guide, Richard Keegan presents a user-friendly model of the sport psychologist's consulting processes and offers a framework for understanding best practice. Whether you are a trainee or a qualified sport psychologist, this book will help you to deliver a consistent, transparent, effective and ethical service at all levels of sport. Being a Sport Psychologist:
- Provides a clear and coherent model which accommodates different styles, philosophies and experience levels;
- Contains worksheets to help you record, evaluate, understand and reflect;
- Offers a range of useful case studies and examples;
- Is the first book to describe the process of being a sport psychologist from beginning to end.

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Introduction and Overview

1.1 What does a sport psychologist do?

In this book, we adopt a very simple definition of sport psychology: the application of the scientific process to the mental aspects of athletes and sport performers. Notably, this can entail performance enhancement, supporting participation, educating groups about sport psychology, supporting psychological well-being and managing transitions (e.g., to the elite level, or into retirement). The particular wording of this definition can entail both research and applied practice because, in reality, it can be quite misleading to try and distinguish between the two. Even the purest of researchers must produce findings with applied relevance, and present their findings in a way that will inform applied practice. Likewise, even the purest of applied practitioners must remain aware of developments in research, and be able to critically evaluate the relevance of research findings before adopting them into applied practice. As such, this definition is a departure from those listed at the beginning of Kontos and Feltz (2008), but is perhaps closest to that of Weinberg and Gould (1995, p. 8): ‘The scientific study of people and their behaviour in sport and exercise settings.’
Applied sport psychology services can be provided to an individual athlete or coach, a group of athletes/coaches, a particular team or sporting organization, a university or even a national or global sport governing body. Increasingly, sport psychology can also involve teaching schoolchildren about basic ideas that might help them in sport, or working with parents to foster supportive environments and reinforce key principles. As an important addition, sport psychologists must also be able to work alongside coaches, managers, physiotherapists, physiologists and many other specialists as part of interdisciplinary teams (cf. Abernathy, Kippers, MacKinnon, Neal, & Hanrahan, 1997). The latter point also emphasizes the very broad scope of psychology in sport, ranging through: psychophysiology (e.g., affective states, brain waves); motor learning and control; emotions and moods; cognition (e.g., information processing); social psychology (relationships, group dynamics); and even occasionally sociology (e.g., cultures). As such, the psychologist practising in sport must be fully conversant in all of these areas, and not simply specialized in one (as researchers often are). In this respect, ‘the application of the scientific process to the mental aspects of athletes and sport performers’ is not as simple as it sounds.

1.2 A brief history of sport psychology

No sport psychology textbook can be complete without a mention of the contributions made by Triplett, Zajonc, Morgan, Griffith and Martens. In 1898, Triplett observed that cyclists appeared to ride faster in the presence of others than when alone. He then replicated the effect in a controlled lab setting, and with children winding a fishing reel (either alone or in pairs). In establishing a psychological variable as a key factor in physical performance, and cycling in particular, Triplett is credited as having conducted the first sport psychology experiment. While Triplett completed the rest of his long career in pursuing other areas, Zajonc (1965) subsequently reinvigorated the concept of ‘social facilitation’ in sport performance. The effects of crowd size, home advantage, choking under pressure, social loafing in teams and team cohesion can all trace their roots directly to these origins.
Another tradition, perhaps still alive today, was to borrow theories and paradigms from other areas of psychology and apply them to sport (Landers, 1983). This led to extensive attempts to apply personality theories – the idea that humans have fixed and enduring elements in their psychological make-up – to sport (e.g., Morgan, 1980). There remains to this day a common belief that people can be a ‘sporty type’: drawn to sport by its competitive nature and physical challenges (the ‘gravitation hypothesis’ – Young, 1990). Likewise, there remains a strong tendency to measure ‘traits’ in sport psychology, even when we know phenomena such as confidence and anxiety can change very rapidly and so might not be stable over time like a ‘personality trait’. Continuing the borrowing theme, important concepts such as self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977) and achievement orientation (Maehr & Nicholls, 1980) were not sport-specific theories by any means. However, they have served a purpose in offering sport psychology researchers a foothold from which to consider the roles of confidence and motivation, respectively, in determining sport performance.
Preceding many of these studies, Coleman Roberts Griffith is credited as developing the first programme of systematic research and training in sport psychology (cf. Gould & Pick, 1995) – even though a similar institute was opened in Germany 5 years earlier. A key contribution of Griffith was to recommend that research in sport psychology should not borrow from other areas, but should be based purely in sport (cf. Weiss & Gill, 2005). Overall, while this aim remains difficult to achieve, Griffith and his team explored many aspects of sport psychology, even including the benefits to a person of participating in sport.
Finally, mirroring Griffith’s call for sport psychology to stand on its own and not borrow from other areas, Rainer Martens (1979) criticized the tendency of sport psychology researchers to retreat to controlled lab settings. He argued that this approach prevented research from replicating the pressures and challenges of real sport settings; that is, they lacked ‘ecological validity’. Unfortunately, many of the issues identified by authors such as Griffith and Martens appear just as relevant, and prevalent, in modern sport psychology.
Kontos and Feltz (2008) described three ‘current issues’ in sport psychology, although they may be familiar following the above summary. First, the worlds of sport psychology research and applied practice remain relatively separate, with very little exchange of ideas between the two. This is arguably detrimental to both, as research loses relevance and practice loses its evidence. Second, researchers remain unclear on how to study sport psychology effectively. In a topic area spanning from the physiological to the social and cultural, is it appropriate to adopt a single set of methods and assumptions? Roberts (1989) argued that there would be most value, or more accomplishment, through exclusively adopting a cognitive approach (e.g., individual level processes, often based on questionnaires). In contrast, Landers (1983) and Morgan (1980) argued such a singular approach would be damaging. Overall, sport psychology retains a genuine ‘blind spot’ for the philosophy of science (i.e., what are we studying and how can we study it?), and this issue is addressed in Chapter 3. Finally, Kontos and Feltz noted the trend for sport psychology research to focus on elite athletes, when this group only represents a tiny proportion of those participating in sport. There is no reason to assume similarities between elite athletes and recreational or amateur athletes, and likewise no reason to assume everybody wants (or needs) to possess the same mental attributes as elite athletes.
This brief history of sport psychology contains one lingering theme: We are a discipline that has consistently experienced, but not resolved, critical issues: serious issues that threaten the very legitimacy of the profession. In linking research and practice, addressing the issues posed by philosophy of science, and in defining ‘world-class’ practice as something you can do with amateurs or young athletes; this book aims to genuinely resolve some of these persistent and damaging issues once and for all.

1.3 Regulation and accountability

Perhaps linked to the on-going crises, as described above, many countries already have formal regulation of sport psychologists; for example, the Health and Care Professions Council (United Kingdom, in partnership with the British Psychological Society), the American Psychology Association (Division 47, in partnership with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology) and the Australian Health Professional Registration Association (in partnership with the Australian Psychology Society). Other countries are working towards this, but many others are not. Where there is statutory regulation, technically a sport psychologist should have undergone a minimum amount of education (undergraduate and postgraduate), as well as several years of supervised practice. If these practitioners ‘mess up’, they could lose their licence/registration and face disciplinary proceedings. The idea is to offer a degree of quality assurance to clients – a minimum level of education and experience – as well as a degree of accountability (e.g., ‘if you don’t like what s/he does, here’s who you can complain to and here’s how it will be dealt with’). In both regulated and unregulated countries, if someone is deeply dissatisfied with your service and wants to hold you accountable then they can, of course, sue (at least for their money back, and perhaps for any ‘damages’ too). More realistically, dissatisfied athletes and coaches will simply tell any others that the practitioner involved, or the profession as a whole, is not worth the money. As such, whether regulated or unregulated, a sport psychologist needs to be able to demonstrate a high degree of scientific rigour, ethical standards, quality assurance and, ideally (as above), effectiveness. They need to be able to provide documentary evidence that procedures have been followed, that due diligence has been carried out and that any advice given was responsible, ethical and, in all likelihood, appropriate (i.e., likely to help). In a world where clients have high expectations that sport psychology will deliver (rather than perhaps treating it as a gamble that may or may not pay off), we might find more and more clients willing to take legal action if their expectations are not met. And whilst the ‘culture of litigation’ is generally bemoaned as a symptom of modern malaise and entitlement, it might equally act as a metaphorical ‘stick’ to drive up standards in sport psychology. Obviously, using the ‘carrot’ would be preferable and, in this instance, that ‘carrot’ might be the possibility of creating (and being) truly world-class sport psychologists.

1.4 A model of the sport psychologist’s ‘process’

On the one hand, sport psychology has, throughout its history, almost exclusively been conceptualized as a scientific endeavour, not pseudo-scientific or any other variation: proto-scientific, anti-scientific or unscientific. Whilst Chapter 3 will make an explicit attempt to discuss several different types of science, this book will maintain the emphasis on a scientific process.
On the other hand, however, the ‘stereotypical’ scientific process – aloof and unbiased observation, impartial theorizing and diagnosing, leading to precise prescriptions for action – can be quite unsuitable to the practice of applied sport psychology. Sport psychology is a profession where service delivery can take place on a team bus, in a changing room, at pitch-/court-/track-/poolside and sometimes you only have minutes to ‘make a difference’. Likewise, sport is an area where passion and partisanship are inevitable; in fact, they are highly valued. It may be very difficult to secure a job without being passionate about the sport; so ‘impartial’ and ‘unbiased’ science could be a poor combination for working in sport. As such, the model used in this book – a model designed to describe key steps that any sport psychologist must take in delivering their services – is also highly flexible and inclusive of different ‘styles’. All the steps in the model are intended to be ‘universal’ – in that any practising sport psychologist would recognize them from their own practice – as well as demonstrating the ways that science can be used appropriately to inform one’s practice. However, each step will be ‘unpacked’ as we progress through the book, and different ways of achieving each step will be considered. Likewise, the ‘cost’ of attempting to overlook any step, or pay it insufficient attention, will be considered in relation to the effects on the client, on your effectiveness (and thus, your reputation) and on your ability to report (and/or defend) your actions. The model is outlined below:
Figure 1.1 A model of the sport psychology service delivery process proposed in this book. Note that all main boxes are conceptualized as ‘universal’: applicable to all sport psychology practice – whether explicit or implicit. Steps may not take place in the simple linear order shown, as iterative cycles are quite typical.
The above model needs to be separated from a theory, a framework or a heuristic. A theory has two specific properties – explanation and falsifiability – that allow us to make predictions, based on known initial conditions (i.e., hypotheses). Our model does not yet facilitate such precision. In addition, theories are usually intended to be ‘generalizable’ so that they apply to as many instances as possible of the given phenomena. A framework is a set of concepts that is used to understand the world; an interpretive lens through which to look and perhaps see the same phenomenon in a different light (these will be more relevant in Chapter 3). A heuristic can be thought of as a very simple first attempt at apprehending something, a rough guess, mainly used as a basis to ask more relevant questions and perhaps as the starting point for a model. In contrast to all the above, a model is an attempt to represent or illustrate the workings of a complete system, or process. Models can be either descriptive (‘this is how we think it works’) or prescriptive (‘this is what we think should happen’). For now, our model of the applied sport psychology service delivery process is a prescriptive model – this is how I think it should work. If it survives and sticks around, however, it does make testable predictions. For example, that the quality of each step determines the quality of subsequent steps, or that better alignment between philosophy and practice will lead to a better client experience. I would love to see these predictions tested within my own lifetime.
Underpinning principle 1: Ethical standards. Whether you admit it or not, you have an ethical standpoint. It might be that you think ‘ethics doesn’t matter’, or ‘I haven’t got time to worry about ethics’, in which case you are (according to the model in this book) wrong. Ethical considerations are the ‘safety net’ underpinning any helping profession: protecting the client, the practitioner and the profession as a whole. Ethics involves knowing the limits of your competence, choosing and adhering to a level of confidentiality (from ‘none’ to ‘exclusive’), gaining informed consent (not just consent), ethical marketing, dealing appropriately with child protection and vulnerable populations and establishing personal boundaries. Each of these decisions has very different and very important implications for your client, and for you. These issues are important enough to make each decision explicitly so that you can stand by it, rather than allowing it to be made by accident, or even allowing uncertainty to be exploited by less scrupulous individuals. Chapter 2 explores these issues with real-life examples and outlines the importance of explicitly recognizing ethical issues in your practice. Furthermore, the chapter empha...


  1. Cover
  2. Titlepage
  3. Copyright
  4. Dedication
  5. Contents
  6. List of Illustrations
  7. About the author
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Publisher’s Acknowledgements
  10. Preface
  11. 1 Introduction and Overview
  12. 2 Ethical Considerations: Protecting the Client, Yourself and Your Profession
  13. 3 Philosophical Assumptions: The Aims, the Substance and the Strategy
  14. 4 The Intake Process: Establishing a Relationship, Aims, Expectations and Boundaries
  15. 5 Needs Analysis – Establishing Needs, Skills, Demands and Goals
  16. 6 Case Formulation – Creating a Working Model
  17. 7 Choosing a Support Strategy – Case Formulations, Evidence and Professional Judgement
  18. 8 Planning the Support Programme
  19. 9 Delivery and Monitoring (… and Knowing When You’re Finished)
  20. 10 Quality Assurance Processes: Recording, Reflecting and Supervision
  21. Learning Aids – Individual Case Studies for Discussion
  22. References
  23. Index