What is Sport Psychology? What does a Sport Psychologist do?

Psychology is defined as the scientific study of the mind and behaviour. Therefore, a simple way to think of sport psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour in sport settings. Applied sport psychology consultancy involves extending scientific theory and research into the field to educate coaches, sport science staff (e.g., nutritionists, physical therapists), athletes, performing artists and parents, about the psychological aspects of their sport or activity. A key goal for sport psychology consultants is to facilitate optimal involvement, performance, and enjoyment in sport. One common way sport psychology consultants can achieve this goal is through teaching clients about psychological strategies/methods that can enhance psychological skills/characteristics.

Psychological strategies refer to concepts like imagery, relaxation and goal setting, whereas psychological skills/characteristics refer to concepts like motivation, concentration and self-confidence. It is through learning and practicing psychological strategies, that athletes can enhance their psychological skills/characteristics (e.g., motivation, confidence, concentration). For example, goal setting (a psychological strategy) would be ideal for enhancing motivation (a psychological characteristic). Such education might be conducted within one-to-one or team consultancy.

Sport psychology consultants working with teams will likely educate athletes about individual psychological strategies and skills/characteristics, but also about team related topics too (e.g., team profiling, team dynamics, team goal setting, team building). This will typically be done via workshops. Workshops will often involve a mixture of presentations, interactive discussion and fun activities. Consultants may then look to further tease out psychological principles within technical training sessions [often with the assistance of technical coaches] to further highlight their real-world application.

When conducting one-to-one and/or team consultancy, consultants will go through a service delivery process. This process typically includes conducting a needs analysis (i.e., interviews, informal chats, questionnaires, performance profiles), a case formulation (Your professional opinion of what is going on for the client and how their situation may be improved), choosing and planning interventions (e.g., This might be educating an athlete about imagery or it might involve adopting counselling skills), delivering interventions, monitoring progress (e.g., re-administering a confidence questionnaire to see if there has been any positive change in the clients confidence level) and evaluating ones practice (e.g., client’s ratings of the sport psychology consultant). Acquiring the consulting skills to competently navigate through this service delivery process requires many years of study and training.

Professional certification or accreditation demonstrates to clients, employers, colleagues, and the public at large that an individual has met the highest standards of professional practice. In the UK, the gold standard route towards becoming a sport psychologist is through achieving an MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology, followed by undertaking the Qualification in Sport and Exercise Psychology (QSEP) Stage 2 training program. Going through this route entitles a practitioner to use the title Sport and Exercise Psychologist. In the USA, the main route is to do an MSc, followed by training with the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) to become a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC).

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