Sport psychology is often used as a support within a high-performance sporting structure. As its benefits and merits are ever more recognised and respected, some amateur clubs are on the lookout for ways in which they can use such support – often in an ad-hoc capacity. With little knowledge or helpful information available, many are unsure where to go or who to look for to provide such a service.
In fairness, there is very little regulation of the area presently and it is a little bit of a minefield in finding someone that can add value to your team or organisation. This article is written in the context of an Irish sport psychology setting.
Presently, there are many looking to work in the area – under the guise of a “Mental Coach / Mind Coach”, “Executive Coach”, “Leadership or Performance Expert” or other such title. Others might fall into the area as a “Well-being Coach”, “Counsellor” or “NLP practitioner”. Some but not all may have some form of qualification that has a minor link to sport and performance psychology with some belonging to a long list of what we know in the trade as the “motivational brigade”.
Here, self-titled “experts” trade on a personal story of triumph where their inspiring tales of overcoming the odds to achieve a huge personal feat is sold as sport psychology - even if it leaves you or your group in a state of momentary boost. While your athlete’s may be boosted by their inspiring tale, they are rarely if ever left with a skill-set or action plan to tackle their own issues or performance impediments.
Would you ask somebody who has got a knee operation to perform surgery on your knee?
Just because one has personal experience or has overcome adversity to achieve a significant feat does not mean they are equipped to impart knowledge around best practice in performance psychology.
Many do the rounds in the corporate sector getting very well paid for delivery of little substance. Unfortunately, some will also chance their arm in the realm of high performance and or amateur sport.
While some may have a shallow understanding of some of the science behind some of the aspects within sport psychology, many are "chancers" purporting to be established in the field. Some will be to the forefront in national media within the sport psychology space and some will name drop teams and individuals they have some form of link to - purporting to have inspired them to greatness!
A doctor or any professional for that matter doesn’t go around name dropping about private consultations with their clients and a professional sport or performance psychologist doesn’t either.
Most of these people who some might deem as “fraudsters” will offer a lot and leave you with very little. Coaches, who know no better, bring them in to their team for a “talk” to “psych them up”. There is a science to how the brain facilitates and monitors control of the neuro-muscular system and anxiety within it and psyching somebody up when there are issues at play may actually be extremely debilitating for athletes. You, your athletes and your team in essence can and will be sold short.
Before ever paying for a service, you should ensure that they are appropriately qualified to give you a service that will be beneficial.
The following questions should help you find somebody that can help.
What are the qualifications required to be a qualified sport psychologist?
Effectively, A qualified professional sport psychology qualification will take between six and eight years to ascertain.
A qualified service provider will hold three of the following that can easily checked on online registers.
1 – An undergraduate degree in psychology or sport science
2 - A master’s degree in sport and exercise psychology from a reputable University
3 – A two year’ accreditation process with one or more of the following bodies
If they do not hold one or any of the qualifications listed above, they are not professionally qualified to work in the field. In fact, they could do untold harm while making off with a large portion of a clubs hard earned finance.
A list of approved performance psychology providers under the Professional Quality Assurance Programme (PQAP) with the Sport Ireland Institute is attached at the bottom of this article.
Any other tips?
It would be preferable to use somebody with reputable experience – somebody that you know has qualifications listed above and that has been involved in genuinely improving other athletes and teams. Significant experience isn’t everything but it is important!
It would also be preferable if the person you use has a sound understanding of the nature of your sport or discipline. In interventions, applied sport psychologists may use “attentional focus cues” for use in real time skill execution. If they do not have a fundamental understanding of your sport, then getting optimal value within this particular area of support could be an issue.
What can they do?
Generally, a sport psychologist would provide an array of services around athlete or coach support in helping them to perform at their optimum. Some of these areas would include various services to improve the following.
Keith Begley is an accredited performance psychology provider with the Irish Institute of Sport under the Professional Quality Assurance Programme (PQAP).
Contact below if you or your team is looking to take your performance to the next level.