When the European federation of sport psychology announced its conference with the working title, ‘Development of expertise and excellence in applied sport psychology’ I had the feeling this 2-day conference would be enriching for a young sport psychology student like myself, and I was not disappointed! Allow me to share some insights.
The many experienced applied sport psychologists (APSs) and researchers didn’t give the recipe for a successful career on a silver platter. But why would there be a clear-cut trajectory in a discipline where the answer is so often “It depends…”? Therefore, self-reflection and peer discussions are necessary. During the weekend I met many (future) colleagues in the field who were more than willing to share their stories with me. And I guess there are worse places for networking and becoming acquainted than a nice boat dinner on the Seine River next to the Eiffel Tower, wouldn’t you agree?
But let’s get to the points I want to share for reflection. According to David Tod, one of the necessary competencies to develop as a young ASP is an ability to deal with our own anxiety and uncertainties. When you would think ‘easier said than done’ we have to keep in mind that we’re actually teaching the same skills to our athletes all the time. The phrase “practice what you preach” comes to mind. Secondly, we need to work on our knowledge of different sports and their athletes. According to Tod however, it’s not enough to read about it or watch it on television. His advice was to get in there with the athletes and acquire hands-on experience. If not for yourself, then it is important in order for the athletes to fully accept you and see your commitment. So for the lazy ASPs out there: get of your chairs and from behind your desks sometimes! Thirdly, another area to get experienced in is marketing. This skill is not included in most educations at the moment so we’ll have to work on this ourselves. Several speakers also stressed that the standard toolbox of psychological skills is not enough. Creativity and interpersonal skills are just as necessary. Even if you’re not trained as a psychologist in a specific counseling orientation there are enough references out there to learn about interpersonal skills without needing a B.Sc in psychology.
Finally, if you were to be experienced in all these aspects, then there is the need for what David Tod called ‘calibration’. Just as machines need readjustments, so do we need to engage in self-reflections and peer discussion to stay sharp. We need to follow up with the current technologies and trends. Dave Collins advocated we should all work as reflective scientist-practitioners. We need a philosophy for our practice. And this goes for the theories we follow (cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, humanistic…), our ethical standpoints concerning ambiguous situations in the field, and our perspectives on working with athletes. Would you, for example, follow a holistic lifespan perspective (going beyond the standard psychological skill training)? What balance do you make between the performance and well-being of your athletes? Do you follow a medical model where you fix the problem when it presents itself or do you want to work proactive? Only if you know these answers you can start thinking on how you would realize your philosophy. Under the motto “know thyself” we must question what our beliefs as an ASP are? What do we like? What don’t we like? We need to surf in and outside our comfort zone.
Another import part of the conference for beginning ASPs was the presentation of work settings where they might end up, each with its own advantages and challenges. Do you see yourself working with the elite or on a lower level? Do you associate yourself with a federation or a big sport institute or do you see yourself in your own private office? And what if you’re interested in sticking around in research or academic settings? Some ASPs really like to juggle and try to combine all of these. An overview of all of these pathways would be too extensive now, but it might be interesting to get to know and learn from people in these different areas. Did I already mention that networking is important?
Many other interesting topics were discussed, but I hope I summed up some of the issues that are most interesting for beginning sport psychologists. I invite them to join me for these necessary reflective moments. After this weekend I’m definitely looking forward even more to the challenge of a future career in sport psychology. A big thank you to all the people I’ve met in Paris for the amazing times! I will see most of you again in Gothenburg (Sweden) in October for the ENYSSP Workshop or in Bern (Switzerland) in 2015 for the FEPSAC congress.
Here are some interesting references of some of the speakers (or mentioned by them) that might give you more insight in some of the mentioned aspects:
Henriksen, K., Stambulova, N., & Roessler, K. K. (2011). Riding the wave of an expert: A successful talent development environment in kayaking. The Sport Psychologist, 25, 341-362.
Herzog, T. & Hays, K. F. (2012). Therapist or mental skills coach? How to decide. The Sport Psychologist, 26, 486-499.
Jones, J. L., & Mehr, S. L. (2007). Foundations and assumptions of the scientist-practitioner model. American Behavioral Scientist, 50, 766-771.
Stambulova, N. & Johnson, U. (2010). Novice consultants’ experiences: Lessons learned by applied sport psychology students. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 295-303.
Tod, D. (2007). The long and winding road: Professional development in sport psychology. The Sport Psychologist, 21, 94-108.
Tod, D., Andersen, M. B., & Marchant, D. B. (2011). Six years up: Applied sport psychologists surviving (and thriving) after graduation. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 23, 93-109.
Wylleman, P., Harwood, C. G., Elbe, A-M., Reints, A., & de Caluwé, D. (2009). A perspective on education and professional development in applied sport psychology. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10, 435-446.
Cedric Arijs (left) is currently a first year student in the European Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology Program at the University of Thessaly (Greece). He completed his Master degree in Clinical Psychology with great honor at the Ghent University (Belgium). His main topic of interest at the moment is the psychology of extreme sports. E-mail: email@example.com