Developing Cultural Competence in Sport Psychology

What is wrong with refusing or sipping vodka in Russia, or showing the hand sign for “OK” in Brazil? Greeting someone with a warm embrace in Asia? Making a V for victory or peace sign in South Africa? Showing the thumbs up for good in the Middle East? Or even talking too much in Finland?

In many places these actions are common and harmless, but in others they can be seen as rude or offensive! While these are the basic cultural faux pas, cultural competence requires a much deeper understanding and awareness.


What is culture? 

Culture is a complex phenomenon. The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about culture is ethnicity, but in the broader context culture refers to “any and all potentially salient ethnographic, demographic, status, or affiliation identities”. By extension, culture includes not only race and ethnicity, but also language, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and even physicality (physical ability characteristics). 

However, the aim of cultural awareness and identities is not to categorise people into boxes and groups. Individuals should be viewed in relation to their contextualised cultural background, and there are as many within-culture differences as there are between-culture differences for us to consider when we work with athletes and individuals from different cultural backgrounds. 

How is cultural competence relevant to sport psychology? 

With the advent of globalisation, sports teams and societies in general are increasingly multicultural. As sport and exercise psychologists, you may find yourself working with athletes, coaches and individuals of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. As such, cultural competency is without question becoming more and more important for professional practice. 

The influence of cultural variables (i.e. social norms, beliefs and attitudes) on psychological processes and behaviour has been acknowledged in more and more research, including sport and exercise psychology. Past research examining cross-cultural differences in sport psychology has identified differences in areas such as achievement motivation, goal orientation, coping styles, emotion regulation, mental qualities, aggression, attributions to success and competency, attitudes towards sport psychology consultations, and even athletic retirement. Without a doubt, cultural influences and psychological responses are intricately linked. Consequently, athletes from different cultural backgrounds are going to interpret and respond differently to the same intervention. Simply put, one size does not fit all. What works for you may not work for others! 

For example, collectivistic societies such as China and Japan value harmony, cooperation, cohesion, and conformity, whereas in individualistic societies such as the United States and Canada, autonomy and the needs of the individual are placed over that of the group. Consequently, success is construed differently, with most collectivistic societies attributing success to group and community related factors, and individualistic societies perceiving success as a result of their own individual efforts. This could in turn influence whether individual or group-based interventions are more effective for different athletes.


Designer Yang Liu’s depiction of Western (blue) and Eastern (red) cultures on self-expression. Here, people from the “West” are depicted as being more direct, while those from the “East” have a more indirect communication style. 


Another comparison on problem-solving styles in Western and Eastern cultures. For more of her work on East Meets West, visit 

In another example, the perceived appropriate and comfortable interpersonal space is different among cultures. According to some cultural guidelines the interpersonal space in mainstream North America ranges from 50cm to 1 meter, but this space may be less in some Latin American cultures, and more in some Asian and North African cultures! As sport psychologists, using these culturally appropriate interpersonal zone distances when we meet with our athletes and clients can help create more comfortable and conducive meetings. 

It is important to keep in mind that cultures are not monolithic entities. Everyone is a historically, geographically, and socially situated individual with his or her own unique story. For example, social attitudes and beliefs from birthplaces may not be important to acculturated athletes, and not everyone displays “collectivistic characteristics” just because they are from Eastern societies. 

How to develop cultural awareness? 

To foster cultural competence, the American Psychological Association (APA) and other sport psychology research have identified three general areas of consideration, namely cultural awareness, cultural knowledge, and cultural skills. These aspects are summarised simply for you in the following easy tips:

#1 Know Thyself

As Aristotle once declared, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”. Identifying your own beliefs, values, and attitudes, including biases and prejudices, can help you gain a better understanding of your own background and culture. What are some of the values that your culture embraces? How do education, gender, ethnicity, and age (among other factors) influence your style of practice (communication styles, problem-solving, etc.)? How do these compare with other cultures? As you start reflecting on your background, you also gain knowledge and skills towards identifying variations in other cultures. 

#2 Know Others 

Take the initiative to learn about the contextualised cultural background of your athletes. Understanding their worldviews enhances competent communication. 

No judgments 

Refrain from judging other values, beliefs, and attitudes. There is no right or wrong, and each culture and each individual is unique and special. 

Be open and respectful

Be open-minded and respectful towards other cultures. Acknowledge that there are things that you don’t know, be humble, and be ready to learn.

#3 Combining Knowledge and Skills

With the awareness and knowledge acquired from self-reflection and learning about others, develop culturally appropriate intervention strategies that encompass consideration for cultural characteristics of your athlete. 

There are athletes, coaches, teams, and sport federations craving the expertise of multiculturally competent sport psychologists. As Diane Gill, a prominent supporter of cultural sport psychology, said, “Reviewing sport psychology from a multicultural perspective challenges our worldview, enriches our scholarship and practice, and advances sport psychology in the public interest.” Cultural competency is not a difficult skill to master, and with some patience and self-reflection, you can start becoming more culturally competent today!

Finally, putting theory into practice, check out this great example of cross-cultural sensitivity from the London 2012 Olympics, which was held during the religious fasting period of Ramadan. Read about how the organisers handled it here: 


Hayashi, C. T., & Weiss, M.R. (1994). A cross-cultural analysis of achievement motivation in Anglo-American and Japanese Marathon runners. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 25, 187-202.

Ryba T.V, Stambulova, N. B., Si, G. Y., & Schinke, R. (2013) ISSP Position Stand: Culturally competent research and practice in sport and exercise psychology, International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 11:2, 123-142.

Schinke, R. J., & Hanrahan, S. J. (Eds.) (2009). Cultural sport psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Zheng, X., Smith, D., & Adegbola, O. (2004): A cross‐cultural comparison of six mental qualities among Singaporean, North American, Chinese, and Nigerian professional athletes. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2(2), 103-118.

About the Author



Chun Li Kok (郭春利) is a final year master’s student in the EMSEP programme at the University of Jyväskylä (JYU) and the University of Leipzig (Germany). She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the National University of Singapore (NUS), and has worked with the national indoor and beach volleyball teams in Singapore. Her research interests include cultural sport psychology, youth sport, and biofeedback. She can be contacted at kok.chunli (at), or find out more at 


Is your sport psychology career kicking off?

Regardless of the career with which you expect to earn a living, the kick-off is probably one of the most uncomfortable and frustrating stages of your job experience. You start calling yourself an expert in a field where you have a good theoretical background whereas “the real world” may represent something completely different… On paper, your formal education is enough to solve every situation your teachers present you. . However, there is a great chance to have serious doubt about your skills, experience financial instability, and receive external pressure when one finally starts to work in the business.


As a sport psychologist, I often find my field to be misunderstood. For this reason, I give you some advice from my still short career so that my future colleagues may get some help. 

Do not sign a short-term contract: we are not magicians!

It is true that there are not that many chances to find work in our field but even when the material position is poor, it is important to be strong and look for the best possible offer. Accepting a two- or three-month contract is not wise in the long run: sport psychology is not a magician show where the results are fast to come. Make sure you have enough time for observations, interventions and conclusions.  

Don’t talk to the clowns. Meet the circus’ owner…

Truth to be told, low to mid-range employees are far from being decisive in whether you will be hired or not, and most of the time cannot see the value of your job, either for lack of knowledge or long-term view. So, don’t waste your time on them, or if you consider doing it, use them as connections towards the big guys, who could appreciate better your skills and the long-term benefits of having you in the organization. 

Let the kit manager and assistant coach do their work

When you already belong to the staff, make sure you cooperate with your co-workers. You have to be a team member: carrying the balls and helping in organization from time to time are crucial things in team work. However, these things should not stop you from doing the things you are in the team. Therefore, be cooperative but focus on your tasks!  

Avoid the pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo talk

Once you start talking to athletes, you realize how complex everything seems when you use scientific or philosophical words.  Why expect regular people to know the specific vocabulary and expressions? Practitioners must adapt their vast knowledge according to the situation and express their ideas as simple and practical as possible. 

Consultation fees

This is one of the most critical points when you start running your own consultation business. How I am going to charge my clients? How much does my one-hour session service cost? Normally, this is what you do not learn in school. The best thing to do here is a brief market research of some other services that require similar qualifications and that provide similar benefits. If you already know someone else in your area that performs what you do, compare your education, experience and then evaluate how much your service differs from theirs - if they are quite the same, do not charge less just to win more clients, this is counterproductive in the long run! 

Follow your instincts 

Our education system mainly leads us to follow books and be scared of performing what is not conventional. However, you should not forget that your intuition is a precious gift that we need to profit of. Authors such as Weinberg in sport psychology or Skinner and Hayes in experimental psychology have taken risks and started their own paths in which the result was a breakthrough for our discipline. Every single theory or intervention that you usually find in books, was once a simple speculation or a risk. Believe in yourself - “If there is no risk, there is no reward” (Christy Raedeke).

Try to take up sports 

Yes, you should be engaged in an activity that gives you the chance to apply what you have learned and what you are trying to teach to an athlete! Remember that the event is not as crucial as feeling the challenge and joy. It does not matter the sport you choose, but how challenging and enjoyable is for you.

As the quote says “In the blacksmith’s house, the wooden knife”, some sport psychologists deliver amazing interventions that they have never used on themselves. Imagine a baker not eating his own bread, or a geeky IT guy without the latest apps in his own phone. No better feedback exists but your own!


If it is your first experience, do it in the sport you know the best

First experiences as a consultant are often intense, regardless of the skills you have received in the university. Sport environments are usually fierce and unpredictable, so frustration is the daily bread. However, the more you know the specific sport, the less negative sensations you may encounter during the first steps of your career. Getting along well with the staff and athletes is crucial and even if at the beginning they do not have a clue about your aims, they will accept you because of your experience in a particular sport. In the future, you will always have time to prove your psychological expertise.

I hope my present or future colleagues find these tips somehow useful in some extent. I know there are plenty of unexpected situations that can come up and have not been reflected in this blog, so please feel free to write in comments about your own experience! 


Julian Gonzalez is a sport psychologist who holds a Master Degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Lunds Universitet, Sweden and University of Leipzig in Germany. He completed his bachelor degree in Psychology (2010) from the Universidad FUKL in Colombia.  Julian is also a former professional footballer in Colombia, who competed in the highest division in Club Deportivo Los Millonarios, Independiente Santafe and Deportes Quindio. He has special interest in working with ACT-Mindfulness model, Talent development and Career transition for athletes. Currently, he runs his own sport psychology consulting company and works at Club Deportivo Los Millonarios as sport psychologist in charge of youth teams. He is also a constant blog author at

To PhD or not to PhD: Musings from a forever student

Like many, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up: either a veterinarian or the most glamorous pop star you’d ever seen. As I got older (and realized I cannot sing), I gave up on diva route and turned my interests to sports, exercise and science. Now in my final year of my Masters degree in sport psychology, I’ve reached another crossroad: to pursue a PhD or start trying my luck outside of academia.  


Wasn’t sure if I was more Diana Ross or Elton John…

As a lifelong student (going on 21 years now!) I’ve always been passionate about learning. The field of sport psychology has given me the opportunity to blend both my academic and athletic interests into one fulfilling career path. As the second year of my Masters program is steadily progressing to the end, I, like many of my peers, am looking ahead towards my next move.  


A Masters in sport psychology (especially a strong program like EMSEP) has created a great stepping stone towards numerous options. For some, the choice is easy.  From the sport side, depending on the country, jobs working as a sport psychologist are accessible with a Masters degree. For others, combining sport psych with other fitness or counseling related passions opens up doors for personal training, coaching and more. When we open up more to the exercise psychology side of this field, even more opportunities arise: working with children all the way to the elderly on exercise programs; roles in health care and policy; individual training and teaching; and presenting and educating in schools, businesses and more.  



While I am interested in many of these options, a greater part of me is still focused on pushing myself further academically. My time working in the sports field after my undergraduate degree has been rewarding, and I am grateful for the experiences I’ve gained. Yet, it has also helped me realize how enthusiastic I am about learning, exploring and researching. This journey has led me to follow my passion and apply for PhD programs. 


Going up to full power!


If, like me, you’ve decided to pursue something beyond a Masters, or if you’re considering the idea, you may be wondering what the best way is to get there. As I am not on any application committees (yet), take my suggestions with a grain of salt, but they’ve served me well.  


If you’re in your first year of your Masters (or upper-year Bachelors): Well, grades are critical, and no academic success will come without a high level of academic focus. Aside from the obvious academic standing needed, I’ve found honestly and critically examining areas of weakness to be a good place to start. Where are you lacking? Research skills? Theoretical understanding? Writing skills? Volunteer or work experience? Start taking the time now and try to work on filling in some of those gaps. It may be as simple as volunteering a few hours a week with an organization that interests you, or asking a professor for time in their lab, but this can help boost both confidence and competence.  


Another focus could be getting in touch with professors who are researching in areas that mirror your own interests. Looking into programs and sending off some friendly emails early may differentiate you from the crowd later on. Just getting your name on a professor’s radar can be hugely beneficial when they’re receiving 10+ emails a week during peak season from interested students. I’d also suggest looking ahead now on the application process, and get a feel for the expectations and when the deadlines fall (which vary wildly by country).  


Lastly, network! As terrifying as it can be to introduce yourself to someone you admire in the field, those little connections can lead to great word-of-mouth opportunities down the road. Set a goal to introduce yourself to a certain number of people at the next conference and push yourself outside your comfort zone.  


Colorful conversations can lead to new opportunities. 

I can’t say with any certainty that these tips will help you get into your top choice program. As I work through the process myself, I can see all my mistakes and missed opportunities strewn behind me. I don’t know if I’ll get in and I can’t say where I’ll be next year. What I CAN say though, is that this process has been hugely motivating for me to go out and try to achieve what I want.  Will I be disappointed if I’m not accepted? Of course. But if I fall a little short, I’ll be okay too; taking inventory of my strengths and weaknesses has reminded me that I have more to offer than I thought I did. To me, the adversity of trying and failing is (eventually) much more satisfying than not trying at all.  


And hey, there’s still always that music career… 


Kaleigh Ferdinand is a second year master’s student in the EMSEP Program studying at Lund University. She graduated from the University of Ottawa with a BSc in Human Kinetics. Her interests include team dynamics, biofeedback and applied sport interventions. She can be contacted at

Living with a Sport Psychologist

A lot of people in my life ask me what my boyfriend actually does for a living. I answer with a “Oh he does sport psychology” most times because listing off all the things he actually does would require a Powerpoint presentation. Usually people respond with “Wow that’s really cool” and that’s the end of it. However, sometimes that just isn’t enough for some people. This blog is inspired by one of those times where I actually had to go into detail about what a sport psychologist is and what one does. I walked away from that conversation feeling really proud of myself because I felt that I portrayed my boyfriend’s job really well. It got me thinking and I decided to make a list of some other things that have changed in my life since dating a sport psychologist. Below are 10 telltale signs that I’ve been living with a sport psychologist for too long: 

1)  Everything involves goal setting.

“We’re going to go shopping today. Let’s make sure to write everything out first and make sure our list is specific and measurable. Do we get 10 eggs or just 6?”


2)  Considering people like Bob Weinberg, Martin Hagger and Dan Gould celebrities.

My name is Emela and I follow Martin Hagger on Twitter. Oh and he follows me back. BOOYAH!


3) Having to put up with Skype consultations that originally are only supposed to last an hour, but end up taking 3 hours, anytime day or night.

"What took so long?"

“Well first I did my intake session with a new client, then my colleague and I talked about our next workshop. After that it was already time for the next meeting with a business connection in the USA about expanding sport psychology awareness in Germany”


4)  Getting invited to tag along with Pete at sport psychology conferences….by his sport psych friends.

“Oh you don’t have to attend any of the workshops – just come for the parties in the evening!  Ain’t no party like a sport psych party!”


5)  A casserole that doesn’t come out right results in a problem-solving discussion.

“What can we do better next time to improve results? Were there any performance issues? Maybe you weren’t focused or concentrated well enough when mixing the ingredients.”


6)  Knowing what the phrases or terms “self talk”, “mindfulness”, “imagery”, and “arousal regulation” mean is required to keep up in basic conversation. 

“I just got done with my client. We were talking about their self talk and imagery, and how it might be better to go with a mindfulness approach.”  Right, of course…got it.  


7)  Getting added to all the sports psychology Facebook groups, and being offended if not invited to join one of them.

“It’s not like I won’t be hanging out with you all later, anyway”


8)  Every year at my birthday party, I stop and look around and realize that 99% of the people there are also sport psychologists. 

“If you want to get me Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology – think of something else, I’ve already been gifted all five editions”


9)  Having to be a guinea pig for projects and sessions and having new ideas run by me constantly.

“I need you to sit there and pretend you are a middle school basketball player having issues with free throws. You are coming to me to help your mental game…and go!”


10)  If I hear the phrase “mental toughness” one more time, I’m going to have a mental breakdown.


Those who know me, know that I couldn’t be happier to be with my boyfriend AND sport psychologist.  But guys, after 5 years of this, I think I deserve an honorary degree in sports psychology. 

Emela Husic has a master’s degree in International Business from Fachhochschule Brandenburg and bachelor’s degrees from The Ohio State University in Business and German.  She currently lives with a sport psychologist in Leipzig, Germany - and yes, believes she has earned an honorary degree in sport psychology. 

Injured and now what? The unattended impact of sports injuries

Imagine you are a star athlete in the sport of your choice. It’s a critical moment in the game and as you go to make your move – your foot gets stuck, your knee twists, you hear a pop, and your leg gives out. You find yourself on the ground, your mind in pure agony – half over the pain you feel in your leg, but the other half in pure panic about what is happening. You have been seriously injured. What now? 

As the medical staff is attending to your leg, your mind is racing with thoughts about the future. Nothing about the future is certain. You know nothing of how severe the injury is. You know nothing about how long you will be out. You have no idea how this will impact your future. As you are carted off the field, your teammates and coaches are at your side telling you not to worry and that everything will be ok. But will it? 


The medical staff is examining you. You are lying on your back, the pain in your leg is unrelenting, and your brain feels like it’s stuck. The doctors are conducting tests, and like a good patient, you are telling them what hurts – but how can you tell them your heart and mind are in just as much pain? Can you even distinguish this yourself? I would venture to say, no. All you know is that you are panicked and unsure about the future. All you want is to hear the doctor say, “You’re ok. You’ll be back on the field in no time.” 

The doctors give you a diagnosis – badly sprained ACL ligament and ankle. What now? For a moment you are relieved because surgery is off of the table. Surely sprained ligaments can’t be that hard to recover from, right? You put on a brave face, set up a plan of attack and try to convince yourself things are fine – nothing’s changed. You look to those around you – the doctor, the athletic trainer, and coaches – to confirm that this is just a small speed bump. 

You see from their faces that the injury is physically a speed bump, but the emotional and mental roadblock goes unnoticed and unaddressed. Sure – you have a plan to get the physical ailments under control, but what about the feelings of uncertainty? Are you even aware of the thoughts running through your head? The emotional trauma you’ve just been through? Not knowing what happened, what’s going to happen – how your life has changed in a blink of an eye. Has the idea that you not only need to recover from a physical injury but also mental and emotional trauma even occurred to you? I would bet not. Researchers are also only just becoming aware of the full implications of a sports injury. 

Sport scientists, such as Jill Tracey from Wilfrid Laurier University (2003), have recently become aware of the multiple sides of an athletic injury. One of their key findings is that there are numerous negative psychological effects in conjunction with sports injuries. Many athletes will experience a drop in self-esteem. Many experience a sense of vulnerability and feel a loss of independence. There is a loss of role clarity and personal identity. Finally there is a loss of self-confidence and belief in their capabilities (Tracey, 2003). 


Athletes, especially highly competitive athletes, are tied to sports. They identify themselves as athletes – someone who has skills and talents at a level not many people can attain. Someone who bases self-image on athletic achievements and accomplishments. When something like an injury happens and that identity is threatened, the entire worldview of the athlete is shaken. Athletes are unable to feel they are using or developing the skills they define themselves by. Their self-esteem and confidence will quickly go down the drain. They go from feeling invincible, strong and physically healthy to having a debilitating injury, which includes feelings of loss of independence and the shock of realizing, “I’m not invincible?” (Tracey, 2003). If you think about it, these findings seem realistic and predictable – but how many athletes, coaches, and support staffs think of them?  Most everyone is focused purely on rehabilitating the physical symptoms, and less concerned about psychological symptoms.

As you make your way through the rehabilitation process, you know how important it is to have social support. It’s important to feel you are still a part of the team, that you are still included, etc. This is all well and good, but how much of an impact do coaches, teammates, and the medical support staff have on the recovery of an athlete? If you look at the mental and emotional side of the injury, the impact these sources of support can have is strong. A simple facial expression or wording of how the injury is progressing can either put an athlete’s mind to rest, or cause him to start panicking, doubting, and stressing about the injury. It’s been reported that most athletes do not actively seek out the support from the coaching staff. However, it has been noted that a large source of stress for athletes is the uncertainty of how they will fit back in with the team once they get back to playing (Tracey, 2003). Coaches can take measures to help reassure the athlete that he will not fall behind. Athletes need to be reminded and reassured that they are still wanted and needed. Since an athlete’s life is built around the sport, their peers are also an important source of social support. Efforts need to be made to assure that the injured athlete is still interacting with their teammates. 

At the end of the day, you are not just recovering from physical damage – there is mental and emotional turmoil that must also be healed throughout the recovery process. There is a huge mental trauma that must be dealt with before a full recovery can be made. So here you are – standing on the sideline preparing to re-enter competition for the first time since the injury. Are you physically ready? Are you mentally ready? Are you emotionally ready? You should be, because you will need to be. 

Work Referenced

Tracey, J. (2003). The emotional Response to the Injury and Rehabilitation Process. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15, 279-293. 


Niki Lau is a second year student in the European Master of Sport & Exercise Psychology at Lund University (Sweden) and University of Leipzig (Germany). She graduated with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology from the University of Maryland, College Park. Currently, she is working with SK Poseidon (a swimming club) in Lund as an intern. Topics of interest include emotional and mental impact of injuries, career transitions, and coach-athlete relationships and interactions. 

Two perspectives, one goal – a critical response.

First of all, Pete, you might have to improve your goal setting strategies – you’re saying that you don’t want to scare us young inexperienced students, but that’s exactly what you did! Think about who is reading the blog – those who care and who are already worried, while othrs probably don’t even know the blog exists, right? So, maybe some encouraging words would have been nice at the end. But you definitely have a point in saying we need a better training in applied work throughout our studies! Having finished my first year of EMSEP it is now just the time for my first internship as a master’s student of sports psychology (see, I didn’t say as a sports psychologist, already learnt a lesson here ;) ). After a great time in Leipzig with a lot of useful information, great teachers and even better role models I was highly motivated to just get started in the applied field as well. But as the first meeting with a 4th league basketball team came closer I started to freak – what the hell am I supposed to do with them? How do I start? What do they expect and what if I can’t fulfill those expectations? And finally, who is going to supervise my work? It’s holiday time…Well, good that I have friends who are studying sports psychology as well! 


Here are some of those good friends - and brilliant minds!

I was fortunate to have the chance to get some insight in applied work due to the visiting professors in Leipzig, but overall it would have been nice to already meet up with some interested athletes, to practice intake interviews and to (fine-) tune our counseling skills. That might first happen via role plays, or later on in meetings with athletes. Courses in professional development might have helped to give us a first idea about how to apply our theoretical knowledge, but what if we do not have 45 minutes to stand in front of our team and just talk? What if we have to integrate our exercises into the normal practice sessions of the team, which wants to use the short time they have the practice facilities as effective as possible? Nice challenge, huh? So yes, please, we need more hands-on training before starting our internship! And thanks, Pete, again for saying that we actually can do harm to our athletes - I heard way too often that we cannot actually harm our clients, but we might just not be effective. I agree with Pete here, we cannot just do harm to the athletes, but much more to our reputation and thus, also to our profession – especially because it is just in its infancy! 

So far, we have been on one page, Pete - but: it’s not just up to us Master’s students! Of course we are motivated, of course we can’t wait to start, of course we think we can change the world – but that’s what is great about young free minds, right? We are not just working within our daily routines, we still try to explore all those possibilities which are out there, we still see every athlete as an individual – I’m not saying, that all settled sports psychologists treat their clients like on an assembly line, but like everybody also sports psychologists like to stay within their comfort zone. Hence, combining us greenhorns with established sport psychologists should lead to a great success, right? We can and must learn from one another. Mentoring can only be beneficial for all of us. And there is the issue: where are all those mentors? Especially in Germany, and apparently in lots of other countries as well, nobody really wants to give away knowledge which makes him or her currently unique, as the job market for applied sport psychological work is small. Moreover, who has the time to supervise students, who for sure have quite a lot of questions and doubts about their work and thus feel they cannot get enough supervision? What we need is an established system for supervision, not just for newbies, but rather for everybody. We should call on our sense of responsibility and make supervision a compulsory element of our work, just as it already is in psychological counseling or psychotherapy. 

To further raise our credibility and reputation a proper certification system is desperately needed, agreed. But: first of all, a Master’s degree is (at least in Germany) considered a professional qualification, thus should enable us to actually work. Moreover, which certificate shall we chose to be acknowledged as a sports psychologist wherever we want to work? Oh wait; we are not sports psychologists, right? We are mental trainers, performance enhancers, psychological skill coaches, or whatever way we would like to call ourselves… Well, how shall somebody outside the field know that we actually all do the same or at least quite similar jobs?  It seems we are in desperate need to find a common term for our work, which needs to be associated with a detailed job description, ethical guidelines and particular qualifications. This can then be considered for planning Master programs or certifications. Of course it will be tough to establish such strict guidelines all over the world as they might not be necessary everywhere, but the fundamentals should be compulsory to everybody. Who might do that job? Good question, but I am pretty sure there are some bright minds within AASP, FEPSAC or ISSP, and if not yet there will be. The status quo is simply unsatisfactory - what do we have? A lot of national certificates which often do not enable you to work outside the country of origin and which you actually just need if you want to work with Olympic athletes or to get funding from the national government. Some of these certificates seem to be the equivalent of bad jokes anyway, either way too expensive or too superficial. To me, the AASP seems to be worth considering to pursue already, but it remains unclear, who actually can make use of it outside of the United States. 

Summing up, a lot of work still needs to be done to establish a well organized system for applied sports psychologists. Good, that so many smart and motivated young minds are willing to step out of the comfort zone, criticize and provoke the necessary change. 


Svenja Wachsmuth is a second year student in the European Master of Sport & exercise Psychology at the University of Jyväskylä. She graduated as a B.SC. Psychology at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Currently she is working with a local basketball team for her internship. Topics of interest are leadership & team dynamics, as well as emotional regulation.

The Plight of a Master’s Student Practicum

The importance of gaining experience, and the danger of doing so.


As a young sport psychologist currently seeking two certifications to prove my ability, I am constantly in a high state of alert each time I hear about a master’s degree student starting their internship.  Not long ago I was also a master’s student, looking for a place to try out my newest skills and begin my career as a sport psychologist.  The biggest problem with a master’s student, however, is they have just enough knowledge and confidence to do good…and to do damage to their athletes.


Hoping to do more good than harm with these bright minds..

Now I am not saying that I am some old and experienced sport psychologist and I am not implying that we all need a completed master’s degree before we even begin to meet with athletes.  In fact, what I am saying is far from it.  I believe there should be many more contact hours with athletes throughout the studies, more time spent in gyms and on playing fields, and more hours working out goal-setting, self-talk, or imagery training routines.  We need more athletes to become exposed to what sport psychology really is.  And all of these experiences need to happen with a watchful eye of a mentor.  

Therein lies the biggest issue - how does one receive that solid mentoring time without completely taking up a professor’s or applied sport psychologist’s entire life?  Well one good thing to report is that there are more and more of us out there in the field each year - meaning that there will be more and more mentors for the younger generation.  The current problem really only exists because as the industry for sport psychology has started to take off, there haven’t been so many qualified or certified sport psychologists around to mentor the next group of up-and-comers. This leads us to the next danger - practicing without any certification / qualification.

I suppose some might point the finger at me and say, “but wait, Pete, you’re not a certified sport psychologist!”  That’s true, but I am currently spending the money and investing time into my future as a sport psychologist by paying a currently AASP qualified sport psychologist to mentor me and give me the supervised hours I need to also become qualified.  Only after making the conscience decision to work on my certification did I really start to work with teams and athletes.  For me the strive for qualification is something each of us should have - and to work on informing teams and federations to not hire those who do not hold the qualifications or at least those who are not working towards them.  We need to expect a certain standard from ourselves and our colleagues.  Otherwise - these unsupervised and unqualified sport psychologists are endangering our livelihood and possibly tinkering with the livelihood of their athletes.  

The current solution for master’s students and young sport psychologists alike (which I found echoed in Paris at the FEPSAC conference), is to combine experienced supervision with peer consultation.  There will likely never be enough experienced practitioners to fill all the need for young sport psychologists.  However, peer consultation (like the one provided by Mark Schuls and Danielle Adams from ENYSSP) is an excellent way to hear about case studies, share ideas, and combine both experienced supervision with young out-of-the-box thinking.  This peer consultation can be set up throughout various countries, as a colleague of mine and I are attempting to do right now in Germany.  It only takes a minimum of 5 people to get a good discussion going, and the results have been wonderful.  


Never be afraid to seek advice from a colleague.

If you are a bachelor, master’s or even PhD student looking to start working applied or get your practicum going - make sure to tread lightly at first.  Contact peers and possibly a mentor and sharpen your sport psych tools by talking about your experiences and sharing ideas.  Be careful to always leave out all identifying features and respect the athlete’s confidentiality.  Don’t sell yourself as a sport psychologist unless you have taken the necessary certification or qualification courses (or if you are working towards it) - you might end up not only hurting your chances, but those of the athletes and future sport psychologists wishing to work in that area.  If you are looking to start your own peer consultation in your country / area and would like to know how to start - or you would like to join the ENYSSP consultation rounds - please contact me!

In summary, this blog has no intentions of scaring young students or graduates away from doing sport psychology - instead it is a simple reminder that it is best first to understand the risks and raise our standards and expectations as professionals in field so that we all end up better in the end.  Get informed and good luck!



Peter Schneider is currently writing a PhD in youth development and career transition at the University of Leipzig (Germany). He attained a B.A from Kalamazoo College (USA) in Biology and received M.Sc. from the University of Jyväskylä (Finland) in Sport and Exercise Psychology and a M.Sc. from the University of Leipzig in Diagnostics and Intervention. He runs a sport psychology consultation business called POPS ( and is affiliated with MentalTrainingInc (
twitter: @POPS_Training

How Self-Talk Can Improve Your Performance

“Of Course I T alk to Myself, Sometimes I Need Expert Advice!” - Anonymous 

“Dig”, “Dig”… I heard myself say: “Just a little more…there… just around that corner… dig…dig”, and before you know it, I had crossed the finish line in my first Marathon.


Yes, I am a “self-talker”.

The truth is psychologists have known about self-talk for a long time and they have believed that what you say to yourself can change the way you behave (Ellis, 1976). In fact they have used self-talk in order to modify people’s behaviour (Meichenbaum, 1977).

Think about it, have you ever caught yourself in a crunch “ Am I going to make this shot?”

You said to yourself “Yes, I can. It’s no big deal, I have done this a hundred times…here we go…” and you did it, just like that, almost as if you predicted it.

But how does it work? Why does self-talk have such a significant effect on your performance? And what do you have to do to get the most out of it?

Researchers in University of Thessaly, Greece have the answer. They recruited 38 junior basketball players and taught them two different self talk cues: 1. Instructional e.g. “finger, target” and 2. Motivational e.g. “ I can”. After extensive training the researchers tested the players. They found out that motivational self-talk was more effective in “against the clock” situations like shooting the ball whereas the instructional cues were more helpful in improving techniques (Chroni et al, 2007).

But what happens when you tell yourself “I can”?  In order to find out researchers decided to do more investigating. This time they used 72 tennis players and divided them into two groups. One group went through extensive self-talk training during practice and the other group just practiced on their own (control group).

After interviewing the athletes, here is what they found: Self-talk improves your self-confidence and lowers your anxiety levels, and this is how it helps you improve your performance!

The tennis players who had no self-talk training actually showed a decrease in performance while the experimental group’s performance was enhanced significantly. Their result also demonstrated a considerable difference in self-confidence and anxiety. The trained group reported less anxiety and also more self-confidence than the control group (Hatzigeorgiadis et al, 2009).


Naturally when you are feeling confident and less anxious, you are going to perform better!

Another important finding, that I personally find quite interesting, was that about 80% of the time the trained group actually used the self-talk techniques that they had learned! Why? Because they found it valuable and it worked for them!

So what’s the take home message for you? Use self-talk!

Remember to:

1. Keep it short - especially at those special moments when you are racing against the clock.

2. Use motivational words, e.g. “I can”, “power”, “I will” or my own favourite, “dig”

3. Use instructional cues for technique enhancement, e.g. while you are trying to serve or pass the ball

4. Practice, practice and practice because mental skills are just like any other skills, you have to practice them if you want to get better at using them.

So go on, talk to yourself, because when all is said and done “one advantage of talking to yourself is that you know somebody’s listening” (Franklin P . Jones).


Chroni, S., Perkos, S., Theodorakis, Y. (2007). Function and preference of motivational and instructional self-talk for adolescent basketball players. Athletic Insight, The Online Journal of Sport Psychology, 9 (1) 19-29

Ellis, A. (1976). R eason and emotion in psychotherapy. New Y ork: Lyle Stuart

Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zoubanos, N., Mpoumpaki, S., Theodorakis, Y. (2009). Mechanisms underlying the self-talk-performance relationship: The effects of motivational self-talk on self-confidence and anxiety. Psychology of Sport and Exercise 10, 186-192 doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2008.07.009

Meichenbaum, D. (1977). Cognitive-behaviour modification: An integrative approach. New York: Plenum Press 

Sepand M. Blank is currently a first year student in the European Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology Program at Lund University (Sweden). She acquired her BSc in neuropsychology from University of British Columbia (Canada). 

Her main topic of interest is accessibility of physical activity and utilizing it as a tool to break the social barriers and bridge the gaps created by gender, age, ethnicity and social class. 


A look at the San Antonio Spurs’ success through leadership and group cohesion


This article features the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA that has been competing under Gregg Popovich (1998 to 2013). They are one of the longest reigning dynasties to dominate the league over a decade with an astounding level of success including 4 championships, 7 conference finals appearances, 3 regular season best records, all while missing the play-offs only once (ESPN, 2012). The most noteworthy trait of this team was its persistence at the top – many franchises like Miami, Detroit or Philadelphia rose and fell but Popovich’s Spurs stood still. Even the Lakers had to go through a lengthy rebuilding phase after Shaquille O’neal’s departure, but the Spurs have been the only team that remained in the championship contention for the most part of the last fifteen years. This article takes an in-depth look at the team dynamics of the Spurs and the leadership style of the coach. 

Making of the Spurs: Popovich leadership and team development

There is no question that coach Popovich did a successful job of creating the right kind of team culture when he started his job as the head coach in 1997 that set the foundation for team building for years to follow (Stewart & Zeysing, 2006). A very critical antecedent for successful leadership is knowing the people that comprise the team which strengthens trust and mutual interdependence (Weinberg & Gould, 2011), and Popovich has always been keen about building trustworthy relationships with his players as well as coaching personnel (MacRae S. , 2010). 


A major debate within the leadership literature today is about Authoritative vs. Democratic leadership applications. NBA players are generally paid very highly and an unadulterated despotism would probably lead to a revolt demanding the leader’s removal, hence, it is no surprise that a successful coach like Popovich has never been accused of being an outright autocrat (Porter, 2005). Popovich apparently perfected the leadership style most suitable for this team that has influence of authoritarian, participative, as well as transformational leadership. While he does have the reputation of listening to ideas by players, and he is also famous for being a direct individual and a very intense speaker with no insecure feelings about the decisions he makes and not afraid to communicate the intended message, for example, since joining the Spurs, he has sacked and replaced many of his staff members despite much critics (Adande, 2012). His experience in the US Air force certainly gave him an edge when it comes to controlling his players because in his 15 years as a coach no famous dispute between team members were reported (Roselius, 2012).

In professional sports where financial stakes are so high, many coaches tend to be reluctant in relying on younger players. Popovich has successfully developed many young talents into all-stars through proper nurturing and motivation which remain among the focal points to the Spurs’ success. A homely atmosphere along with adequate control that he envisioned and successfully established evidently served a great deal to the development of a team that accomplished its work superbly, improved as a functioning unit over time, and whose members came away from the group experience wiser and more skilled than they were before, all of which are ideal characteristics of a cohesive group (Messick & Kramer, 2005).

Member attributes

As influential as Coach Popovich has been, to give all credit to him without acknowledging the impact made by the players would be a grave leader attribution error (Forsyth, 2010). There could be a two dimensional arguments to the kind of players he has worked with over the years. Some argue that his accomplishment is no less praiseworthy than that of Pat Riley or even Phill Jackson, both of whom have won more championships as a head coach, because Popovich never had the same level of talent in the team. The counter argument to this notion is Popovich never had to deal with the ego of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, or the relentless media interest drawn by Michael Jordan’s start power.

In any case, what served to the benefit of the team is how the behavioural attributes of the players fit right into Popovich’s leadership style. He was successful in creating an atmosphere where everybody had to stick to task and give 100% and whoever joined the team had to adapt to the system. High task orientation, collective sense of identity, distinctive roles, and low outcome emphasis were central to his coaching style (Roselius, 2012; Porter, 2005). Key players like Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker were drafted by the Spurs and were practically raised by Popovich (Stewart & Zeysing, 2006) and it is no surprise they grew up with the same philosophy as the coach. At the same time, Popovich has always been careful about recruiting players and mostly resorted to players whose talents were complemented by high work ethic and drive for collective success. For example, noteworthy acquisitions like Hobert Horry, Michael Finley, and Antonio McDyess all shared the reputation of being unselfish team-men with a good grasp of the concept of ‘team before individual’ (MacRae S. , 2010).


Throughout his tenure he has always tried to avoid signing talented players whose personalities were not in line with his team’s philosophies or anyone who could create role ambiguity within the team. In his fourteen years as a coach, he has never displayed any trace of impatience in signing big names. When big free agencies unveiled throughout the years, teams like Bulls, Heat, and Cavaliers were on one another’s throat in signing a superstar, Popovich stood silently and continued to keep faith on his own roster members and stick to the old formula of task orientation (LeBoutillier, 2007). Some teams like the Knicks went as far as releasing several key players to enhance signing of a big superstar. But the Spurs were never in the news for desperate persuasion of Lebron James or Carmelo Anthony (Stewart & Zeysing, 2006). 

A classic example of role ambiguity was Alan Iverson’s tenure after 2008 in several teams. Even passed his prime Iverson was still capable of finding a spot in top teams that could allow him to win his first NBA championship. But the problem was he did not just want to win a championship, he wanted the leading role of a team that could win a championship and continued to refuse to accept a less significant role (Gerstner, 2012). There is no surprise that the Spurs never got in touch with Iverson’s agent. 

Outcomes and conclusion

Not only that the Spurs have been very successful during the last fourteen years, they have achieved their success at high efficiency rate. The Spurs have clearly been overachievers with respect to the talent on their roster. For a team that was built around one future hall of famer, two guards of mediocre fame and lots of role players, four championships and 8 Conference finals appearances has to be considered very efficient. Not only were they efficient in terms of talent to success ratio, they were also literally cost effective. In their championship years 2003, 2005, and 2007, the Spurs stood 15th, 18th, and 6th in terms of player salary expenditure (Roselius, 2012).

Among the most remarkable characteristics about the Spurs’ basketball is how they catch people completely off guard. In 2011, everyone had considered them as a team too old to be relevant during play-offs. But Tim Duncan at age 36, along with Ginobili (34) and Parker (30) led the Spurs to NBA’s season best record and reaching the conference finals with a record 20 consecutive wins (Adande, 2012). They have shaken the whole NBA community with their perseverance and resilience especially those that considered them ‘too old’ to make a post-season impact. They eventually lost to a younger and faster Oklahoma City Thunders in the conference finals, but they have certainly left their trace and proven that with proper building structure and cohesion, a real team is capable of defying all odds – even nature.


Adande, J. (2012). Gregg Popovich’s portable program. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from

Carron, A. V., & Eys, M. A. (2012). Group dynamics in sport. Morgantown, WV : : Fitness Information Technology.

ESPN. (2012). Gregg Popovich is NBA’s top coach. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from news services:

Forsyth, D. R. (2010). Group dynamics. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Gerstner, J. (2012). Inside the NBA: Detroit Pistons. Edina, MN.: ABDO Pub. Co.

Kimmerle, M., & Côté-Laurence, P. (2003). Teaching dance skills: a motor learning and development approach. Andover, N.J.: J. Michael Ryan Pub.

LeBoutillier, N. (2007). The story of the San Antonio Spurs. Mankato, Minn.: Creative Education.

MacRae, S. (2009). Meet Tony Parker : basketball’s famous point guard. New York: PowerKids Press.

MacRae, S. (2010). The San Antonio Spurs. New York: PowerKids Press.

Messick, D. M., & Kramer, R. M. (2005). The Psychology of Leadership New Perspectives and Research. Mahwah, N.J: Erlbaum Associates.

Porter, D. L. (2005). Basketball : a biographical dictionary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Roselius, J. C. (2012). San Antonio Spurs. Edina, Minn.: ABDO Pub. Co.

Smith, M. (2009). Baseballs, basketballs and Matzah balls : what sports can teach us about he Jewish holidays and vice ver. Bloomington, Ind.: AuthorHouse.

Stewart, M., & Zeysing, M. (2006). Team Spirit: The San Antonio Spurs. Norwood House Press: Chicago, Ill.

Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology. Leeds: Human Kinetics.

Ybarra, A. (2012). Phoenix Suns. Edina, MN: ABDO Publishing Company.



Adlul Kamal is a second year student in the European Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology Program at the Lund University (Sweden). He has completed a Master degree in Sport Management from Sheffield Hallam University (UK) and a Bachelor degree in Business Administration from North South University (Bangladesh). Some of his areas of interests include imagery use in sport performance enhancement, and positive youth development.  Email-

The effects of self-selected asynchronous pre-task music on performance in a soccer task: A University of Thessaly’s Master Thesis

Music is a part of peoples’ daily routines for different reasons. These may be mood regulation, motivation, leisure, and as a form of cultural manifestation. What we call music is the organization of five primary elements: melody, harmony, tempo, rhythm, and dynamics (Karageorghis & Terry, 2011). Athletes are often seen listening to their favorite tracks before performing as part of their pre-performance routine. The rationale behind athletes’ use of this routine is the common association between listening to music and changes in mood. Research has shown that listening to music can enhance physical performance by acting as a stimulant or sedative and thus altering athletes’ arousal levels (Bishop, 2010). That would suggest music as an appropriate component of pre-performance routines as one of its aims is to help athletes achieve an optimal level of arousal (Lidor, 2007).  


According to Bishop, Karageorghis and Loizou (2007) music can be used as a strategy to emotional regulation, and can also improve visual and auditory imagery. Moreover, the choice of music and the impact of music listening are influenced by a number of factors, including extra-musical associations, inspirational lyrics, music properties, and desired emotional state (Bishop et al., 2007). Pates, Karageorghis, Fryer, and Maynard (2003) suggested that music can trigger emotions that are important antecedents of the flow experience. The participants in Pates et al. study reported that as a consequence of listening to music movements became more automatic and there was an increase in relaxation, concentration and confidence. Moreover, Karageorghis et al. (1999) proposed that asynchronous motivational music (when there is no conscious attempt to synchronise movement with beat; Karageorghis & Terry, 2009) can be used to control arousal and improve mood. 

Understanding the performance emotion relationship is particularly important in applied sport psychology (Hanin, 2004).  More specifically it is essential to investigate the influence of pleasant and unpleasant emotional states over sport performance. In order to evaluate this relationship Hanin suggests that instead of a generalized approach a focus on performance experiences of each individual athlete would be more appropriate. For this purpose, Hanin developed the Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF). This model has an idiographic approach that focuses on idiosyncratic emotional experiences of individual athletes. Moreover the zone aspect of the model suggests a specific relationship between the perceived intensity of the emotional state and the quality of performance. According to Hanin (2004) optimal emotions are defined as most relevant and appropriate for a particular athlete performing a specific task. The optimal performance state results in a total task involvement and the best recruitment and use of available resources. 

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of self-selected asynchronous pre-task music on performance in a soccer skill test and in the achievement of participants’ individual zone of optimal functioning (IZOF; Hanin, 2000). An idiographic A-B-A-B single subject design was used. Hrycaiko and Martin (1996) suggested the single subject designs as the most appropriate methodology for applied research. Nine male collegiate soccer athletes from a university in London participated in this study. Participants were asked to describe their most and least successful performances, and the emotions related to these experiences. Based on the information provided, participants’ IZOF was established (Hanin, 2000; 2004). Participants then selected three or four music tracks from their own playlist that they considered would help them in achieving their IZOF. The motivational qualities of the selected tracks were assessed using the BRMI-3 (Karageorghis & Terry, 2011). Participants in each trial were asked to complete two circuits of a soccer skill test (Abouzekri& Karageorghis, 2010) developed to emulate the skills used in a soccer match. Performance was assessed through time to complete the soccer skill test and kick accuracy. The study was composed of four experimental trials; two with pre-task music, and two without. Before the no-music trials, athletes completed the concentration grid as filler. After each trial, participants completed their IZOF and at the end of the study participants completed the intervention evaluation questionnaire. 

According to the study results the hypothesis suggesting that pre-task music would improve performance has not been supported.  The graphically displayed data did not show a consistent improvement in time or kick accuracy. Moreover results on the IZOF did not present stable improvements in the pre-task music trials. Nevertheless, when asked about the effects of listening to their pre-task music, participants’ comments were positive. The participants reported improvement in concentration, confidence, motivation and arousal. In summary, according to participants’ experiences, music has a positive effect on emotions as a component of their pre-performance routine. However, due to this study’s limitations, it was not possible to establish a direct relationship between a pre-task music choice and improvement in performance or achievement of participants’ zones of optimal functioning. According to the findings of the present study and previous investigations (Bishop et al., 2007), athletes’ music choices are highly idiosyncratic and influenced by cultural background, thus future studies should maintain an individualistic approach. 



Fernanda Serra de Queiroz has worked as a sport psychologist with professional soccer, surf and body boarding in Brazil. She completed a Master degree at the University of Queensland, where she investigated the effects of performance routines over performance on open skilled sports. Fernanda graduated from the European Masters of Sport Psychology Program, and her home university was Thessaly, Greece. During her program she was a visiting researcher at Brunel University, London, studying the relationship of music and performance with the supervision of Prof Costas Karageorhis (Brunel University), and Prof Nikos Digelidis (University of Thessaly).