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Do the public know what we do?

Over the last ten years I have noticed that sport psychology in the UK has been very preoccupied with issues relating to professional bodies, professional accreditation/certification, regulation and academic rigor. Now I would not dispute the importance of any of these issues, but over this period I can’t help but think that the focus on the client has been lost, if it was ever there in the first place. ychology status, professional qualification, and the number of degrees that a consultant many have, they might well look at you rather blankly. Indeed, if you ask many ‘users’ of sport psychology services they will often return to the two same key selection criteria for choosing to engage a sport psychologist: 1) they were recommended to me; 2) I like them. Indeed many clients would not be able to articulate what qualifications and profession memberships their consultant has, just whether they think they do a good job or not.

So, I think it is fair to reflect that we, as a profession, have so far done a poor job in disseminating what we do, how we do it, and who the ‘real’ sport psychologists actually are. Indeed, there are many pseudo-psychologists who are doing a much better job at providing that clarity regarding who they are and what they do, and are thriving as a result.

The team

Sometimes I think we are overly focused on stopping and regulating those who are not who they say they are, which is important, but tend to do this at the expense of sending clear positive messages about what sport psychologists actually do. This in turn stops us communicating what we can do that sets us apart from other related practitioners and pseudo-psychologists.

Almost anyone out there can do mental skills. Indeed coach education programmes offer much guidance and skill development regarding the mental side of the game. But we as psychologists should be able to go beyond this basic level to add real value to the client and to deal with psychological issues. By dealing with the psychological issues we can develop robust mental health, enhance well-being, maximise performance under pressure, foster resilience, and ultimately enhance both team and individual performance. Now these are all things that the clients want, so we should look to unite around one professional standard or qualification to simplify the message to the client. Then we can look to clarify what sport psychologists really can do, and how the client can know if they have the genuine article or a fake. This should hopefully develop the clarity that has been missing in our public image, and enhance public confidence and understanding of who we are and what we do.

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