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How to measure effectiveness as a sport psychologist

Increasingly in a range of spheres of life professionals are required to measure, report, and demonstrate impact. This is seen as how the things that they do, and the services that they provide result in a change for the better.

In funded sport in the UK there is an increasing focus on ‘a return for our money’ approach where sports and teams have to demonstrate to the purse string holders just how each service that is employed or purchased helps to achieve the sports strategic goals and contributes to performance.

For some disciplines within the sport sciences this is relatively easy. For example, physios and doctors can point to statistics relating to a reduction in the frequency of injuries, and the number of days lost through injury. Strength and conditioning coaches can point to measurable increases in strength, power, and speed. So what can sport psychologists point to?

I think this point also, at least in part, also relates to why more sports clubs and teams don’t invest in sport psychology. The benefits of the service are less quantifiable and often less tangible. Often we rely on word of mouth or the perception of whether we are having an effect or not, but often this does not cut it with the moneymen.

So this raises the question, how can we most effectively demonstrate the impact and effectiveness of our service?

Ultimately most clients are interested in performance, particularly in the elite sport market. In an ideal world we would be able to demonstrate how the work that we do directly impacts upon performance. Often colleagues will lament the fact that this is not possible, and other disciplines have a much easier life. But actually when you look at it the links to performance that everyone accepts for other disciplines are not as concrete as they appear. There is a general assumption that being fitter, faster and stronger is a good thing. While it is important to be fit, in some sports further increases in power and speed might not actually contribute that much more to performance. In cricket for example, players definitely should not be unfit, but being finely tuned machines could also be detrimental to performance, possibly resulting in greater injury risk. With nutrition too a healthy diet is important but the evidence for a range of supplements is a little sketchy. Yet the link between these areas and performance is just accepted. So maybe we need to do a better job in educating our clients how the things that we can measure are inextricably linked to performance. This ‘moving of the goal posts’ then makes it easier to demonstrate impact. So, if the ability to focus is seen as fundamentally important to performance we just need to demonstrate how we can impact upon, and enhance an athletes’ ability to focus, and not demonstrate how we have enhanced performance.

This in turn should help us to offer more than just anecdotal evidence for how we have been effective and the impact that we have had in the performance environment.

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