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What should sport psychology lecturers be teaching?

Moving into the Autumn we are once again faced with the start of another academic year. Students up and down the country, and across the world are currently preparing to head off to a plethora of Higher Education Institutions and Universities. Many of these students are either starting their Higher Education studies for the first time, or returning for their second or third years will experience sport psychology modules. Whether it is as part of sport science, sports studies, sports coaching, psychology or sport psychology course, these students should rightly be expecting to be enlightened and inspired about the subject.

This in turn highlights the question, what should these students really expect? Sometimes what students should expect and what they receive is very different. Higher Education should be about learning. Students should be inspired and motivated to learn by well-informed and engaging staff, where both the student and the lecturer have responsibility for the students learning. Academic staff often complain about the lack of engagement and attendance by students. A view that very much sees this as the students problem, but often the fault can lie with the lecturer as well. Some institutions insist on teaching. Spending each week giving the student a ‘lecture’ on a topic. Modules are structured to cover a range of topics. At the end of which students are assessed to see how much of that information they can remember. Courses are organised according to learning outcomes that specific what a student should learn. ~This in itself can be narrow and constraining.

If you look at the content of many lectures, they don’t give you much more information than the core texts that the module is based on. This begs the question, why not just get the student to read the book? Lecturers should be giving the things that the book does not. Experience of the real world as a consultant or a researcher, and examples from the world of sport are all crucial.

To inspire and motivate the sport psychologist needs to have something inspiring and motivational to say. To achieve this the academic staff member needs to be passionate about their subject, understand the breadth or theory and research, and to be involved in knowledge generation. This knowledge generation could be either as a researcher or as an applied practitioner. But having something to say that no-one else can is crucial. The latest research on learning environments suggests that lectures are not a great way to facilitate learning. In a changing world knowledge moves forward so quickly that staff can no longer be expected to (or consider themselves to be) experts in everything. Staff should play to their strengths. Deliver three sessions that inspire and motivate and the student will do the rest. Inspire students to want to know more and they will be driven to do exactly that. Indeed, contemporary research suggests that the lecturer is the facilitator or ‘DJ’ directing the student to important sources of information to further enhance their study. This only works though if the student has first been inspired.

The other important thing that students should get from academic staff is a role model. This might sound strange but for many their tutor is their first experience of a sport psychologist. As such the sport psychologist is role modelling to the student what it is to be a sport psychologist. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I teach, do research, and work as an applied consultant. Doing my undergraduate degree at Loughborough University the sport psychology staff I came into contact with were passionate about all three.

So what should sport psychology lecturers be teaching? The answer is very little, but they should be facilitating all of the time. With increased tuition fees students are a bit like gym members, getting membership to a learning environment, but will only get the benefits if they put in the hard work. Following this line of thought the lecturers should be like personal trainers. They know all the theory and research, but the fundamental job is to inspire the individual to want to progress and improve. Lecturers should play to their strengths and keep their delivery relatively narrow to the areas they have real expertise in. That way the students will want to listen, and will fill in the gaps anyway when off doing their own work.

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