EXPLORING THE CONTRIBUTION OF PERSONAL QUALITIES TO THE EFFECTIVE DELIVERY OF SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICE PROVISION
Previous literature within applied sport psychology offers little detailed discussion regarding the personal qualities of sport psychology practitioners and the impact of these qualities on practice. This is despite the development of models of professional philosophy that advocate the person behind the practitioner as the core foundation of practice (Poczwardowski, Sherman & Ravizza, 2004), and the move within the profession towards utilising approaches grounded in counselling psychology (Hack, 2005); a discipline that has long concerned itself with the personal qualities of its therapists and how these impact upon the therapeutic relationship (Corey, 2009). There has also been limited consideration given to the personal qualities of effective sport psychology practitioners in relation to the roles they fulfil and the environments in which they operate. Sport psychologists may often find themselves operating in an organisational or human-resource-type role in elite level sport environments (Nesti, 2010), yet there is a lack of research that explores the realities of such a role and how a practitioner’s personal qualities may aid them. In recent years, the education and training pathways for sport psychology practitioners have been afforded much attention, and provision has developed to provide clear routes to sport psychologist registration. It is clear that aspiring practitioners must be appropriately educated and trained to be able to provide high quality sport psychology support, and as such there exists clearly established ‘standards of proficiency’ that trainees must meet. However, it is argued that opportunities to explore personal qualities and how they relate to applied practice should be afforded to aspiring practitioners throughout their education and training (Eubank & Hudson, 2013).In-depth qualitative research was therefore conducted to explore the personal qualities of sport psychologists from the perspective of their professional colleagues as well as practitioners themselves, and to explore how these qualities interact with the professional sport environment. The research programme broadly consisted of two phases:1. Studies 1a and 1b involved interviews with 13 coaches and sport physicians regarding the personal characteristics and qualities of applied sport psychologists deemed necessary for effective practice (study 1a) and how these personal qualities were perceived to help sport psychologists operate effectively in the professional sport environment (study 1b).2. Study 2 utilised a number of qualitative research methodologies over a total period of approximately 20 months, to explore the personal qualities of three practising sport psychologists within the UK. A life history was gathered for each of the practitioners, who were then required to maintain reflective diaries and participate in interviews to explore these in greater detail. The diaries and subsequent interviews focussed on the sport psychologist’s personal qualities and applied practice.Combined, the data from these studies provides original and valuable insight into the personal qualities of experienced sport psychologists, and how these contribute to their effective practice in often challenging and ambiguous environments. Coaches and physicians highlighted a number of qualities that they considered to contribute to effective sport psychologist practice, in particular in relation to building relationships and remaining professional. They were also able to discuss these qualities and how they interact with the professional sport environment in terms of a sport psychologist’s ability to undertake an organisational psychology-type role and manage relationships with other members of staff. Study 2 provided first-hand accounts of professional practice from sport psychologists currently practising within the UK, extending the insight shared by coaches and physicians. Although the three sport psychologists involved in study 2 highlighted similar personal qualities to one another (such as humility, integrity and resilience), these were discussed in relation to their differing circumstances, both in terms of who they are as people, and the sport environments they work within. The practitioners discussed their varying roles and how their personal qualities enabled them to survive the challenging and ambiguous nature of elite professional sport.Findings from study 2 suggest that of key importance is a sport psychologist’s level of self-knowledge and self-awareness. Sport psychologists must possess an awareness of ‘who they are’ and develop and maintain an in-depth knowledge of how they as a person operate within their applied role. This is particularly important given the frequency with which sport psychologists are required to perform within an organisational role, despite lacking the necessary training to do so (Nesti, 2010). The findings from the phases described above are therefore synthesised in a discussion regarding the education and training of sport psychologists, and it is suggested that programmes of study and training must begin to consider personal qualities and their importance to practitioner development. Students and trainees must be supported in exploring these qualities and understanding how they may impact upon their applied work, and provided with sufficient insight into the organisational roles they may be required to adopt in practice. An understanding of self, which was demonstrated by the sport psychologists in study 2, allows them to survive and succeed in their work, and it is therefore the responsibility of education and training providers to ensure that this understanding is developed.