As Neophyte Sport Psychology practitioners with the Golf Union of Wales (GUW) we are always looking for ways to improve our consultancy styles. As part of this development we recently ran a workshop on working with team sports for all of the psychology support team to attend. This team includes Dr Rich Neil, Dr Brendan Cropley, Dr Stephen Mellalieu and Dr Camilla Knight supervising a number of Neophyte practitioners working within the GUW and various other organisations. The team sports topic was selected as our applied experiences up to this point had been a variety of individual and team sports. As a pair we have been working with the GUW for 2 years; whilst also working in team sport environments, with Hockey Wales and The Welsh Rugby Union. This article will discuss the group’s preparation (reading) prior to the workshop and the group tasks completed during the session, we then move on to the key outcomes, implications and reflective points from the session.

Preparation prior to the workshop

The group of trainees attending the workshop had predominantly been working within golf and therefore had more experience within individual sports rather than team sports. Therefore, it was decided that the reading to support the session would focus on coactive team sports (where players perform the skills individually but it is the collective performance of the team that determines success), which would link between the predominantly individual setup of golf and more traditional team sports. As a result of this thinking the article that we selected was “A good walk worth watching” (Jones and Lavallee, 2010). In this piece Marc Jones and David Lavallee focus on the psychology of the Ryder Cup and the effect that working in a coactive team can have on the players’ performances. This article and approach to the session ensured everyone could go away with some applied meaning in golf even if they weren’t currently working in a team environment.

A comparison of individual and team events in golf

The first task within the workshop linked specifically to the reading where we asked everyone to discuss in small groups the issues that may arise for individuals that compete in team events. Due to the nature of the Academy and Regional squads within the GUW we knew that all of the golfers we work with experience coactive team environment. Many of the golfers do not think about the differences that they experience between individual and team events, even though many of them probably experience more pressure during team events due to perceived expectations from others in the team. This task aimed to provide everyone with ‘what if?’ scenarios that they may come across with the golfers whilst also allowing the group to discuss possible approaches and solutions should these scenarios arise. The information that was gained during this task was collated and formulated in a table (available below) that is accessible to everyone in the support group.

A comparison of working within individual and team sports

The second group task of the session incorporated a discussion of the differences between working with team and individual sports. This task was intended to have 2 outcomes; firstly it was an opportunity for those who had not worked with team sports to think about what might be different to individual sports. Secondly it was for those who had worked in team sports to share their experiences of the differences between the two environments. The purpose of this task was to link the variety of applied experience for everyone that was attending, some individuals have limited applied experiences of the attendees as some have only worked within a golf environment and some have only worked within team sport environments. Therefore, it was a good opportunity to share experiences and knowledge and prepare individuals for future variations and challenges in applied work.

Sharing of experiences in team sports

The final task was a discussion surrounding personal experiences of working with team sports and any issues that have arisen and approaches to overcoming them. As with the previous tasks this was a good opportunity for those who have not worked within team sports to learn about challenges that may be faced and the best ways to overcome them or be prepared for them before they occur. The outcomes of these discussions were also formulated in a table (available below) for future reference.

Key points from the workshop tasks

Reflecting on the workshop, a number of issues that were discussed by the group have also been explored in literature.   Anderson and Harwood (2012) discussed a number of these issues in their chapter looking at professional issues when working with team sports. They highlight the importance of developing a strong, trusted working alliance with coaches and other support staff. In order to achieve this the group discussed the importance of sharing information (when agreed by players) and attending as many training sessions and team meetings as possible to demonstrate your commitment.

The importance of gaining the trust of players and coaches was also discussed by the group who suggested that this could be achieved by being visible at training sessions and integrating yourself in to the team environment. If you are able to gain team kit this can be an influencing factor as the players see this as you being accepted as part of the team.

Finally, a slightly contentious point that came out of the discussion was whether or not it was important to have sport specific knowledge. A number of practitioners present at the workshop have been working with sports that they did not know a great deal about when they initiated consultancy. This was a limiting factor for some practitioners as they felt they were not able to make sessions sport specific and on occasion they were not clear about topics being discussed in one to one sessions. Previous research (i.e., Orlick & Partington, 1987) has suggested that sport specific knowledge is desirable to be an effective sport psychology consultant, however it was discussed by the group that sport specific knowledge might not be as essential if you are open with athletes about your knowledge at the beginning of consultancy and are willing to learn from them about their sport. This can also help to build rapport with players through mutual sharing.

Implications and our reflective points

Looking at the practical implications of the session it was encouraging to gain positive feedback from the trainees that attended. They found it beneficial to hear about other neophyte practitioner’s experiences of what works and what doesn’t when working with team sports to inform their own practice. One trainee also identified that they would feel more confident starting work in a team environment having discussed issues faced by more experienced trainees.

When reflecting on the session from a personal perspective we were encouraged by the openness of the practitioners attending the session and their willingness to share their positive and negative experiences. We were also encouraged by the positive feedback from attendees and the information gained from the session that will help to guide everyone’s applied work. For future sessions of a similar nature we would look to record more information throughout the session to make it easier to collate at the end.

Coactive teams

Issues Possible Solutions
– Individuals feeling like they will let their team down if they don’t perform- Coping with the new experience of being part of a team when they are normally used to competing individually – Simulation training to ensure that athletes have experienced the coactive team environment- Team events in practices- Links in to our purposeful practice session

– If they have a team event coming up then practicing specifically for that event.

– The perception of additional pressure from others- Potential effect on social status if you don’t perform will in the group – Thought restructuring, especially around self talk re pressure and expectations- REBT could be a process undertaken here
– Different expectations from self and others — Emotional influence of others on the group i.e. positive and negative influences- differences in the significance of competition to individuals within the group – Supportive and open team environment – the sharing of concerns- Mutual sharing within the group- Establish group norms / values early on

– All of this links in to a team meeting prior to this type of team event

Team Sports

Issues Possible Solutions
– Gaining trust from the players – Being around at training sessions- Integrating yourself in to the team environment i.e. collect the balls etc- Observing from the start and then integrating more in to the team as time goes on

– Access to the team kit can be a big influencing factor here

– Building a relationship with the coaching and support staff – Attendance at all sessions (if viable) – including team meetings / support staff meetings- Approaching them and establishing relationships with regards to sharing information (if approved by players) – e.g. working alongside physios with injured players
– Initial entry to the squads and how it is perceived – Who was your initial point of contact:- player/coach/performance director – taking in to account what effect this has on the process that you undertake
– Attitude to sport psychology from different people i.e. players, coaches, organisation- Buy-in to sessions- Knowing what they might want from sport psych – Group-led rather than sport psychologist led- Seek out ambassadors in the group to work with you to spread the message
– Confidentiality Issues – Set out clear confidentiality boundaries before starting work with a team.
– Limited time for consultancy within busy team schedules – Be adaptable and available to athletes when convenient for them- Be prepared to work with athletes on the side-line/ during training
– Maintaining professional boundaries (e.g. if invited to team social events, when travelling with a team) – Can be good to accept invitations to social events to ensure you are seen as part of the team and to help you build rapport with players/other staff members.- Ensure that you have considered your boundaries and acceptable behaviours beforehand.-Have an exit strategy prepared if needed!

Fellow Author Helen Ferguson

Currently working toward BASES Supervised Experience to become a qualified Sport and Exercise Scientist specialising in Psychology.  Graduated from Cardiff Metropolitan University with MSc Applied Sport Psychology (Distinction) and before that I completed BSc Sport Psychology and Coaching Sciences (1st) at Bournemouth University.  I currently work with the Welsh Rugby Union as a Performance Lifestyle Consultant for the Women’s National Team.  I also provide psychology support to the Golf Union of Wales South East Academy and individual athletes from a number of sports including athletics and shooting

ReferencesShow all

Harwood, H. and Anderson, R., 2012. Professional Practice Issues when working with team sports. In: Hanton, S. and Mellalieu, S., ed. Professional Practice in Sport Psychology: A Review. Oxon: Routledge

Orlick, T. and Partington, J. (1987). The sport psychology consultant: Analysis of critical components as viewed by Canadian Olympic athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 1, 4-17.

Jones, M and Lavallee, D., (2010). A good walk worth watching. The Psychologist, 23 (10), 806-809.Working with team sports - Problems and Solutions

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