Professional sport environments and the sport psychologistNo Opinions
Professional sport has been described as “a high pressure environment where decisions are made quickly and may have both immediate and ongoing impact on performance” (Reid et al, 2004, p. 206). The culture and politics of an elite sport environment can make it a volatile and arduous one to work within (Nesti, 2004), and many sport psychologists have highlighted the importance of paying particular attention to the political dynamics of the organisation (Ravizza, 1988; Fifer, Henschen, Gould & Ravizza, 2008). Politics in this context should be understood as referring to the often more informal and less transparent mechanisms of power and influence in the organisation, which are difficult to recognise and can be based on personal loyalty, previous professional relationships, and performance (Lussier & Achua, 2009). A sport psychologist is therefore required to appreciate the organisational, social and interpersonal processes of the sport environment they are working within, and operate alongside its management and coaching structures (Katz & Hemmings, 2009). As a result, and in addition to what would be considered their traditional role, many sport psychologists operating in elite level sport environments will experience organisational demands that they may also be expected to address (Nesti, 2010).
Previous research has highlighted the organisational type roles that sport psychologists may be required to carry out (see Timson, 2006 & Nesti, 2010 for examples). Cal Botterill, who was one of several highly experienced sport psychologists interviewed about his practice by Friesen and Orlick (2010), stated that “my job was to tackle the psychological effects in the environment by working with all of the people to produce a more conducive setting for excellence” (p. 231). Similarly, Fletcher and Arnold’s (2011) interviews with National Performance Directors highlighted sport psychologists’ roles to include staff management, lines of communication, and organisational and team atmosphere. Weinberg and McDermott (2002) interviewed sport and business leaders regarding the factors essential for organisational success, with a key finding being the ability to flexibly adopt a variety of leadership styles, requiring ‘interpersonal competencies’ of listening, empathy and trust. Nesti (2004) has stated that “to survive and indeed thrive in such an arduous climate [as elite professional sport], sport psychologists will need to possess resilience, commitment and…presence, authenticity and empathy” (p. 91), so it is unsurprising that these practitioners are often called upon to adopt an organisational role, at the very least on an informal, ad-hoc basis.
Despite this tendency for sport psychologists to operate within more of an organisational psychology-type role, it has been suggested that they will not have received sufficient training in preparation for these roles (Fletcher & Wagstaff, 2009; Nesti, 2010). Perhaps there is merit in developing education and training programmes that at the very least expose sport psychology students to organisational psychology theory. I would be interested to discuss any thoughts on this, and hear from anyone who has experienced this type of role and about how they prepared for it.
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About Charlotte Chandler
I am Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Staffordshire University. I have a PhD from Liverpool John Moores University, which explored the personal qualities of effective sport psychologists and how they interact with their work within elite sport environments. Other particular interests within sport psychology include counselling approaches to practice, and organisational psychology in performance environments. I have taught across undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes and maintain a keen interest in developing our curriculum to best prepare our students for applied practice. I have also completed a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science (Psychology) and an MSc in Psychology of Sport, both at LJMU, and I am Fellow of the HEA.