In the previous article, we discussed the experiences of Sports Psychology Consultants (SPCs) based on a comprehensive literature review from 2018 titled “Experience, Effectiveness, and Perceptions Toward Sport Psychology Consultants: A Critical Review of Peer-Reviewed Articles”. The review examines perceptions from three separate angles: the experience of the SPCs, how people feel about SPCs, and their overall effectiveness. Since we already covered the SPC experience, it is time to summarise the review’s conclusions about perceptions towards SPCs and their overall effectiveness.
Perceptions towards SPCs
There seemed to be differences between the sexes regarding what people expect from their work with an SPC. Based on an NCAA study, female athletes are more interested in the benefits related to communication (i.e., with their coaches or teammates) and to the management of negative emotions. In contrast, their male counterparts might be more interested in the benefits of reproducing what they achieve in training in competition.
As for overall perceptions towards SPCs, it seems that the peer-reviewed literature reflects a positive overall perception of SPCs by athletes, coaches, administrators, and sports physicians. Despite this positive report, it does seem to run inapposite to a previous conclusion of the review: that SPCs have trouble finding time to meet with coaches. If they really viewed them positively, would they not spend more time with them? The authors address the fallibility of this data: much of it comes from very small sample sizes, and perceptions were measured mostly by homemade questionnaires. Thus, there is questionable construct validity of the assessments used to measure perceptions, which calls the data into question.
Despite the positive attitudes towards SPCs, there are some common issues. For example, coaches often fear that SPCs will ruin the coach-athlete relationship. The review cites an example from Sweden, where coaches demonstrated a “fear of losing their athletes’ confidence because of the trust that the athletes would place in the SPCs and certainly did not want the SPC to interfere with their work”. Similarly, many coaches express frustration with SPCs because of their ethical obligations; they are often unable to share important information with head coaches, which means the SPC-coach relationship does not run as efficiently as it otherwise could. There are also some issues on the administrator front. Administrators often think that SPCs are doing part of the coach’s job. The review references how “college athletic directors did not consider the work of SPCs to be exclusive; they expected the coaches to be able to play a role similar to that of the SPC in meeting athletes’ needs”.
The Overall Effectiveness of SPCs
It seems that there are almost no peer-reviewed studies that address the results of SPCs. If there were, they would be in this section about the effectiveness of SPCs, but this section does not discuss results or outcomes at all, and instead focuses on the main features needed for an effective SPC. According to the review, effective SPCs need to possess the following features:
- First, SPCs should have a friendly and informal approach compared to a more formal and therapeutic approach found in clinical psychology or counselling contexts. According to these authors, this casualness will help build a relationship with the athlete.
- Second, SPCs should be good communicators. To do this, they should possess good listening skills, be open to the ideas of others, and be able to communicate their knowledge in an accessible language.
- Third, SPCs should try to adapt their services to each athlete, including being available if the athlete needs them and showing enthusiasm toward the work that has to be done.
- Fourth, SPCs should understand the reality that the athletes face and accomplish this by gaining knowledge of an athlete’s sport.
- Fifth, SPCs should be trustworthy. To do this, SPCs should encourage the athletes to feel completely safe to disclose their problems relating as much to their sport as to their personal lives.
- Finally, SPCs should be positive and demonstrate to the athletes their ability to use the same mental skills they teach.
Even if we do not ask SPCs for evidence of their exact results, we are still asking them to possess a wide variety of qualities and skills; it is not always easy for one person to have good communication skills, adaptability, a casual air about them, and the appearance of trustworthiness.
The most informative part of this review is just how superficial it ended up being. If you talk to an SPC, they will appear very methodical about data and will likely use the phrase “evidence-based practices” several times, but as this literature review shows, the field is still very young. There simply is not much peer-reviewed work about SPCs, and that work is extremely top-heavy. Moreover, none of it focuses on actual results, but mostly attitudes, so even if an approach is evidence-based, its efficacy may not be.