There is an interesting debate that is taking place in the literature that supports the sport psychology profession. This relates to a fundamental aspect of the role. Should our focus just be on the performance setting or should we be looking at the client more holistically? This debate has, in particular, focused on the role that consultants fulfil in high performance sport environments. In some sports the role of the sport psychologist has been further focused on ‘performance psychology’ with other practitioners such as welfare officers and career advisors looking to adopt a more holistic view of the client.
However, if we focus exclusively on performance can we really be effective? Can we maximise the clients’ potential by seeking to address the performance-related issues that they demonstrate when in the performance environment? Or do we need to ensure that performance is built upon a solid foundation?
In my model of practice I strongly believe that good performance when it counts, under pressure, is built upon a strong base of mental health and well-being. While the ‘job’ might be about improving performance we are limiting our potential effectiveness if we don’t consider the psychological factors that underpin this performance.
It is true that the high performance sport environment is not the most healthy for good psychological functioning, and that it is ultimately the clients’ choice to put themselves into this environment. But if part of our remit is to aid the performer to perform effectively part of the job description has to be about ensuring that they are well equipped to cope with the environment. This is both the competitive environment and just as importantly the training environment.
Evidence suggests that good robust mental health underpins the athletes’ ability to cope and influences their resilience under pressure. Both of these are important performance variables so enhancing mental health seems like a logical step in seeking to maximise performance.
This should then filter down through the system, if this strong base of mental health and well being is the bedrock upon which good performance under pressure occurs we should be making sure that well being and good mental health development, awareness and education are core aspects of sports academies and development programmes. This in turn should produce a conveyor belt of athletes who are built to cope and perform.
So do I think we should focus on performance or more holistically the individual? Well I think that you can’t really separate the two. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not mental health and well being will influence and possibly determine performance, so developing a strong base and good coping skills should be a fundamental component of any system, and not just an intervention once an athlete falls apart.