The question of what we should call ourselves as practitioner applied sport psychologists appears to have been an ever present throughout my time as a practicing professional. There are legal and professional accreditation / qualification views on this, but for the sake of this post I will put them to one side. Instead, I am focusing on the titles we use to try and have the greatest positive impact upon our clients. Throughout my career I have come across both individual practitioners and companies/organisations who have adopted a title for both the person and the role that differs from the profession recognised ‘Sport Psychologist’. Indeed a moment’s thought brings to mind mental skills coach, coach, performance coach, performance psychologist, mentor, sport scientist, and mind coach. All of which raises the question of “what title conveys the best message and inspires confidence in our clients?”
Historically I have come across a reluctance to use the title ‘psychologist’ as (it has been frequently argued) it can be off-putting to clients who have a negative association between psychologist and the idea of lying on a couch recounting stories of their childhood and exploring their relationships with their mother and father. Indeed, early in my career I was sold this vision of the clients’ view and modified what I was called, trying to focus more on what I could do. However, in hindsight this was counter-productive for me and the profession. Any fear or apprehension that exists about the word ‘psychologist’ should be challenged head on. Instead of adopting a softer version of ourselves (mental skills coach) we should be educating clients more about who we are and what we do. This is an issue that the organisations and associations that we are members of should be doing more to address as well, but that is for another post and another day.
So back to the title, calling yourself a ‘mental skills coach’ I would argue actually, in the long term, it will decrease the clients confidence in you as a psychologist. This is because it actually presents a relatively narrow view of what we do, suggesting it is a role that other coaches with the team or squad can actually fulfil.
I would advocate being vocal about the fact that you and I are sport psychologists who, possess all of the expertise that psychological practitioners can offer while also having a fundamental understanding of sport and sports performers through our very well developed understanding of sport. I think being able to sell the fact that we have a fundamental understanding of the sporting environment and the impact that it has on the individual both cognitively and behaviourally is important, but then crucially having the knowledge, understanding and techniques to enable the individual and team to thrive in that environment must surely be the clinching argument. Then, I think, the clients will want sport psychologists and not mental skills coaches.