Professional development after ‘qualification’ for sport psychologists

While attending the International Congress of Applied Psychology (ICAP) 2014 in Paris this week I have been fortunate to be able to attend many excellent presentations so far. However, a couple of comments by one specific presenter has started me thinking.

The presentation was delivered by the Belgian Professor of Sport Psychology Paul Wylleman. Paul made two really interesting points. First, he questioned whether it was really possible for one consultant to be able to deliver all services to all client groups, and as a result advocated greater specification in the field for consultants working in different domains (e.g., team vs individual) or at different levels (elite Vs novice). The second point made by Paul, which does relates in part to the first point, focused on the education and training of sport psychologists. Paul argues that an education/training route to become ‘qualified/accredited’ is important but that this should only be a part of the education/development process. There should be recognition that this step gives you the basics to be able to practice, but that there should then be a more formal development route through CPD activities to continue to develop and enhance knowledge and practice.
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On reflection, I believe this is a really important issue. I don’t know about in other countries, but in the UK the formal CPD opportunities are not great for sport and exercise psychologists. The British Psychological Society (BPS) Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology (DSEP) do run very good workshops, but there are too few of these, and the content and focus is ultimately determined by the workshop’s proposers. As a result, there is no real coherent approach to CPD activity.

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I find a rye smile crossing my face as I think that as sport and performance psychologists we are always looking for ways to shorten the time it takes to reach ‘expert’ status. Indeed, developing systematic programmes to short-cut the ‘simple accumulation of experience’ approach is something that is often sought. However, when it comes to operating as a sport psychology consultant the only real route to the top and to become truly experienced is just through spending an increasing amount of time as a consultant. There must be a better way! Surely we should practice what we preach and develop a more systematic approach? One very good example of how this can work is the ‘Psychological Excellence for Elite Performance (PE4EP) programme delivered at the I’Institut National de Sport, de L’Expertise et de la Performance (INSEP) in Paris. This programme brings together experienced and novice practitioners to share and discuss practice.

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It might also be that the profession adds different levels of qualification. So you become accredited/qualified as a practitioner and then through CPD work towards achieving recognition as something like an ‘Expert’ practitioner then progress towards a ‘Master’ practitioner. Currently I think we spend so much time focusing on the gateway education/training route to become qualified that we have not sufficiently addressed what comes next. It might be that Prof Wylleman has offered the profession a timely reminder that there is still much to do.

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