What should we be teaching trainee sport, exercise and performance psychologists?

As we approach the start of a new academic year in many UK University’s and the running of many Masters degrees in sport and exercise psychology, it is a perfect time to ask the question ‘what should we be teaching trainees’? The first and most obvious answer is psychology. The majority of Masters courses in the United Kingdom (UK) are accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). In order to gain BPS accreditation you need to demonstrate that you cover a range of specific general psychology, and sport and exercise psychology specific topics. This is great from the perspective of maintaining a certain level of knowledge, though can also result in very uniform programmes across institutions. The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) have no such content requirements, though the majority of courses still seek to conform to the BPS criteria, not least because at the moment completing a BPS accredited programme is the only route on to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) register of practitioner psychologists. So, anyone following this route will develop a foundation in psychology, and hopefully develop their understanding of the sport, exercise and performance domains as well, but what else? The complete training routes to practising either as a HCPC registered practitioner psychologist or a BASES accredited sport and exercise scientist (Masters and supervised/mentored practice) focus heavily on the practice hours and the underpinning knowledge. Both of which are crucial. Though the end-point of the process is for fully competent practitioners to emerge into the sport, exercise and performance domains.

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So what is missing? Often the practical business knowledge and business skills that are required to successfully practice. Increasing numbers of newly qualified practitioners are self-employed, but where is the training to do this? For instance, a quick Google search highlighted three separate practitioners trading under the same name, one of which is actually registered on the UK Register of Business Names. This means the other two are trading illegally. Crucial to any business is the ability to negotiate. We teach trainees and students about negotiating goals and performance indicators for consultancy but not how to negotiate in terms of price, access, timing etc. Also, do you register as a sole trader or a limited company? How do you register a business name? What is tax deductible?

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Also, pretty much all practitioners have a website, but how do you register a domain, design the pages, and select .com or .biz? Now you can employ an accountant to deal with the tax, and a web designer for the website, but this throws up other questions. Do you sub-contract or do you employ? What is the difference, and what are your legal responsibilities? Often new practitioners are looking to build a client base in their geographical region, but where have they been taught about marketing and promotion campaigns? Increasingly many consultants are on social media. But which media should you use and what should you say (and not say)?

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Also, in most Masters courses the importance of networking will be highlighted. But what does this actually mean and how do you do it? Outside of actually doing a good job as a practitioner (without which you are ultimately doomed to failure) the development of sounds business knowledge and skills is going to increasingly define those who make it as successful practitioners in an increasingly competitive market. So, if you looking to train as a sport, exercise and performance psychologist you need to consider how and where you are going to get access to this training if you are going to have a successful career.

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