Ideally, sports psychologist should be able to educate and athletes in effort to enhance the athlete's psychological skills. Most sports psychologists educated in exercise science are only trained to deal performance enhancing issues rather than more problematic personal issues. Examples of problems in performance that a sports psychologist would assist might include: competition anxiety, poor self-talk, motivation issues, and burnout (Heyman, 1993). The sports psychologist may work directly with the athletes, one-on-one or in a group, or with the coach. Generally, it is not appropriate for sports psychologists to engage in the areas of clinical psychology and coaching without further credentials
There seems to be a lack of applied sports psychology programs in northern America, which adequately select and train consultants. The available programs are typically university academic programs and provide little or no training for consultation work in the field (Orlick & Partington, 1987). Orlick & Partington (1987) suggest guided field experience to teach athletes and coaches relevant mental skills.
Sports psychologists who spent more one-on-one time with higher ranked athletes were perceived to have a greater applied impact than those athletes who were lesser ranked and spent minimal time with the sports psychologist. The best sports psychologists were perceived to have the following characteristics:
- Likable and had something very applied and concrete to offer
- Flexible and able to meet individual needs by providing person-specific input
- Accessible enough to establish a rapport with individual athletes, caring attitude
- Worked with the athlete early on (several months to a few years)
- Multiple contacts with individual athletes beginning early in the year
- Conducted several follow-up sessions with individual athletes throughout the season.
The worst sports psychologists were perceived to have the following characteristics:
- Poor interpersonal skills
- Poor application of psychology to sport (not applied to training, competition, or sport)
- Insensitive or inflexible to individual needs, applied methodology to everyone
- Limited one-on-one contact with athletes (too many lectures and group sessions)
- Inappropriate application of consultation skills at competition (alters pre-event psych)
- Bad timing, initially became involved too late in the season
- Little consultant input or feedback
More applied and less theoretical course work should be presented in applied sports psychology programs. Students should be encouraged or even be required to practice and present a variety of psychological techniques in group and individual sports settings. Programs must be developed to incorporate cooperation between collegiate athletic programs and applied sports psychology programs. Additional training should include some sort of internship with a successful applied sports psychologist. Following practice sessions, students could obtain valuable feedback from both the athlete and the over looking supervisor (Orlick & Partington, 1987).
The characteristics of excellent consultants in the Orlick & Partington (1987) study outline above are a desirable profile for a sports psychologist. Formal training may be of a lesser issue, especially since most sports psychologist apparently learn a great deal of their skills away from the classroom (Orlick & Partington, 1987). From an athlete's perspective, the practical training of the sports psychologist is of the greatest importance.