Failings of sports psychology: A Response
I just read an article about the failings of sports psychology. So I need to respond. It’s been an interesting week as a sport psychology consultant. I’ve had a couple of clients take part in major competitions and do well. I even got acknowledgement from them, their families and some of their coaches that a good part of their high level performance was due to their new skills that they learned from me. (there is a point here)
I also worked with a reluctant client. My definition of this type of client is one who knows they need some help, just do not believe sport psychology really has anything to offer. They just believed they were not mentally tough enough to deal with competitive anxiety. This person was goaded by a friend to at least give sport psychology (and me) a chance. (another point).
The rest of the week was pretty much normal with clients preparing for their seasons, some speaking gigs and meeting.
I want to tell a story first.
I am reminded of one last story and feel compelled to share. It is about a major steam ship that is at anchor here in the Puget Sound. It is broken. Something is wrong on this billion-dollar ship with its millions of dollars of cargo. It is costing the shipping line $50,000 a day to be stuck just outside Seattle. Unable to move the captain is desperate for a solution. They call all around the area and try several ship mechanics to no avail. One of them finally tells the captain he should call Hiram. Hiram is an old mechanic and semi-retired. He answers the call. Hiram goes down into the engine area and looks around. He listens and listens some more, standing very still. The captain and his head mechanic start to think they are simply wasting more time.
Suddenly, or at least as suddenly as an old man moves, the master mechanic moves over to one of the pipes. He takes out a hammer and bangs it once at the elbow. The engines start up immediately. Everyone is thrilled. They congratulate Hiram and themselves for being smart enough to call him in.
They then ask him what they owe him for his 15 minutes. He tells them $50,000. $50,000 they say for 15 minutes, that’s crazy. Write it out for us, they demanded. What is the entire bill for? He takes a piece of paper and simple puts down two lines. $1,000 for hitting the pipe. $49,000 for knowing where to strike.
Yes, knowledge is important but equally important is imagination in applying knowledge. I’ve met a lot of people, worked with many and a great deal of them know, absolutely know, what to do in lots of situations. Just as we needed those really good teachers when we were growing up, sometimes we need help to fill in the gaps, so we can be successful.
Late in the week through two social media outlets I got two references that both said the same thing more or less. The first was by some guy trying to sell a book and the other was by a psychotherapists turned sport psychology consultant. The gist of both posts were nearly identical. “Most Sport Psychology Consultants Stink, and Here’s Why”.
The guy selling the book decided that the failure of sport psychology was because sport psychology consultants were over complicating the process and they didn’t know the secret to great performance. He of course did. He had learned it from an old monk at the top of a mountain in Nepal. Actually that is my small joke. He learned it from a tennis coach and now applies it to all sports and all situations.
So what did I do. I did in fact what he was after. I bought his eBook. After all I wanted to find out where I have failed for 30+ years. I also wanted to see what he was using. I have said many times I am willing to beg, borrow, steal (jk) and learn any technique that will in fact help the athletes I work with. What was in the book was not new, just presented in a different way. What it didn’t do was apply across the board. No way it works in all sports. I have not decided if it is worth my time to confront the author. I’m curious how he would answer how an athlete using this technique would fair when a 230 pound safety buries a shoulder in the quarterback from the blind side. Don’t get me wrong. The technique works in certain situations, but it is just part of the answer for certain athletes.
The other post by the Psy.D has some intriguing points. The points are true even if his allegation is overly broad. Of course I should point out that these points are true for many professions. Here is what he says to start.
“Most Sport Shrinks (or, those claiming expertise in working with athletes on psychological aspects of sport competition) suck.” ”What I have come to conclude in my experience as a sport psychology consultant, is that most professionals in this line of work are not worth the money they charge.”
This is of course a pretty directed attack. He is saying everyone else sucks but me. He does however make three interesting assertions.
- They make it about them
- They lack the necessary skills/experience
- They lack interpersonal skills
I have no issue with these assertions. I feel the same way when I talk with lawyers, doctors, financial consultants, sales people, dentists and computer people (perhaps with many of these we forgive the lack of interpersonal skills). My point is we do business with and seek help from those we have Rapport. Rapport occurs when two or more people feel that they are in sync or on the same wavelength because they feel similar or relate well to each other. I’ve known a great many people, sport psychology consultants, coaches and just people off the street that could help people with their performance simply because or rapport. Milton Erickson the great psychotherapists and hypnotist was known for his ability to establish rapport with just about anyone. I’ve studied him not just for his techniques, but how he was able to work with everyone and get results.
Yes, when interviewing a sport psychology consultant you should listen to see if everything they say is about them. If the first things they show you are their press clipping, do consider that. But you also need to consider that they are running a business, so some of it has to be about them.
Do you want to know their experience/ skills? Absolutely. I’d stay away from the one trick pony. Not every technique fits every athlete. Note my comments at the beginning.
When you talk with them do you get a good feeling in your gut? That is part of Rapport.
So when choosing to work with a sport psychology consultant here are the three things I find most important.
Experience/ Skills / Flexibility
Not everyone is a Milton Erickson, not even me (though I can dream). With some people I fail to establish rapport and they are better off finding someone else to work with. It is one of the reasons working with teams is so challenging. Why buy in from everyone is so important.
I hope you found this useful. I had to respond somewhere. Having fought for so long to show the efficacy of what we do (what I do) in helping athletes achieve their goals it’s hard enough when those outside try to diminish what we do, but when it comes from the inside to further their own goals, I get a little sideways. Ah to get them out on the football field.
This is some text prior to the author information. You can change this text from the admin section of WP-Gravatar Mike Margolies: Sport Psychology Consultants ; TheMental-Game.com Mike Margolies is a Sport Psychology Consultant, Certified Mental Trainer® (CMT), Author, and Professional Speaker. When you want to be the best that you can be and the one thing you might be missing is the right mental game - what can you do? Well, athletes from all over the country have been seeking out Mike Margolies for over three decades to help them reach their potential. His clients include professional, elite, colligate and youth athletes in every sport. They have sought his counsel and unique teaching style to learn about the game within the game, or what mental training can do to help them become the athlete they want to be. He has trained professional and elite athletes and helped guide many to world championships and even the Super Bowl. Mike has trained more than 2000+ athletes. He has taught at four Universities and completed research at the United States Olympic Training Center. His new book is called The Athlete within You- A Mental Approach to Sports and Business. He currently works with individual athletes, teams and businesses around the world, both in person and via SKYPE. Mike is based out of the Pacific Northwest. Let him encourage you to play the game within the game. The Athlete within You is waiting to come out play. Learn the rules to the mental game to help realize your potential. Read more from this author