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  • Writer's pictureDarren Britton

Mind coaches, Sport Psychology, and how we move forward...

Those who follow me on twitter may know that, amongst the regular photos of my best dog-friend Monty, I made a passing meme-based joke about a Premiership Rugby Club announcing that they had hired an unqualified 'Mind coach' to work with their first team.

This caused a bit of a storm amongst fellow qualified practitioners, calling out the 'mind coach' in question, the club, and the regulatory bodies that are seemingly doing very little to protect and promote the profession and their practitioners who they collect their annual subs from.

I understand people's anger. I am frustrated too, but in my typical style I turned it into a joke to make light of the situation.

But we've been here before many many times, and nothing has really changed. Coaches and performance directors still seem to value lived experience and good marketing over qualifications and ethics, while we psychologists sit and agree with each other and our shared moral standpoint within our own echo chamber (the vast majority of people who 'liked' My tweet and commented were all other registered psychologists).

If we psychologists are to practice what we preach, there are some principles, in my opinion, we need to apply:

1. If it isn't working stop doing it and do something different.

As I said before, we have been bemoaning teams and organisations who have employed unqualified 'mind coaches' and the like for years. This is nothing new. And all that bemoaning has seemingly made no difference. Attempts have been made to circulate information to teams and organisations about 'who they should be employing and why', seemingly to little effect. The question I would ask is then what hasn't been tried yet? A co-ordinated mass refusal to renew registration with the Health and Care Professions Council until they start doing they are being paid to do themselves? This is not what I am calling for, but it is an example...

2. What is the desired outcome?

As a solution-focused practitioner, I try to tackle problems by first defining what the desired outcome is, rather than over-focusing on the problem. So what is the desired outcome from this challenge we are facing as a profession in the particular instance? For me it's this: to have a fully qualified psychologist employed by every Premiership Rugby Club. Ambitious, I know. But this is the direction of travel we should probably be aiming for. Will simply calling out the mind coaches and the clubs making these errors in the employment practices lead to that desired outcome? Probably not. What will? Perhaps learning why these clubs are employing these individuals in the first place. What is it about the way these people market themselves and communicate with others that is getting them into these positions ahead of those with qualifications. Aside from unethical practices, what are they doing that we are not? And why aren't we teaching these skills to the ever growing number of students coming through the academic system wanting to become sport psychologists? This is a skills gap on our part that needs addressing from the ground up. As a fellow sport psych has said to me on more than one occasion, 'let's do what the mind coaches do but better'. And by better, I would include with ethical and professional oversight that comes with being registered with a regulatory body.

3. Wait for it.... CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLES!!!!

Similar to the previous point, we really need to be practicing what we preach. Are we ultimately in control of who a head coach chooses to be a member of their back room staff? No. Is complaining and shaming working? No. What can we control when it comes to this situation? Personally, I believe its upskilling ourselves and thinking of new ways of promoting our profession from outside our echo chambers.

Yes, we have all invested a lot in our education, as we were all, rightly, told it was the right thing to do. However, some letters after our name and a certificate does not entitle us to a seat at every table.

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