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Posted 07/05/2021 in Category 1

What do athletes want from a sport psychologist?

What do athletes want from a sport psychologist?

Many athletes seek help for psychological well-being and performance issues among sport psychologists. But before an athlete works with a sport psychologist, the athlete needs to think about what she wishes to gain from the sport psychologist and which sport psychologist might best suit her needs. Some athletes have access to a sport psychologist in their club or organisation, but what would an athlete choose if she had a preference?  

Researchers now explore the preferences of athletes seeking support from a sport psychologist because research shows how vital this fit benefits the athlete and sport psychologist. We can look at the literature for a moment to understand why preferences matter. The research shows that clients who receive their preferences, compared with those who do not, show better treatment outcomes, better satisfaction and lower dropout rates. What this research is tell us is that if we get an athlete to the sport psychologist that fits her, better outcomes await. Why is this research so important to sport psychologists and athletes? There are several reasons but one reason that is most critical is that sport psychologists usually work according to personal preferences so that athlete gets what the sport psychologists is offering rather than what the athlete wants. Now it is possible that what the athlete wants and needs are two different things; however, it’s good to ask these questions, so we offer better treatment more often to the athlete. It’s possible that sport psychologists work according to their own preferences, and that is what the athlete received. The sport psychologist might think unwittingly, “this is what I would like, so this is what I shall give you”. What do athletes want in a sport psychologist? Athletes have preferences about personal characteristics, treatment preferences and activity preferences 

  1. Personal preferences – gender, ethnicity, religion 
  2. Treatment preferences – person centred therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy
  3. Activity preferences – group or individual; homework or no homework 

What can you expect from a sport psychologist? People like active and structured support rather than insight. With insight, one learns about oneself whereas active and structured support is getting things done with activities in the session and at home. It seems likely that in sport, we might find a 60:40 split with most athletes preferring structured support, while few athletes might wish for a non-directive, insights-based support. The research to date suggests that males might prefer more direct support, whereas females might prefer less direct support. The more open and secure one feels, the more likely one might choose insights like those in psychodynamic therapy. One might surmise that the more fearful attachment showed a decreased preference for CBT. The sport psychologist might choose a therapy that suits himself or herself, so it’s helpful to see what you feel suits you as an athlete. 

The emphasis for the athlete ought to be upon what the athlete feels might suit now. It’s possible, from most sport psychologists, to work in a directive manner (e.g., cognitive behaviour therapy - CBT) or a non-directive manner (e.g., person-centred therapy- PCT). Perhaps you can find out what would suit you best by seeking support that follows a person-centred approach and then compare it with a cognitive-behavioural approach. 


Cooper, M., Norcross, J., Raymond-Barker, B., & Hogan, T. (2019). Psychotherapy Preferences of Laypersons and Mental Health Professionals: Whose Therapy Is It? Psychotherapy (Chicago, Ill.), 56(2), 205–216. https://doi.org/10.1037/pst0000226

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