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2008 Grant Recipient: Athletes’ experiences of a sport psychology consultation: Exploring a multiseason, cross-gender intervention

Renee Mapes, University of Missouri

Project Overview: The purpose of this project was to explore the thoughts and experiences of athletes who had worked with a sport psychology consultant for one to five seasons. Ten athletes on a Division I wrestling team were selected with the intention to provide a range of experiences, including years on the team, extent to which they worked with or did not work with the consultant, and starter/non-starter status. Grounded theory research methods were used to analyze interview data.

At the conclusion of the data analysis, five main themes were delineated: athlete characteristics, intervention characteristics, outcomes, social processes, and sport psychologist characteristics. Athletes talked about their initial fears in working with a female sport psychologist and how such action would likely lower them within the team’s social hierarchy. Athletes also talked about the importance of the sport psychologist spending time “hanging out” with the team as a key factor in lessening the negative stereotypes surrounding sport psychology work and demonstrating that the sport psychologist was highly invested with and a part of the team. Having a woman work with the all-male team was eventually seen by most of the participants as valuable. Gender was seen as providing the sport psychologist with a perspective and interactional style that was differentiated from many of their other coach-athlete or athlete-athlete interactions; for example, athletes believed that a female sport psychologist was less intimidating and more likely to accept the athletes than a male sport psychologist.

Interestingly, perceptions of the sport psychologist’s effectiveness were only minimally related to her ability to provide performance enhancing skills or information. The athletes in this study felt that the sport psychologist contributed to the team’s knowledge of mental skills by changing and increasing the degree to which the athlete’s interacted with each other. While many of the team sport psychology seminars were focused on providing athletes with knowledge of various mental skills, participants felt that enhanced social interaction contributed to greater team bonding and opportunities to learn from each other about how to increase their performance as wrestlers.

This study is now concluded and while it only represents the experiences of one team and the work of one sport psychology consultant, it raises important issues regarding the delivery of applied services within the sport psychology field. Specifically, this study emphasizes the importance of studying and measuring consultant effectiveness, and the need to examine how different cultural identities impact the relationships and experiences of sport consultations within the context of the sport environment.