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AASP Newsletter - November 2020

Young Writers' Corner: Sport Psychology Professionals' Perceptions & Behaviors Related to Social Justice

Tess Palmateer

Jorge Ballesteros

Brooke Lamphere

Emma Kraus

Gagandeep Singh

Travis Scheadler

Katherine Hirsch

Taylor Langley

Ari Sapinsley
Tess Palmateer, MSc, MS, University of North Texas
Jorge Ballesteros, MS, MA, Arizona State University 
Brooke Lamphere, MA, University of Denver 
Emma Kraus, BA, Boston University
Gagandeep Singh, MBA, MA, California State University - Chico 
Travis Scheadler, MS, The Ohio State University 
Katherine Hirsch, MHK, University of Windsor 
Taylor Langley, MS, Auburn University
Ari Sapinsley, BA, Adler University Chicago

Organizational trends suggest that the field of sport psychology is increasingly embracing a social justice orientation. Social justice advocacy has been defined as organized efforts aimed at influencing public attitudes, policies, and laws to create a more socially just society guided by the vision of human rights including political, economic, and social rights (Cohen, 2001). To examine current perceptions of social justice within the field, the AASP Social Justice Initiative interviewed five sport psychology practitioners (SPPs). All participants were recruited through convenience sampling. Four of them were early career professionals (i.e., professionals within five years of obtaining their highest degree) and one was an established professional. Two individuals were CMPCs. Three major themes emerged through the interviews: (1) perceptions regarding social justice advocacy, (2) training related to social justice, and (3) how SPPs integrate social justice into their work. 

Perceptions of Social Justice Advocacy 

SPPs’ attitudes toward the value and integration of social justice within the field of sport psychology were mixed. On being asked what social justice meant to them, one participant shared that it means considering the ways in which a practitioner is serving as an advocate and providing a space where clients feel seen. They also noted the importance of access to services and fighting for equal opportunities. When asked about social advocacy in sport psychology, multiple participants emphasized the progress the field has made. One stated, “I do think that there is a large number of professionals who I work with and who I know are actively thinking about social justice and seeing it as the main goal of the[ir] work.” Conversely, some SPPs felt that there is a lack of social justice work being done, and that it is not valued by those in positions of power (i.e., academic institutions and sport psychology organizations). Others noted the problem of homogeneity among practitioners while serving a heterogenous client population. While SPPs noticed that social justice is a growing area within sport psychology, they recognized that there is room for improvement.

Training Related to Social Justice

To better understand SPPs’ perspectives, we explored how advocacy, social justice, and multiculturalism was integrated into their training. All but one participant noted the importance of education and training in their pursuit of multicultural competence and humility. Some participants shared that discussions surrounding diversity and social justice were woven into their education and clinical work. These discussions prompted the practitioners to reflect on their own cultural identities as well as the cultural identities of their clients. These reflections and discussions helped practitioners develop an awareness of the biases they hold, as well as to confront and challenge these biases. Only one SPP reported not taking any classes or training related to cultural competence in sport psychology. Following graduation, SPPs reported receiving training through a variety of professional development opportunities such as conferences and continuing education.

The Integration of their Social Justice Advocate Identity 

Participants reported integrating social justice into their work through varying modalities (depending on the roles they occupied) and most emphasized the importance they placed on social justice within the field. One SPP shared that they consistently consider how they are serving as an advocate and create a space in which their clients feel seen and heard. Another SPP stated that social justice “gives me a lens to talk to athletes in a way that recognizes that their sport performance is not in a vacuum; that [the] identity they bring to sport will influence their ability to perform.” Only one participant shared how social justice is integrated into areas beyond their applied work such as teaching and community engagement. They explained, “Some of the work that I do in the classroom and through my research has this purpose of creating better access or bringing light to disadvantages or highlighting oppression.” Further, “I was able to work within the nonprofit world and do data collection and bring sport psychology to places where people were doing community work.” In contrast, one participant shared that social justice does not play a large role in their work. Results support the idea that SPPs are attempting to engage in social justice work, though the degree of involvement may differ among them.


The purpose of this project was to better understand SPPs’ perceptions of social justice within the field of sport psychology. We sought to uncover how SPPs integrate social justice into their work, and how education and training influenced their beliefs surrounding social justice advocacy. Almost all SPPs acknowledged the growth of social justice within the field of sport psychology and shared a desire to promote a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. For example, one SPP reported that they would like to see more opportunities “to show up authentically, to talk about real, honest issues and practice effective methods of handling them… just listening to a lecture is not enough.” However, perceived challenges included the resistance and ambivalence from some SPPs, including those in positions of power. Participants also noted the discrepancy between the homogeneous group of SPPs within the field and the diverse clientele seeking sport psychology-related services. Notably, AASP incorporated the need to recruit and retain members from historically underrepresented groups in the most recent 2019-2022 strategic plan (strategic objective 3.3). Future research should explore values of social justice among AASP members and leadership.

The sport psychology practitioners’ training related to cultural competence and humility ranged from very little (no specific classes) to very extensive (integrated into all graduate work). Although CMPCs must complete multicultural training, the rigor may differ depending on the discipline and level of training. Due to the small sample size, the reasons for the reported differences are unclear. Future research should continue exploring the extent to which SPPs receive training related to diversity and social justice.

Despite variation in social justice education, most SPPs integrated social justice into their applied work. For example, many shared the importance of considering their clients’ and their own cultural identities and how these identities shape their experiences and the work that they do. Given that culture plays an impactful role in athletes' participation and performance (McGannon & Smith, 2014), SPPs could be doing a disservice to their clients by not integrating social justice practices into their work. A number of participants reported working in a variety of capacities including teaching, supervising, and researching. Future research could explore ways in which SPPs integrate social justice across these domains.

Implications and Suggestions

We encourage all SPPs and students to reflect on their own identities, values, and biases and how they influence their clients and working relationships. Professionals within the field are encouraged to celebrate and advocate for different identities and perspectives. Finally, SPPs are urged to adopt a social justice orientation across the various roles they hold (e.g., practice, teaching, research) to not only support marginalized communities but also empower them. Advocating for those with diverse identities and adopting inclusive practices in academic settings will help develop more culturally humble SPPs, students, and allies (Blodgett et al., 2015). 


Blodgett, A. T., Schinke, R. J., McGannon, K. R., & Fisher, L. A. (2015). Cultural sport psychology research: Conceptions, evolutions, and forecasts. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 8, 24-43.

Cohen, D. (2001). Advocacy: Its many faces and a common understanding. In D. Cohen, R. de la Vega, & G. Watson (Eds.), Advocacy for social justice: A global action and reflection guide. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press.

McGannon, K. R., & Smith, B. (2015). Centralizing culture in cultural sport psychology research: The potential of narrative inquiry and discursive psychology. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 17, 79-87.

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