Members Area

Ethics: Soft Core or Integral Fabric of our Field?

Ed Etzel & Jack Watson

West Virginia University

In the introduction of our Ethics Code, members can read about the core of AASP member’s values in action: “…professional organizations must develop and enforce guidelines that regulate their members’ professional conduct. A code of ethical principles and standards is one such set of self-regulatory guidelines. This code guides professionals to act responsibly as they employ the privileges granted by society” (AAASP, 1996).  Although recently there appears a slight, growing interest in ethics in our field (Farres, Muscat, Sedgewick, MacNeill, McDonough, Queree, Lonsdale, & Stodel, 2005; Gordin & Balague, 2005; Moore, 2003; Watson & Etzel, 2004), in comparison to psychology; a closely allied field, a very limited body of knowledge appears to exist relative to professional conduct in sport and exercise psychology. Even in the newest crop of applied sport psychology publications (Murphy, 2005; Taylor, 2005; Williams, 2005) with in the exception of Andersen’s (2005) book, contributors barely mention ethics at all. Interestingly, the most recent book devoted to ethics in sport psychology was published 25 years ago (Nideffer, 1981).

While conference hallway buzz often seems to link to ethical concerns of members and their current professional behavior, only a pair of modestly attended presentations specifically focused on ethics at our recent Vancouver conference (Farres, et al., 2005; Etzel & Watson, 2005). Perhaps this reflects feedback received by the AASP Ethics Committee members from various participant interactions as well as from content gleaned from conference presentations which suggests that:

  • Some members do not see our ethics code as particularly salient to their daily work lives;
  • Ethics and legal issues surrounding our work in many sport psychology settings is inconsistently taught, understood and applied by members;
  • Our code is outdated, rigid, too closely linked to APA’s code and somehow does not “work” for many members and their clients in unique practice settings;
  • Applicants for Certified Consultant status are often deficient in this area; and
  • The Ethics Committee and the Executive Board’s approach dealing with and responses to ethics complaints is inconsistent and ineffective – there are really no consequences for unethical behavior.

Rest assured, these concerns have been heard and discussed by the Ethics Committee, (which is always looking for interested contributing members), and passed on to the Executive Board through Professional Standards Division Head. Hopefully, these important, long-standing concerns will be addressed and responded to, (some have already), and become central to AASP’s evolution, culture and functioning in the near and distant future. However, we do encourage you as a member of AASP to express additional concerns to members of the Ethics Committee about the current state of the Ethics Code and the means by which the organization handles related issues.

Given what we saw and heard from members and leadership in Vancouver, we believe that AASP’s leadership agrees with Stephen Behnke’s (2005) post APA convention comments on ethics in that organization. “The goal is for our members and the profession to view ethics not as a set of external constraints that limit our possibilities and inhibit our creativity, but rather as part of the fabric of our professional lives, and ethical dilemmas not as a sign that something has gone wrong in our work, but rather as reflecting the richness, complexity and important of what psychologists do.” (Behnke, 2005). We believe that AASP’s ethics code is a dynamic, practical set of self-regulatory guidelines useful to daily thinking and action for professionals and students across work settings. The “richness and complexity” of the work our members’ activities in applied sport psychology makes our code an essential self-regulatory companion to the provision of responsible, high-quality teaching, training, research, and service provision.  It is true that some modification to the code could make it more specific to our current work, but at present this code is certainly sufficient to help protect the well being of our clients, research participants and the integrity of the field. If we are going to help the profession of sport psychology grow, we MUST see each and every one of our members as a representative of the profession, and encourage them to behave in ways that will best represent the values of the discipline. It is for this reason and many others that ethical training needs to be a clear and consistent part of every AASP Conference and sport and exercise psychology training curriculum.


Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology. (1996). Ethics Code. Retrieved November 15, 2005 from committees/ethics/standards.php.    

 Behnke, S. (2005, November). Ethics at APA’s Annual Convention. Monitor on Psychology. pp.74-75.  

Etzel, E. & Watson, J. (2005) . Ethics and teaching applied sport psychology in academic settings. Workshop presented at the Annual Association for the  Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology Conference, Vancouver, BC.

Farres, L., Muscat, A., Sedgewick, W., MacNeill, K., McDonough, M., Queree, M., Lonsdale, C., & Stodel, E. (2005). Ethics and sport psychology: Finding  guidelines that work in the sport context. Colloqium presented at the Annual Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology Conference, Vancouver, BC.

Fisher, C. (2003). Decoding the ethics code: A practical guide for psychologists. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gordin, R. & Balague, G. (2005). Ethical aspects in applied sport psychology. In Hackfort, D. Duda, J., & Lidor, R. (Eds.). Handbook in applied sport and exercise psychology: International perspectives, (pp.419-430). Morgantown, WV: Fitness  Information Technology. Koocher, G., Keith-Spiegel, P. (1998). Ethics in psychology: professional standards and cases(2nd ed). New York: Oxford University Press.

Moore, Z. (2003). Ethical dilemmas in sport psychology: Discussion and recommendations for practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34(6), 601-610.

Nideffer, R. (1981). The ethics and practice of applied sport psychology. Ithaca, NY: ouvement Publications

Pope, K. , Tabachnick, B., & Keith-Spiegel, P. (1987). Ethics of practice: The beliefs and behaviors of psychologists as therapists. American Psychologist, 42,     993-1006.