Characteristics of an Effective Sport Psychology Consultant: Perspectives from Athletes and Consultants
Lubker, John R., Visek, Amanda J., Geer, John R., Watson, Jack C., II, Journal of Sport Behavior
In the realm of sport psychology consulting, there are generally held images of how effective sport psychology consultants (SPC) look and behave (e.g., confident, athletic, easily fits into the sport environment) while consulting with athletes and teams (Lubker, Watson, Visek & Geer, 2005). Over the past two decades, efforts have been made to improve the quality of applied sport psychology work by identifying the characteristics and qualities that are utilized by successful consultants (Anderson, Miles, Robinson, & Mahoney, 2004; Gould, Tammen, Murphy, & May, 1991; Halliwell, 1990; Partington & Orlick, 1987a; Partington & Orlick, 1987b). It seems clear from this body of research that to be an effective service provider, one must be cognizant of the characteristics that those within sport (e.g., athletes, teams, and coaches) believe to be essential characteristics for a SPC to possess. Despite this aforementioned research, there seems to be a need for additional research to help construct a more comprehensive image of what constitutes an effective SPC.
Factors Influencing a Therapeutic Relationship
Previous research has suggested that several specific factors are likely to have an effect on the relationships between consultants (or counselors) and clients. These factors include, but are not limited to: (a) characteristics of the client, (b) nature of the problem, (c) personal and professional characteristics of the consultant (e.g., expertness, attractiveness, and trustworthiness), (d) techniques used by the consultant, and (e) quality of the relationship between the consultant and the client (Martin et al., 2001). Before entering into any helping relationship, clients often have certain expectations and attitudes about the services they are seeking. Martin, Wrisberg, Beitel, and Lounsbury (1997) studied NCAA Division I athletes' attitudes towards seeking sport psychology consultation and found stigma tolerance, confidence in a SPC/recognition of need, and openness/willingness to try a SPC as the client characteristics most responsible for whether or not athletes seek consultation. Further research exploring high school and college athletes' attitudes towards sport psychology services found prior experience with consulting to be significantly related to more confidence and less stigma when seeking those services (Martin, 2005). These results indicate that client characteristics and attitudes can have a significant effect on help seeking behavior.
Additionally, personal and professional characteristics of SPCs may also affect consulting relationships. Other research indicates that counselors who are perceived by their clients as experts and attractive (as opposed to non-expert and unattractive) may have a greater influence over the therapeutic relationship (Strong & Dixon, 1971). Inherent in the consulting process is the need for a quality relationship between consultant and client. In an extensive review of the counseling literature, Sexton and Whiston (1994) conclude that the relationship between counselor and client appears to be the only factor which consistently aids in establishing a productive therapeutic process. In other words, the counseling or consultation process may rest extensively on one's ability to create an honest, trusting, and collaborative relationship.
Qualities of Effective Service Providers
Although counselors and SPCs often function in different capacities, there seems to be a good deal of intuitive commonality in the services that they provide and the relationships that they build. The commonality between these two professions appears to be increasing as sport psychology training programs continue to incorporate counselor training into their curriculums. While direct comparison of the two professions is not warranted, there do appear to be similarities between the service delivery of counselors and that of SPCs. For instance, since both types of practitioners need to be concerned with a client's personal well-being, it would seem that effective characteristics for counselors may also be valuable for a SPC. Therefore, the counseling literature may serve as a valuable rubric on which to base inferences.
A review of counseling literature suggests that many factors may affect clients' preferences for counselors and beliefs about potential therapeutic success. Clients have identified similar attitudes, values and backgrounds between practitioners and themselves as the most preferred counselor qualities (Esters, 2001). It has also been suggested that counselor personality characteristics are more often the basis of clinical success than the specific counseling techniques (Pope, 1996). In an attempt to better understand the influence of personality upon clinical success, Pope (1996) developed the Counselor Characteristic Inventory (CCI), which contains questions regarding effective personality characteristics. The ten most important personality characteristics of counselors and also the least teachable were: acceptance, emotional stability, open-mindedness, empathy, genuineness, flexibility, interest in people, confidence, sensitivity, and fairness. Based upon this research, it is realistic to assume that athletes may also perceive characteristics such as having an athletic background and sharing the same values of sport (e.g., hard work ethic, discipline, commitment) as well as specific personality characteristics to be preferred qualities for a SPC to possess.
Impact of First Impressions
First impressions and an initial consultation can have a lasting impact on a client's desire to continue seeking help from a practitioner as well as the client's perceptions of that individual's ability to be effective. When seeking services from helping professionals, clients almost certainly form first impressions of the professional and develop certain expectations for service delivery that may affect their future involvement in the process. These impressions are likely based on several criteria, making it useful for practitioners to be cognizant of these factors in order to increase the quality and effectiveness of their relationships with clients.
One factor with the potential to affect an individual's impression of a professional is how closely the professional resembles a person familiar to the individual. Noffsinger, Pellegrini, and Burnell (1983) found that first impressions were, "frequently and strongly affected by attitudes which the perceiver had developed toward another person whom he associated with the stimulus person." (p. 188). It is likely that an athlete's first impression of a SPC may also be influenced by how closely the professional resembles a person familiar to the athlete. Another factor that may influence the perception of helping professionals is level of attractiveness. Numerous studies have assessed the effects of individuals' expectations and impressions based on a service provider's level of attractiveness (Cash, et al., 1975; Lewis & Walsh, 1978). According to the Cash et al. (1975) study, attractive counselors were perceived as significantly more intelligent, friendly, assertive, trustworthy, and competent than their unattractive counterparts. This study provides evidence that a helping professional's attractiveness may not only have a powerful effect on a client's impression, but also on the development of rapport.
More recently, Lubker and colleagues (2005) investigated the potential impact of clothing and body-build on impression formation, based upon athletes' ratings of SPC effectiveness. It was discovered that both the clothing and body-build of a consultant may influence perceived effectiveness of the SPC, as well as the likelihood that athletes would choose to seek services from this consultant. Specifically, SPCs who were in-shape and wore clothing similar to that of a coach were seen as having more positive personality traits and higher sport knowledge, and were more likely to be sought for consultations (Lubker, et al., 2005).
Impact of Controllable Characteristics on Service Delivery
There is a body of research focusing on the effect of physical appearance on service delivery, seeking counseling, first impressions, evaluations, and personal perception. Furthermore, numerous studies have examined the impact of race and gender on these characteristics (Basow & Silberg, 1987; Dare, 1992; Goebel & Cashen, 1979; Hamner, Kim, Baird, & Bigoness, 1974; Lewis & Walsh, 1978; Lubker et al., 2005; Surmann, 1997). While gender, race, attractiveness, and resemblance to familiar people seem to be important variables influencing personal perceptions of service providers, these are variables helping professionals do not often have direct control over. Consequently, when looking at research to gain insight into how to be an effective SPC, it is most valuable to look at studies investigating variables which individuals have more personal control over and thus may be changeable. Such variables include weight and clothing.
In a recent study of client's perceptions, expectations, and willingness to pursue counseling, Vrochopoulos (1999) discovered that male clients perceived obese counselors to be less expert than female clients. Additionally, Hash, Munna, Vogel, and Bason (2003) found that patients had a greater level of confidence when counseled regarding obesity by non-obese physicians. In extrapolating these findings to sport psychology, body weight may be even more of a salient factor for SPCs when providing services to the sport population. Athletes and coaches may have more confidence in a SPCs ability to work effectively on the psychological aspects of sport if the SPC embodies those characteristics indicative of sport (physically fit, athletically dressed; Lubker et al., 2005).
Characteristics of Effective Sport Psychology Consultants
As the sport psychology profession continues to gain popularity, researchers have made efforts to improve the quality of applied sport psychology. They have identified characteristics and qualities of successful SPCs (Anderson, Miles, & Robinson, 2004; Dunn & Holt, 2003; Gould, Tammen, Murphy, & May, 1991; Halliwell, 1990; Partington & Orlick, 1987a; Partington & Orlick, 1987b). One of the most commonly used evaluations of SPCs is the Consultant Evaluation Form (CEF; Partington & Orlick, 1987a). This form was developed through interviews with Olympic athletes and coaches to help consultants assess and improve services provided to athletes, teams, and coaches. Using a stepwise multiple regression, the authors identified the characteristic of "fitted in with others connected to the team" as accounting for 48% of the variance (p < .001) in rating the effectiveness of a SPC (Partington & Orlick, 1987a).
Additional research by Gould, Tammen, Murphy and May (1991) has used the CEF to study the effectiveness of SPC characteristics with U.S. Olympic athletes (n = 47), coaches (n = 45), sport science administrators (n = 25), and sport psychology specialists (n = 44). Again, the sport specific characteristic of "fitting in with the team" was rated highly. An assessment of both the coaches' and athletes' ratings of SPC effectiveness across the 10 characteristics of the CEF revealed that fitting in with the team was the best predictor of consultant effectiveness (Gould et al., 1991). A more recent study utilizing the CEF assessed graduate students' effectiveness in providing sport psychology services (Gentner, Fisher, & Wrisberg, 2004). Similar to the findings of Gould et al. (1991), the authors of this study reported that athletes' and coaches' ratings of "fitting in with team," "useful knowledge," and "easy for athletes to relate to" were correlated highest with perceived effectiveness. The above results lead to the suggestion that SPCs of all levels of training may need to continue developing their sport-specific consulting characteristics if they want to maximize the perceived effectiveness of their services (Gentner et al., 2004). Research conducted with athletes from the United Kingdom recently examined consultant qualities that relate to effective service provision (Anderson, Miles, & Robinson, 2004). Content analysis of semi-structured interviews about experiences with SPCs with 30 elite athletes revealed that being knowledgeable about the sport one is consulting with to be an important characteristic for a SPC to possess. This implies that athletes regard having a good knowledge base of their sport as necessary to be effective.
While both counseling and sport-specific research has been overviewed to give a comprehensive image of the characteristics of an effective SPC, further research is needed. An effort is needed to identify other potential personality and sport-specific qualities that are indicative of one's ability to effectively consult with athletes and coaches. Although research has identified some pieces of the puzzle regarding characteristics of effective helping professionals and SPCs, we still have yet to identify all of the pieces and put them together to best serve athletes and coaches in need of consulting services. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate both athlete and consultant perceptions of the characteristics that make an effective SPC, while also assessing differences of importance placed on those characteristics between athletes and SPCs. Specifically, the authors sought to answer the following questions: (1) what is the degree of importance that athletes and SPCs place on those characteristics that have been identified in both the counseling and sport psychology literature as indicative of effective helping professionals (e.g., personality traits, physical appearance); (2) are there other characteristics that may be deemed effective characteristics of SPCs that have not yet been thoroughly researched (e.g., sport knowledge, sport culture, standards of practice); and (3) do athletes and SPCs differ on those characteristics perceived to be indicative of effective SPCs?
Data was collected from a total of 206 participants; however, two cases were eliminated from the SPC sample due to incomplete data. Therefore, results are based upon data obtained from 204 participants. The present sample was comprised of college athletes (n = 124) from a Division l and a Division II institution and SPCs with consulting experience (n = 80). The collegiate athlete group was recruited via convenience sampling and was representative of twelve sports: swimming, soccer, track, football, crew, basketball, baseball, tennis, cheerleading, wrestling, gymnastics, and hockey. Both male (n = 51) and female (n = 73) athletes were included in the study, 86% of whom were Caucasian. The athlete's ranged from 17 to 25 years of age and represented all stages of undergraduate development (e.g., freshmen through seniors). Sixty-seven percent of the athletes had previously worked with a SPC, of which 86% percent found this work to be beneficial and 98% believed it to be a positive experience. The SPC group was operationalized by those graduate students and professionals who reported having had sport performance enhancement consulting experience. All but one consultant provided information regarding gender and race. Therefore, the SPC sample consisted of 48 men and 31 women, ranging from 21 to over 50 years of age, of whom 78% were Caucasian. Experience in sport consulting ranged from one to thirty years with an average of eight years of practice. Twenty-one percent of the SPC sample consisted of AAASP (Association of Applied Sport Psychology) Certified Consultants. Similar to the demographic information obtained regarding race and gender, all but one consultant provided information regarding highest degree earned. The highest degree earned by these consultants consisted of: bachelors (n = 4), masters (n = 31) and doctorate (n = 44), several were supervised graduate students. Respondents who did not indicate being supervised in their performance enhancement consulting or lacked a doctoral degree were retained in the SPC sample, because neither a doctoral degree nor certification is legally required to be a consultant in a sport performance enhancement context. The specialties of the SPCs were: sport psychology (89%), exercise psychology (29%), counseling psychology (50%), and clinical psychology (13%). These consultants reported working with youth (66%), high school (74%), collegiate (89%), professional (63%), and Olympic (35%) athletes.
Self-report measures were used to assess athlete and SPC demographic characteristics related to personal and participatory variables, and the degree of importance they place on various characteristics of effective SPCs. The measure developed and employed for this study was the Characteristics of Effective Sport Psychology Consultants Inventory (CESPCI), which consisted of 31 items developed by the researchers guided by the current counseling and sport psychology literature. The CESPCI's items pertain to the personality traits, sport knowledge, sport culture, standards of practice, and physical traits intended to judge an SPC's effectiveness (Table 1). Each participant was asked to rate on a 6-point Likert scale ("not at all" to "extremely") how important each characteristic is for a SPC to be effective.
Upon receiving Institutional Review Board approval, permission to conduct the study was granted from the sport teams and sport psychology listserv coordinator. Both the online and paper and pencil versions of the CESPCI were pilot-tested for errors, ease of use, and time to complete. The CESPCI was administered in paper-and-pencil form to the athletes either during a team meeting or before or after practice. Participants were asked to respond to both the demographic questionnaire, as well as the CESPCI. These same measures were administered on-line as a web-based survey to the SPCs via the Sport Psychology Listserv.
Rationale for Exploratory Factor Analysis
Once the data were collected, an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was conducted (see initial item reduction section) to reduce the total number oft-tests conducted on CESPCI items. EFA was conducted in hopes of reducing the number of analyses by reducing items into factors and decreasing the chance of Type I error and to prevent "data-mining".
Web Survey Development and Security of Data
Pilot testing was conducted using five sport and exercise psychology graduate students who provided feedback regarding the content and clarity of the items and ease of response for both the online and paper/pencil versions of the CESPCI. This feedback resulted in only minor semantic modifications made to some items. The online versions of the demographic questionnaire and CESPCI were created in hypertext markup language (HTML) format. These surveys were uploaded to a university academic computing server where access was limited to the research team, computing staff, and participants in the study. Once completed and submitted, survey data were stored on the university server and backed-up on three hard drives. The data were manually entered into an SPSS data file which was double-checked for accuracy. Additionally, to ensure that on-line participants did not submit their completed survey more than once, the data set was sorted to check for duplicate cases, none were found.
Exploratory Analysis of Mean Scores
Because this study was exploratory in nature, the researchers established a mean ranking for each of the 31 CESPCI items for both the athlete and SPC samples. Using these mean scores, the items were then ranked in order from the largest mean difference in the ratings between the athlete and SPC groups to the least difference between the two groups. This approach was used as a means of reducing the number of analyses conducted and the chance for a type 1 error to occur, with the realization that many of the means were very similar. This approach also allows more space for the interpretation and discussion of potentially significant and important differences between the groups. It was found that there was a natural cutoff point after the sixth item between the means of the athlete and SPC groups, so only these items were used for analyses. Using the Bonferroni correction to control for Type I error, there was a significant difference (p's < .001) for all six items (i.e., 24, 17, 18, 16, 23, and 31) where the athletes rated all items as more important for an effective SPC to possess than did the SPCs (see Table 1).
Although the above analyses assess the mean differences between athletes and consultants on six specific items, they fail to truly differentiate the importance of the items based upon each item's rank within the entire list of items for each of the two groups. To better understand the importance of items with respect to all other items, a visual inspection of the top six most important items as evaluated by the mean scores of the athletes and the consultants was conducted (see Table 1 for means). Note that the four items rated as most important among the entire list of items were the same for both the athletes and consultants (i.e., maintains confidentiality, trustworthy, good communicator, and approachable). The next two factors differed for each of the groups, however, those factors identified as the fifth and sixth most important factors by the athletes were still amongst the top 11 most important items for the consultants (i.e., friendly and ability to work well with the team). The factors rated as fifth and sixth most important by the consultants were both also evaluated as within the 10 most important factors by the athletes (i.e., honesty and knowledge of mental skills to improve sport performance).
Initial Item Reduction
Initially, the CESPCI consisted of 31 items intended to judge the consulting effectiveness of SPCs. Items pertained to personality traits, sport knowledge, sport culture, standards of practice, and physical traits. To pair down the number of analyses and reduce the chance for type I error, an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was conducted on the athlete sample to identify salient factors. This procedure was not used to explore the psychometric properties of the CESPCI. Only the athlete sample was used for this analysis because in sport psychology consultations the athletes are the consumers and what they deem important should be the focus of all consultant-client relationships. Since the goal was to reduce the number of analyses and not to establish a scale, once factors were established, only those factors were used in further analyses. Individual items were not assessed and non-factor loading items were discarded.
EFA using principal axis extraction and promax rotation was conducted on the 31 SPC items to determine the number of common factors that accounted for the relationships among the measured items and to create groupings for analyses. An oblique rotation method (promax) was used instead of orthogonal rotation because it was anticipated that any emerging factors would be correlated with each other (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). Eight factors emerged with an eigenvalue > 1; however, the scree plot and the cross-loadings suggested that a five-factor solution might be most appropriate. Items were retained if loadings were above .40 and if cross loadings were not greater than .30 (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). This five-factor solution yielded strong empirical support and an interpretable solution (see Table 2).
As a whole, the five-factor solution for the CESPCI accounted for 64% of the initial and 55% of the extracted variance. The first factor was named Positive Interpersonal Skills, as the four items were related to positive interpersonal skills that would lead to being an effective SPC. This factor accounted for 29% of the initial and 28% of the extracted variance. The second factor was named Physical Characteristics, as the four items were related to the physical characteristics of an effective SPC. This factor accounted for an additional 13% of the initial and 11% of the extracted variance. The third factor was named Athletic Background, as the two items were related to the athletic background of an effective SPC. This factor accounted for an additional 6% of the initial and 4% of the extracted variance. The fourth factor was named Professional Status, as the two items were related to the level of professional status of an effective SPC. This factor accounted for an additional 5% of the initial and 4% of the extracted variance. The fifth factor was named Sport Culture, as the three items were related to how well an effective SPC may fit into the sport culture. This factor accounted for an additional 4% of the initial and 3% of the extracted variance. For both SPCs and athletes a mean score for each factor was determined by adding together the responses to the items loading in each factor and then dividing by the number of items in that factor. These means were then used in comparisons between SPCs and athletes using the Bonferroni correction to control for Type I error. T-tests were conducted to investigate the differences in the ratings of the qualities of SPCs between athletes who had previously worked with a SPC and those who had not. Results revealed no significant differences on the five factors (p > .05). These findings suggest that previous experience with a SPC does not affect what qualities athletes believe are important.
Positive Interpersonal Skills (Factor 1)
Due to the high level of skewness of this factor, a non-parametric Mann-Whitney U test was conducted to explore the possible differences between athletes and SPCs when rating the positive counseling characteristics of an effective SPC. Results revealed a significant difference between the mean ranks for athletes (109.02) and SPCs (88.08) on this factor. Athletes rated these counseling characteristics as more important (z = -2.608, p < .01) than SPCs.
Physical Characteristics (Factor 2)
A t-test was conducted to explore the possible differences between athletes and SPCs when rating the physical characteristics of an effective SPC. Results revealed no statistically significant difference between the means for athletes and SPCs on this factor (p > .01).
Athletic Background (Factor 3)
A t-test was conducted to explore the possible differences between athletes and SPCs when rating athletic background characteristics of an effective SPC. It was found that there was a statistically significant difference between the means for athletes and SPCs on this factor (t = 6.310, df = 195, p < .001, d = .91), with athletes rating these characteristics as more important (M = 8.65, SD = 2.34) than SPCs (M = 6.63, SD = 2.01).
Professional Status (Factor 4)
A t-test was conducted to explore the possible differences between athletes and SPCs when rating the professional status characteristics of effective SPCs. A statistically significant difference was found between the means for athletes and SPCs (t = 2.591, df = 201, p = .01, d = .37). Athletes rated these characteristics as more important (M = 9.49, SD = 2.18) than SPCs (M = 8.66, SD = 2.29).
Sport Culture (Factor 5)
A t-test was conducted to explore the possible differences between athletes and SPCs when rating an effective SPC's fit into the sport culture. Results revealed no statistically significant difference between the means for athletes and SPCs on this factor (p > .0 l).
The purpose of this study was to examine the degree of importance placed on a variety of characteristics, including some with limited research, regarding the effectiveness of sport psychology consultants (SPCs). A five-factor solution generated by exploratory factor analysis of the CESPCI was able to account for 64% of the initial and 55% of the extracted variance observed. This analysis allowed the researchers to best identify the latent constructs that represent correlations among the measured variables. The five factors were labeled as Positive Interpersonal Skills, Athletic Background, Sport Culture, Professional Status, and Physical Characteristics. Overall, the 16 items from the CESPCI included in these factors were all rated as being "somewhat" to "extremely important" for SPCs to possess in order to be effective when working with athletes and sport teams. A second purpose of this study was to assess whether or not athletes and SPCs differ on the degree of importance each group placed on these factors. Analyses indicated that athletes' mean ratings were higher on the assessment scale than SPCs' for three of the five factors (Positive Interpersonal Skills, Athletic Background, and Professional Status). However, visual inspection of the data indicated that athletes were consistent with SPCs in terms of the rank ordering of importance of the factors. Both groups identified the most important factor in relation to the others as Positive Interpersonal skills, followed by Professional Status, Athletic Background, Sport Culture and Physical Characteristics.
The Five-Factor Solution
The Positive Interpersonal Skills factor consisted of four items from the CESPCI: "Friendly," "Approachable," "Trustworthy," and "Can maintain confidentiality." Athletes in the sample rated these characteristics higher in mean importance for a SPC to possess than did the consultants, but both groups rated this as the most important factor. Based on these results it appears that athletes may perceive that effective SPCs possess positive interpersonal skills which are indicative of good helping professionals. Therefore, we can deduce that these characteristics may be an important part of effective consultation. This finding supports previous research (Martin et al., 2001; Sexton & Whiston, 1994) suggesting personal characteristics of a consultant (e.g., trustworthiness, honesty) are likely to have a positive effect on productive therapeutic relationships. As such, supervisors overseeing the training of emerging consultants (e.g., masters and doctoral students) should emphasize the importance of one's ability to express positive interpersonal skills towards athletes in an effort to work most effectively with them (Feasey, 2002).
The Professional Status factor also consisted of three items from the CESPCI: "Is well-trained in sport performance enhancement," "Possess an advanced degree in performance enhancement," and "Is certified to work with athletes on mental skills." Athletes rated the characteristics in this factor as being higher in mean importance for effective SPCs to acquire than the SPCs, but both groups rated this factor as the second most important factor in determining consultant effectiveness. It is logical that athletes would prefer to work with consultants who are uniquely qualified to teach mental skills to athletes. However, the SPCs in this study did not place as high of a mean importance on having specific qualifications to work with athletes on sport performance enhancement issues. It is possible that this finding is a product of the SPCs that were sampled. Since 1989, AAASP has offered any sport performance enhancement professional who meets specific criteria (education and training) the opportunity to become recognized as a "Certified Consultant, AAASP" (Zizzi, Zaichkowsky, & Perna, 2002). Only 17 of the 80 SPCs (21%) who completed the survey reported holding AAASP certification. We believe our sample mirrors the current state of sport psychology consulting, one in which the majority of consultants are not AAASP certified. Therefore, it is not surprising that results indicated that the SPCs sampled did not place as much importance as did the athletes on obtaining specific qualifications such as professional certification. It is possible that many of the SPCs sampled have been working with athletes and teams on sport performance enhancement issues without or only in part of those qualification items representative of the Professional Status factor. For example, the SPCs sampled may have included students who are currently under supervision and training to become certified, or individuals holding state licensure in psychology without certification. However, findings from the study suggest that athletes may perceive a SPC as potentially more effective if that SPC possesses the advanced degrees and certification that is indicative of the training necessary to work competently and effectively with the sport population.
The results for the Professional Status factor also have implications for those who are seeking advanced degrees in sport psychology or performance enhancement. These individuals may benefit from seeking and receiving degrees that suggest direct training in performance enhancement (e.g., Sport and Exercise Psychology vs. Clinical Psychology). Similar findings were found by Maniar and colleagues (2001) who surveyed NCAA Division I athletes' willingness to seek help from professionals with varying professional titles. Their results showed an athlete preference for sport-titled professionals (e.g., performance enhancement specialist) when compared to other titles associated with counseling and clinical psychology. Other researchers examining college students' perceptions of various sport and non-sport professionals found that despite the descriptor "sport" being in the title "sport psychologist," these professionals were seen as being more concerned with mental, non-sport issues when compared to professionals with the title "performance consultant," who were seen as more connected with sport (Van Raalte, Brewer, Linder, & DeLange, 1990).
The Athletic Background factor consisted of three items from the CESPCI: "Has previous experience with the sport they are working with," "Has a background as a competitive athlete," and "Has competed in the sport they are working with." Again, athletes rated the characteristics in this factor as being higher in mean importance for effective SPCs to possess than did SPCs, but both groups rated this characteristic as the third most factor in determining the effectiveness of a consultant. This finding supports earlier research, which found effective SPCs to be rated by athletes as someone they could relate to (Partington & Orlick, 1987a) and who was knowledgeable about their sport (Anderson, Miles, & Robinson, 2004; Weigand, Richardson, & Weinberg, 1999). When seeking consultations, SPCs may benefit from disclosing any previous experience as a competitive athlete, particularly if they participated in the sport in which they are seeking to provide consultation. Athletes appear to believe this experience enables the consultant to be more effective when working with their team, perhaps by giving the impression that these SPCs will be able to relate to the team's competitive experiences. Yet, this finding does not suggest that experience as a competitive athlete is necessary for SPCs to be effective. SPCs without competitive athletic experience in a particular sport may benefit from learning about and conveying knowledge of the teams' unique competitive experience in that sport. Further, SPCs may also benefit from drawing comparisons to related sport experiences and consultations. For example, comparisons could be drawn between similar types of sports (e.g., endurance sports, team sports, or sports with subjective evaluation) in which the SPC has worked to help convey familiarity with a sport.
Among the remaining two factors of the solution (Sport Culture, and Physical Characteristics), no differences existed between the samples of athletes and SPCs, and both factors were rated as fourth and fifth most important in determining the effectiveness of consultants, respectively. However, it is also important to mention that both groups' mean ratings of the items loading into these factors placed them as moderately or highly important towards the effectiveness of SPCs. Both groups agreed on the need to be competent in these areas in order to increase the effectiveness of the performance enhancement skills utilized in team consultations.
Differences between Athletes and SPCs Effectiveness Characteristics
Aside from the five-factor solution, exploratory analysis of the athletes' and SPCs' mean scores for each of the 31 CESPCI items regarding degree of effectiveness (see Table 1) showed significant differences on six items (p < .001). These six items included: (1) has competed in the specific sport that they are working with; (2) has previous experience with the sport they are working with; (3) knows the demands of being a student-athlete; (4) is certified to work with athletes on mental skills; (5) has a background as a competitive athlete; and (6) is of the same gender as the sport team they are working with. It is important to note that on all six items, athletes mean ratings for item importance for an effective SPC to possess was higher than the SPCs. It should also be noted that the most important items, when compared to all other items for each of the two groups, were remarkably similar. These findings support earlier research (Martin et al., 1997) and suggest that athletes may prefer at a higher level, an SPC who is most similar to them (e.g., gender and sport experiences) and can relate to them as an athlete, in addition to having had the appropriate and necessary training and certification. Therefore, it would be beneficial for SPCs to note these factors and incorporate them into their professional practice to maximize their effectiveness and marketability.
Implications and Future Directions
Overall, the results of this study can be useful for SPCs wishing to increase the quality and effectiveness of their consultations within athletics. Both the athletes and SPCs surveyed for this study consider specific groups of characteristics, such as Positive Interpersonal Skills, Knowledge, and Sport Culture, as being highly important to the effectiveness of a SPC working with a sport team or individual athlete. Particular attention should be paid to the Positive Interpersonal Skills, Athletic Background, and Professional Status factors for which discrepancies existed between the beliefs of athletes and SPCs. It is important that professionals in the field of sport psychology continually seek to increase the quality and effectiveness of their consultations to benefit the athletes and teams seeking services. Paying attention to these qualities may be one way to improve one's perceived effectiveness and marketability.
More research is needed to examine possible practices SPCs can incorporate into their consultations to meet the expectations athletes have for effective consultants. Additionally, because all of the items on the CESPCI were positively skewed, it is difficult to judge the relative importance placed on these effective SPC characteristics. Therefore, future research should seek to develop a hierarchy that identifies which characteristics are most important to the effectiveness of SPCs working with teams and athletes. With regard to certification and licensure, it would be beneficial to explore the degree of credibility athletes afford SPCs who are AAASP Certified or licensed psychologists. Results could provide validity for certification and serve as an impetus for SPCs to achieve specific levels of professional standing.
Results of the study are limited in that they do not represent athletes participating at all competitive levels (recreational, youth, high school, professional, elite, and Olympic). It is possible that athletes at different competitive levels may perceive different characteristics to be important. Therefore, cross-sectional research may provide us with a more comprehensive picture of the effective characteristics necessary to work with athletes at various competitive levels. Lastly, we sampled athletes participating in Division I and Division II athletics; therefore, results of the study should not be generalized to athletes at the Division III level.
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John R. Lubker
West Texas A&M University
Amanda J. Visek
The George Washington University
John R. Geer
West Virginia University
Jack C. Watson II
West Virginia University
Address Correspondence To: John R. Lubker, Department of Sports and Exercise Sciences, WTAMU Box 60216, Canyon, TX 79016, Phone: 806-651-2370, Fax: 806-651-2379, Email: email@example.com
Table 1. Means and Standard Deviations for Individual Items on the CESPCI Rating Scale. Items Athletes M SD 24. Has competed in specific sport they are working 3.91 1.46 with (a,b) 17. Has previous experience with the sport they are 4.64 1.17 working with (a) 18. Knows the demand of being a student-athlete (a) 5.28 .83 16. Is certified to work with athletes on mental 4.90 1.22 skills (a,b) 23. Has a background as a competitive athlete a, b 4.71 1.09 31. Is of the same gender as your sport team they are 2.54 1.58 working with (a,b) 1. Outgoing 5.10 .95 25. Leads an active lifestyle 4.55 1.09 21. Ability to work well with a team 5.55 .59 5. Friendly (b) 5.56 .64 19. Ability to speak the language of sport 5.08 .99 30. Attractive (b) 2.69 1.63 27. Knows the demands of the sport they are working 5.35 .84 with (b) 3. Intelligent (b) 5.18 .93 4. Confident 5.40 .73 6. Sense of humor 4.92 .93 10. Approachable (b) 5.66 .66 11. Respectful 5.50 .77 14. Is well-trained in sport performance enhancement 5.31 .91 12. Trustworthy (b) 5.70 .68 15. Possess an advanced degree in performance 4.59 1.15 enhancement (b) 9. Honesty 5.46 .80 13. Can maintain confidentiality (b) 5.76 .68 26. Ability to fit into the sport environment (b) 4.92 .82 7. Good communicator 5.62 .67 22. Has knowledge of mental skills to improve sport 5.36 .79 performance (b) 28. Looks physically fit (b) 3.61 1.40 2. Shy 1.65 .90 20. Ability to work well with coaches 4.94 1.07 29. Dresses similar to the coaching staff (b) 2.39 1.41 8. Sensitive 4.58 1.22 Items SPCs M SD 24. Has competed in specific sport they are working 2.74 1.19 with (a,b) 17. Has previous experience with the sport they are 3.68 1.23 working with (a) 18. Knows the demand of being a student-athlete (a) 4.44 .86 16. Is certified to work with athletes on mental 4.08 1.48 skills (a,b) 23. Has a background as a competitive athlete a, b 3.89 1.10 31. Is of the same gender as your sport team they are 1.79 .81 working with (a,b) 1. Outgoing 4.48 .77 25. Leads an active lifestyle 4.03 1.14 21. Ability to work well with a team 5.11 .83 5. Friendly (b) 5.25 .71 19. Ability to speak the language of sport 4.80 .90 30. Attractive (b) 2.41 1.22 27. Knows the demands of the sport they are working 5.10 .77 with (b) 3. Intelligent (b) 4.95 .75 4. Confident 5.24 .64 6. Sense of humor 4.76 .85 10. Approachable (b) 5.61 .61 11. Respectful 5.47 .66 14. Is well-trained in sport performance enhancement 5.32 .90 12. Trustworthy (b) 5.71 .70 15. Possess an advanced degree in performance 4.60 1.15 enhancement (b) 9. Honesty 5.48 .73 13. Can maintain confidentiality (b) 5.80 .52 26. Ability to fit into the sport environment (b) 4.96 .97 7. Good communicator 5.68 .52 22. Has knowledge of mental skills to improve sport 5.47 .70 performance (b) 28. Looks physically fit (b) 3.78 1.11 2. Shy 1.91 1.10 20. Ability to work well with coaches 5.24 .72 29. Dresses similar to the coaching staff (b) 2.79 1.18 8. Sensitive 5.05 .95 (a) Significant Items t-Tests Between Athletes and SPCs, p's <.001 (b) Loading Items Table 2. Item Factor Loadings, Means, and Standard Deviations for the CESPCI Rating Scale. Factor Loadings Items I II III 5. Friendly .551 10. Approachable .616 12. Trustworthy .863 13. Can maintain confidentiality 1.09 28. Looks physically fit .581 29. Dresses similar to the coaching .580 staff 30. Attractive .799 31. Is of the same gender as the sport .569 team they are working with 23. Has a background as a competitive .818 athlete 24. Has competed in the specific sport .732 that they are working with 15. Possesses an advanced degree in performance enhancement 16. Is certified to work with athletes on mental skills 3. Intelligent 22. Knowledge of mental skills to improve sport performance 26. Ability to fit into the sport environment 27. Knows the demands of the sport they are working with Eigenvalues 9.10 3.93 1.78 % of Variance 29.35 12.68 5.74 Cronbach's [alpha] .83 .68 .81 Factor Loadings Items IV V M SD 5. Friendly 5.55 .610 10. Approachable 5.71 .546 12. Trustworthy 5.72 .633 13. Can maintain confidentiality 5.76 .658 28. Looks physically fit 3.59 1.42 29. Dresses similar to the coaching 2.39 1.40 staff 30. Attractive 2.66 1.61 31. Is of the same gender as the sport 2.54 1.59 team they are working with 23. Has a background as a competitive 4.74 1.09 athlete 24. Has competed in the specific sport 3.96 1.45 that they are working with 15. Possesses an advanced degree in .828 4.62 1.14 performance enhancement 16. Is certified to work with athletes .838 4.98 1.12 on mental skills 3. Intelligent .474 5.17 .925 22. Knowledge of mental skills to .649 5.35 .801 improve sport performance 26. Ability to fit into the sport .546 4.94 .827 environment 27. Knows the demands of the sport .836 5.36 .846 they are working with Eigenvalues 1.54 1.38 % of Variance 4.98 4.44 Cronbach's [alpha] .73 .70…
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Publication information: Article title: Characteristics of an Effective Sport Psychology Consultant: Perspectives from Athletes and Consultants. Contributors: Lubker, John R. - Author, Visek, Amanda J. - Author, Geer, John R. - Author, Watson, Jack C., II - Author. Journal title: Journal of Sport Behavior. Volume: 31. Issue: 2 Publication date: June 2008. Page number: 147+. © 1999 University of South Alabama. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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