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 …
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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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