Congratulations Graduate: Now the Hard Part

If I could take a time-machine back in time to meet up with my past-self as I was graduating with my master’s degree in sport psychology – here’s the advice I’d give myself:
Everyone wants to go to “heaven” in this field, no one wants to die. There is a lot of work to do between where you are now in sport psychology and where you want to be in sport psychology someday down the road. If you’re really serious about sport psychology consulting, get into the habit of thinking about sport psychology/mental skills training every day – find ways to write about mental skills training and sport psychology (submit articles to coaching journals/magazines; start a sport psychology blog); offer to speak at coaching symposiums/conferences; attend regional and national sport psychology conferences; speak at local youth camps. Is any of this glamorous of high-profile? Not necessarily. Sound hard? Why yes, yes it is. However, all of these keep you connected to the field but also help you develop your practice/philosophy.
You gotta walk the talk. Everything that is true for enhancing athlete performance is true for consultant performance. We talk about athletes being focused and ready to perform – we too, have to focused and ready to perform when the time comes. To be effective, we have to model what we are teaching – whether that be confidence, concentration, or mental toughness. There will be times when you start a presentation to a group only to have a landscaping crew start leaf-blowing just outside the room where you’re talking. There might be a last-minute change of plan and you might be asked to give a talk to swimmers on the deck of the pool. Athlete can’t fake good thinking when things don’t go as planned and neither can sport psychology professionals. We must live what we teach.

Remember – Word of Mouth is golden. The coaching community in any sport is close-knit and well-connected. Coaches talk to other coaches. Word of your good-work at a camp presentation or with a team during the season will make its way through coaching-circles. Word of your poor or ineffective work will get around too.

Be able to articulate the “What” and the “How” of mental skills training. During my internships in graduate school, I was lucky to be placed with teams and coaches who already understood mental skills training and how it could fit into their daily/monthly training plans. Out in the “real-world” this is simply not the case most of the time. I’ve met a lot of coaches who recognize the importance of the mental side of their sport – they just don’t know how they would fit this into their practice schedule. A big challenge for the young consultant is to articulate to coaches/organizations just how mental training could be incorporated into their training program.

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