Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Career advice: want to be a sports psychologist?

Dr Joy Bringer is a Sport Psychologist, working full-time with elite athletes and coaches at Sport Wales in Cardiff. She is a Chartered Psychologist and is accredited to the High Performance Sport level with the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences 

Joy Bringer
Sport Wales' Dr Joy Bringer

In her role, she has travelled to the Athens and Beijing Paralympic Games supporting British athletes. She has also been an integral member of Team Wales at the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games.
We managed to catch up with her to get some career advice for those who fancy a career as a sport psychologist...

What made you decide on a career in sports psychology?
I first learned about the field of sport psychology, when I was completing my undergraduate degree in psychology at Pepperdine University in California. Pursuing a career in sport psychology was a great way to combine my love of sport and my ambition to help others.
How would you define sports psychology?
Sport psychology is the study of psychological principles applied to sport. It is actually a very broad area of study which can include looking at ways to improve an individual’s performance (for example, an athlete, a coach, a team manager, or even a referee), a team’s performance, or indeed the whole sporting organisation. Some researchers study what motivates people to get involved in sport and continue to participate, which is very important from a national health perspective. In terms of elite sport, researchers look at what will help athletes and coaches excel at their sport, and applied sport psychologists help athletes and coaches put this into practice.
How did you get into it?
 I was encouraged to present my undergraduate dissertation on coach feedback at a student conference, which made my application stronger when I applied to study for my master’s degree at the University of Oregon. My master’s degree programme was focused on teaching us about the theory of sport psychology and how to become good researchers.
There was no structure for gaining applied experience. However, for those students who were motivated to work in sport, the professors did provide guidance. I had worked in tennis previously, so I approached the university tennis coach and offered to help out. I worked 20+ hours a week, doing anything from feeding balls, to evaluating matches, to helping with admin, and reviewing applications from prospective players. I was also able to put into practice some of the ideas that I was learning about during my sport psychology course.
After completing my master’s degree, I answered an advert to complete a PhD at the University of Gloucestershire. In addition to doing the research required for the PhD, I completed three years of supervised experience to become a British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences applied sport scientist. As my area of expertise was in sport psychology, I felt that it was important for me to able to call myself a sport psychologist (which is a protected title) so I also made sure that my training would prepare me to become a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society and register as a practicing Sport Psychologist with the Health Professions Council.
What do you do now? 
I have been working at Sport Wales as a Senior Sport Psychologist since 2003, helping elite athletes and their coaches train and perform better. When I start working with a sport, athlete, or coach, we will go through a process of a “needs analysis” where we will identify areas where improvements might be made. This could include teaching skills such as goal setting, refocussing strategies, imagery, and managing emotions.
I work within a team of sport scientists and sports medicine providers, so whenever possible I link in with the other support staff. For example, if an athlete wants to improve concentration during competition, the performance nutritionist will work with the athlete to develop an appropriate nutrition plan for competition days, and I will help the athlete with refocussing strategies.
What do you enjoy about it?
I love working with highly motivated sports people who are striving to perform better.
What would your advice be to anyone thinking of becoming a sport psychologist?
Currently, if you want to be an applied sport psychologist, you must complete a Health Professions Council (HPC) approved programme of training and successfully register with the HPC. Anyone wanting to become an applied sport psychologist should start by reading the advice on the websites for the British Association for Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES), the British Psychological Society (BPS), and the Health Professions Council (HPC) to learn about what qualifications are required. Then, speak to those already working in the field.
Find out what the current job market is and learn about the career paths for applied sport psychologists, academic lecturers, and researchers in sport psychology.  Seeking out opportunities to volunteer or work in sport, whether it is through coaching or other roles, is a great way to make contacts and find out whether or not the hours and the environment suit the way you want to work.
The Sport Wales website gives lots more information about volunteering and you can sign up to get involved today!
Any myths about it?
In the past, some athletes thought sport psychology was only needed if something was wrong with them. Fortunately, most athletes and coaches now value the input sport psychologist can have in terms of improving preparation and performance. For example, sport psychologists can play a major role in helping athletes, coaches, team managers, and support staff to anticipate and respond better to pressures that might occur during the upcoming London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. 
If you want to find out more about becoming a sport psychologist, the following links might be helpful: