Sport psychology service provision: preferences for consultant characteristics and mode of delivery among elite malaysian athletes.

Author:Ponnusamy, Vellapandian
Position:Research article - Report


Effective delivery of sport psychology services requires that consideration be given to numerous personal, interpersonal, and situational factors. A variety of service delivery models have been developed in an effort to account for these factors (e.g., Hardy and Parfitt, 1994; Perna et al., 1995; Taylor, 1995). One of the more comprehensive frameworks along these lines has been proposed by Poczwardowski and colleagues (Poczwardowski and Sherman, 2011; Poczwardowski et al., 1998). In its original form, this sport psychology service delivery (SPSD) heuristic outlined 11 important considerations for designing, implementing, and evaluating psychological services for athletes (Poczwardowski et al., 1998). These considerations included: professional philosophy, training, and boundaries; making contact and gaining entry; preliminary assessment of needs; conceptualization of underlying issues and potential interventions; deciding on the range, type, and organization of services; implementing the program; managing the self as an element of the process; evaluating the program and the consultant; reflecting on the process and drawing conclusions; and organizing withdrawal.

In a more recent elaboration of the SPSD (Poczwardowski and Sherman, 2011), these consultancy issues have been organized under the higher-level themes of "service foundation" and "service process An additional higher-order theme, "working alliance", was also added to account for three important factors that were not part of the original model. These factors were client variables, consultant variables, and the consultant-client relationship. Immersion (e.g., long-term involvement, attending practices and competitions, traveling with the competitors) and goodness-of-fit (e.g., knowing the sport and its vocabulary, matching of consultant skills and athlete needs) were also acknowledged as important elements of the consultancy process. In this study, we address consultant variables and consultant-client interaction processes that may influence goodness-of-fit and therefore the effectiveness of sport psychology service delivery, but we do so from a cultural values perspective.

Consultant characteristics and behaviors

Prior investigations have shown that, at a global level, effective consultants are those who are perceived by athletes and coaches to be professionally trained, knowledgeable and experienced, flexible in their approach, good listeners and communicators, and interested in the personal welfare of the athlete (Andersen, 2000; Lubker et al., 2012; Orlick and Partington, 1987; Partington and Orlick, 1987; Yukelson, 2001). In addition, athletes and coaches want consultants to provide concrete, practical advice that they can understand and use in specific performance contexts (Anderson et al., 2004; Gentner et al., 2004; Partington and Orlick, 1991). "Fitting-in" and genuine acceptance by the athlete or team is a crucial element of being able to provide such advice (Gould et al., 1991). Fit and acceptance, in turn, can be influenced by a number of personal qualities and behaviors such as having prior experience as an athlete or coach (Lubker et al., 2008; Lubker et al., 2012; Orlick, 1989), leading a physically active lifestyle (Lubker et al., 2008; Lubker et al., 2005), being the same gender as the athlete or the team (Lubker et al., 2008; Martin et al., 2001; Van Raalte et al., 1990), regular involvement in training sessions and competitions (Andersen et al., 2001; Poczwardowski and Sherman, 2011), and demonstrating a long-term commitment to the athlete or team (Hardy et al., 1996; Orlick and Partington, 1987; Partington and Orlick, 1987; Partington and Orlick, 1991).

Consultant-client interaction

Acceptance, goodness-of-fit, and effective delivery can also be influenced by service process variables and their impact on interaction processes (Poczwardowski and Sherman, 2011). Relevant service process issues include: the determination of program content and focus; the balance of group interaction, individual interaction, and self-instruction; and the overall structure of the intervention. With respect to program content, there is a general consensus that a predetermined, "one-size fits all" approach rarely produces optimal results (Gould et al., 1989; Hill, 1993; Whelan et al., 1995). Consequently, athlete involvement in determining intervention content has been advocated as a way of increasing perceived relevance, enhancing commitment, and achieving desirable outcomes (Hays et al., 2010; Jones, 1993; Mellalieu et al., 2009). At the same time, accurate identification of core issues (and the corresponding program elements) also requires consultant-centered judgments based on professional knowledge and experience (Gardner and Moore, 2004; Poczwardowski and Sherman, 2011). Thus, an appropriate balance needs to be obtained between these two sources of input.

Similarly, there is a general consensus that the combined use of group-level, individual-level, and self-instructional activities will contribute to effective service delivery (Anderson et al., 2004; Orlick, 1989; Perna et al., 1995; Weinberg, 1994). However, contextual and subcultural values can influence the extent to which each of these interaction modes is considered acceptable, thereby altering the appropriate mix (Hanson and Ravizza, 2003; Loehr, 1990). Finally, it is clear that effective service delivery usually involves a long-term commitment to and involvement with the athlete or team (Anderson et al., 2004; Fifer et al., 2008; Orlick and Partington, 1987). At the same time, there is evidence that benefits can be obtained either with a regular and continuous structure (Bull, 1995; Fournier et al., 2005; Galloway, 2007; Gardner and Moore, 2004) or with a cyclical structure involving a heavy emphasis on selected mental training issues at specific points in time (Blumenstein et al., 2005; Holliday et al., 2008; Lidor et al., 2007).

Cultural and subcultural considerations

Clearly, there is considerable scope for further investigation of the consultant variables and service process variables that might influence acceptance, goodness-of-fit, and the working alliance between consultants and their clients. In doing so, contextual issues related to cultural and subcultural values should be considered (Ryba et al., 2013; Schinke et al., 2012). For example, it is well known that national cultures vary on important dimensions that determine the nature and type of interaction with other individuals (Hofstede, 1997, 2001; Schwartz, 1999). Effective service delivery therefore requires a flexible approach based on people in relation to their background, experiences, and cultural identity (Martens et al., 2000). However, much of the research examining sport psychology service delivery has been conducted within a traditional Western values framework, and there appears to be an assumption that the findings will apply across-the-board. Such an assumption may not be valid, so a broader perspective is needed (Fisher et al., 2003; Kontos and Breland-Noble, 2002; Ryba et al., 2013; Schinke et al., 2012). This broader perspective should include consideration of both the value orientations of the larger national culture and the value orientations within specific sport subgroups (Si et al., 2011; Ryba et al., 2013; Schinke et al., 2012). An important contributor to subcultural values is the nature of the sport. Differences in traditions, performance demands, and interaction requirements across sports can influence the perceived appropriateness of service delivery procedures as well as beliefs about the type of person who should be providing them (Hanson and Ravizza, 2003; Loehr, 1990; Taylor, 1995).

In this study, we focus specifically on the delivery of sport psychology services to elite Malaysian athletes, and we examine the extent to which preferred consultant characteristics and modes of delivery are consistent with general value themes within Malaysian society-at-large. At the same time, we explore the logical possibility that this consistency will be especially apparent when subcultural values...

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