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7 tips sport psychologists need to know about Stage 2

What I wish I knew when I started Stage 2: 7 tips for aspiring sport psychologists

6 min read
  • Sport psychology

Are you an aspiring sport psychologist? Today, our very own Matt Shaw reflects on what he’s learnt from his Stage 2, and what you can learn from it as well…

I have been working with InnerDrive since I finished my MSc in Sport Psychology and have completed my BPS Stage 2 here too. Recently, we have been running CPD webinars for new or early career practitioners, which has made me reflect on where I was when I started Stage 2 vs where I am now, as well as what I have learnt along the way.

So, here’s what I wish I knew before stage 2…

It can feel like a long and winding road

At times, whether during my Undergrad, MSc or my Stage 2, it has felt like a long process. To be honest, I never really thought about Stage 2 during my Undergrad or Masters, so hadn’t really thought about the commitment.

I often talk to my athletes about “bracing yourself” for challenges ahead – and I think doing this ahead of Stage 2 would be helpful in terms of the commitment. But although it feels like a long process, I do think it’s worth it.

In a nice paper about private practice, Jim Taylor says “fast climbs lead to sudden falls” – and I agree. Although it is a big commitment, I feel as though Stage 2 has equipped me with the practical, reflective and research skills I need to establish myself as a practitioner. I also feel as though Stage 2 should be difficult, to set those of us who are committed and competent apart from those who are not.

So, my top tips would be:

  • Brace yourself for the commitment.
  • Try not to compare yourself with others.
  • Be fully aware of what the demands are and how that fits around you.

Is free really free?

What to charge? It’s the classic catch 22: you’re a trainee, so you need the hours, which might mean working for free; but if you work for free, you can’t pay for Stage 2 and can’t complete your training. There are lots of good points to be made for both sides of the pay vs no pay argument. However, I thought I’d offer a different lens to view it through.

Before working closely with the team here, who have tonnes of experience in finance and sales, I’d often not consider factors like travel, buying resources, the cost of my time, any marketing I had done, the planning prior to the session and reflection after the session too. And when you add that up, well, that’s a lot of time.

The reason I say that is because I think it’s an important factor to consider when you want to do work for free. Often, I’d have only considered it as an hour or two of my time. However, the reality is that it’s always more than that. So whilst I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do things for free, I guess I’m saying to be wary of the time that you have to invest, and aware that it’s more than just the session.

So, what does this mean? Well, my top tips would be:

  • Always plan properly for time commitments.
  • Try and ask for pay or expenses – if you don’t ask, you really don’t get!

The customer isn’t always right

At the start of my journey, I was always just so happy to have a client that I’d be happy to work with anyone or agree with the client, their parent or their team in order to keep the peace and not ruffle any feathers.

Whilst I’ve never had any issues myself, I have certainly learnt to say no or disagree with others more often. Not only is it ethical, but it’s also sensible to turn down work outside of your competence. In addition, disagreeing with other people’s points of view about why things are happening or what might help them is also okay. Otherwise it’s easy to find yourself doing work that you know won’t really help or that you don’t value or enjoy.

Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • Reflect on your areas of competence.
  • Be open about what you can and can’t work with.
  • If you know someone is wrong about how you should help an athlete, chose your time well and say it!

Your athletes are not a reflection of you

I used to get drawn into the idea that if I was effective, then my clients would always get better or consistently perform at their best.

Thinking like this is great, especially when things go well. However, when things don’t go well does that mean that you are now bad at your job? Or is it that there are numerous other factors that impact performance?

Whilst we teach our athletes not to get caught on the emotional roller coaster of highs and lows, I think it’s important for us to do the same too. Whilst we are part of the performance pie, and an important part too, there are still lots of other areas that contribute to good and bad performance.

Here’s what I do:

  • Celebrate big and small wins but learn why it’s gone well.
  • Reflect on poor performance when it happens and ask good questions: would I have done anything differently? Could there be an alternative explanation?

It’s okay to say “I dont know”

I always thought that being a good practitioner meant being able to help any athlete in the moment. In his earlier days, my mentor Bradley Busch had a similar thought too. Like me, he thought that with the athlete’s body and my mind, then everything would be good.

However, during the Stage 2 process I’ve learnt that it’s okay not to always have the answers and often more beneficial to say you don’t know but will have a think about it than trying to think of a strategy there and then. With some clients, there is power in asking them about what they think the answer is and guiding them towards an answer instead of just giving one too.

Because of that, I think that doing the following might help:

  • Pause and collect your throughs before giving an answer.
  • Ask to go away and think about it.
  • Ask good questions like “What has worked well in the past?” and “What advice would you give to a younger player?”

Who’s on your team?

Another thing I’ve learnt during Stage 2 is that the people around you are vital. For me, I’ve been lucky to have a great team at InnerDrive to support me as well as my supervisor. Having good people around you helps you learn and grow as a practitioner. Being able to share your experiences with other trainees is important too.

Here, my advice would be to:

  • Find a supervisor that you trust.
  • Interact with others at different stages of training.
  • If possible, try to find a good mentor.

Who are you?

Maybe the most important thing that I wish I reflected on earlier is who I am.

By this I mean what I value, what I believe in and how this plays out in my practice. Having reflected on this over the years, I think I have a good understanding of who I am and what I stand for, which helps me choose how I work and what my sessions look like – which also means I enjoy my work with athletes more. I like to think that being a good practitioner is a reflection of who I am.

So, my advice? Spend some time thinking about it: who are you?

Final thoughts

So there you have it – that’s some of the main stuff that I’ve learnt over the years of Stage 2. Maybe you agree or disagree, but this is where I’m at. I am by no means an expert or the finished product, but that is my experience. It can be a tough place out there, but would I change it? Probably not.

If you ever want to talk to someone about the Stage 2 process or have any questions, then please do get in touch. My personal email is mshaw@innerdrive.co.uk


About the author

Matt Shaw

Matt Shaw

Matt Shaw is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow at The British Psychological Society. In his 5 years of working at InnerDrive, he has delivered hundreds of workshops to teachers and students in schools around the UK. With a background in Sport Psychology, he has helped Team GB athletes medal at the Olympics – experience which he now uses to help students to perform better under the pressure of exams. He is currently writing a book on how to read, understand and use Cognitive Science research to change your mind, working with co-authors Bradley Busch and Edward Watson.

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