Role of A Sports Psychologist, Louise's interview for the Government jobs website

Louise’s role as a sports psychologist

Read the original interview below.  See the edited interview by visiting  connexions-direct.

Louise Ellis is an accredited sports psychologist who works with professional and amateur sportsmen and women in the UK and overseas to support them with various areas of performance.

How would you outline your role?
LE: My roles vary depending on the sport and the individual athlete. I provide athletes with techniques and training programmes to support with the interaction of the ‘mind to body’ during performance. I have to make sure the athlete fully understands why they are doing it and what the benefits are, so my roles vary from being an educator to counsellor (in the sense of one to one communication), to sports scientist.

What are your main responsibilities and what do you do?
LE: Every athlete strives for performance enhancement, so ultimately that’s one of the areas I focus my work on. The other most common areas I specialise in are removing performance blocks or repetitive patterns, supporting the athlete with injury management and personal development or providing direct mind skills training. The latter might involve training the athlete to use stress management techniques, imagery, improve concentration or anxiety control.

I would say two key responsibilities are trust and confidentiality.  That requires you  to adhere to data protection and not to discuss information about the athlete you are working or even meeting with. It’s important to protect their rights to privacy and leave it up to the athlete about who they inform.

I have a website at louiseellis.com, which I use to explain my services. Sportspeople I have built up trust with have kindly provided feedback through the site so that others can make an informed decision about using me.

What is your working environment like?
LE: I have worked in many sports that I have never performed in, such as show-jumping, boxing and more recently with an aerobatics pilot! So my working environment changes considerably.

Who do you work with?
LE: I work with professional and amateur athletes, coaches, managers, parents and other specialists.

What skills or qualities do you need?
LE: You don’t have to have performed in every sport, but what is absolutely essential is that you understand the mental demands required and you are able to adapt your work so it is effective, safe and can be integrated into the performance environment.

You need to be very driven and motivated, because it takes about seven years to qualify as an accredited sports psychologist in the UK.

You also have to be independent in that quite often you have to make decisions about an athlete on your own. You also need to be a team player and be honest about what you can and can’t do. You have to be a good listener, down to earth and be prepared to mix in if you’re at an athletic venue, which might even involve collecting a few balls or getting drinks or bags in addition to the other work you do.

Why did you choose this type of work?
LE: I was always interested in this subject area from my days at university and also, being an international sportswoman, I appreciated the importance of having a strong mind in competition and how other people in your environment and of course the way you think can affect that.

I surpassed a lot of personal goals when I first started out in hockey, but in my early- to mid-20s, I hit a stale patch. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t hitting the standards, but eventually I found out I had been playing with a fatigue syndrome. There was no support or monitoring that could have helped detect this earlier, and there was no support to help with the transition back into performance. So after that period I got more interested in sport science and sports psychology.

What training have you done?
LE: I did a three-year undergraduate degree in sport and human movement and then a Masters degree in sport and exercise science, focusing on sports psychology.

I also completed the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) qualification to become an accredited sports psychologist, which takes a minimum of three years.

What do you like/dislike about your job?
LE: I don’t dislike anything about being a sports psychologist. There are people out there who are unsure, but all you’re doing is trying to ensure the athlete’s mind, body and environment is in the most productive state to give them the best possible chance of a consistent, high level of performance.

I love working in new sports and environments because often what I learn from one sport, athlete or environment can benefit another athlete in a different sport. The principles can sometimes be the same but you have to be creative in that performance environment which is what I enjoy.

What are the main challenges?
LE: It can be hard to break into some sports – professional football, for example; mainly because there are some coaches who are unsure, this places players at a disadvantage. I also don’t feel that being a woman in a man’s environment has hindered my development in football at all – in fact one professional manager told me he thought the players were more likely to talk to me than a man as they would be less worried about me jeopardising their football position!

Also professional athletes, especially those in the public domain, don’t let people into their world lightly. That’s a challenge, so you must be professional and treat all athletes and people equally and with the same integrity.

Louise’s route

  • A levels
  • International hockey player.
  • Degree in sport and human movement.
  • Masters degree in sport and exercise science (sports psychology).
  • Accreditation through the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences.
  • Sports psychology lecturing posts.
  • Self-employed sports psychologist.

Louise’s tips

  • I’d recommend taking an undergraduate degree in appropriate area (psychology or sports science or combined), followed by a postgraduate degree.
  • You need to register with BASES or the British Psychological Society (BPS) for the accreditation process.

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