Top sports psychologist fears impact of ‘unqualified’ advice

One of the country’s top sports psychologists has claimed intercounty GAA players and other elite Irish athletes are receiving advice on mental preparation from unqualified people.

Nollaig O’Sullivan, who is accredited by the Irish Institute of Sport, is concerned that many of those dispensing advice to sports people may have “no background in psychology.”

And O’Sullivan feels that the lack of expertise could do long-term damage. “That’s the only fear that I have. That you have people who will do a Masters in sports psychology but they have no background in psychology.

“My background is four years of psychology, then I did two year Masters and then you do two to three years of applied. But you have people going in just doing one Masters, they have no background (in psychology) and then they come out. They could hurt players. Mentally they could hurt players.

Alarm bells

“If I met an athlete in the morning and alarm bells rang about their mental health, straight away I’d go ‘I’m going to refer you to someone else’.

“You wouldn’t go and delve into that because that’s a different specialist area.”

She says that asking people to set performance goals could have a negative impact in certain situations, something that those without enough knowledge of the subject may not even recognise.

“You’re asking them to set all these goals, but they have all these other things going on. If they’re not achieving these small goals, that’s only building on what they would perceive as a failure already.”

“Whereas other people who wouldn’t understand that might turn around and go ‘come on, we’ll set these goals, of course, you can achieve it’.”

She added: “I think a lot of people have ‘the speak’. They know the media, they know the buzzwords. Resilience is a current one, resilience will be the next term that’s going to be used for the next two to three years.”

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