Not enough has been written by those in the sports industry (me included) about the support that is required for all of us who support the athletes to perform at their best on and off the track. Sport psychologists tend to work primarily with the athlete directly, and therefore the marketing of sport psychology services typically focuses on what can be done to enhance an athlete’s performance. However, this is an extremely uni-dimensional and isolating approach to athletic performance. All human endeavours require a team effort, and the team that supports the athlete requires support to ensure that they are also performing at their best and contributing their maximum output.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is a Latin phrase, which is literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”. It is frequently associated with the political philosophy of Plato and the problem of political corruption, however it has just has much application to the world of sport where multiple support systems are required for ultimate success.
Support is required for the people supporting the athlete. How do we make sure this support is provided and how do we monitor the quality of the support they are receiving? By support, I do not just mean the coaching and medical support staff, I include family, partners, friends, and colleagues.
Coaches are almost always under enormous pressure to make athletes perform. They are constantly under media, owner, and governing body scrutiny. In addition to the sports science and sports medicine personnel that attend to athletes’ top to toe needs, family members are often unsure of what to say and do to best support their athletic offspring. Partners can find the role of the unconditional supportive spouse extremely straining on their relationship. Friends often lead very ‘normal’ lives and struggle to understand the demands of life as a professional or full-time elite sports person, whilst colleagues sharing similar ambitions have their own performances to consider but can be the richest source of support.
For those who know me and have worked with me this will be no surprise, we all need to work together.
Multidisciplinary work is vital for athletic success as performers and as people, for performance and health. Egos – of which there are no shortage of in elite sport – sometimes need to be ‘left at the door’ when working out how to win a premiership, how to make history with defending a title, or simply how to make a living in this industry that we are all so passionate about. Whether it’s the team around an individual athlete (e.g., tennis, golf, triathlon, athletics) or the team around another team (e.g., football, hockey, rugby), each supportive role will be amplified in their support when a common goal is always front of mind. People who provide supporting roles as sports science and sports medicine professionals are typically very intelligent specialists and so it’s normal for some (or many!) differences of opinion, however the key is that the individual or the team hears one voice from their support team.
I am a true believer that the support around an athlete is one is the biggest indicators of success… This belief means that the support around athletes and the team that the support personnel creates is vital in playing a pivotal role in the likelihood of athlete success. True multidisciplinary work is nowhere near where it could be – it’s the case that the collective is stronger than the individual parts. We as support teams encourage athletes to work this way but in my soon to be 15 years working with elite sport there is still too much of a single discipline approach to working with athletes.
I have the luxury of working with individuals in an environment where we really get to know what works and what doesn’t, and part of that process is encouraging communication with all that are a support to that individual. To-date the best success stories are those where the team is committed to one goal so that whatever turn life takes we unite with that goal in mind, with our egos at the door.
Andrea Furst PhD | Sport & Exercise Psychologist CPsychol
Get in contact with Andrea – firstname.lastname@example.org – to embrace multidisciplinary teamwork. Andrea is based in London and provides both face-to-face and virtual sport psychology services to athletes and their support teams worldwide.