Resilience, mental toughness, tenacity, perseverance, and hope. All words that most Sport Psychologists are intimately familiar with, usually as a result of teaching others how best to keep moving forward in the face of adversity. What I did not anticipate however, was how essential all these traits would be during my enrolment onto the Qualification in Sport and Exercise Psychology Stage 2 (QSEP2). For those who don’t know, the QSEP 2 is the final stage of training for those on the road to becoming a Sport and Exercise Psychologist accredited with the British Psychological Society (BPS), the Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC); and the Acronym Overuse Society (AOS) – just kidding.
In order to qualify as an accredited Sport and Exercise Psychologist, candidates must demonstrate their competency through assessments, career development, reflections, doctoral level research, a viva, and a significant amount of Sport psych consultation, planning, communication and presentation time over 2+ years. Often this all comes with a part-time job on the side as the course is self-funded and having a constant stream of clients is not always possible.
So, considering I've only just got on this challenging course, why am I writing about – and referring to – the application process as a journey? Because as with any good journey it’s long, challenging, full of learning moments, and ultimately rewarding.
Leaving a Masters you can often wonder which direction do I take now?
The first hurdle most will face is finding a supervisor who ideally you can work well alongside, is near enough for face to face meetings, and who may be able to provide a placement opportunity for you to gain working experience. The BPS provide a handy website (www.bps.org.uk/lists/rapps/search) for finding potential supervisors, but unfortunately there isn’t a huge list to choose from. When I began looking for a supervisor there were under 50 potential supervisors on the registry in the whole of the UK. Initially I kept my search to the south as I live that way, however after contacting eight southern-based supervisors, only one of which was accepting new supervisees, I decided to expand my search. Eventually I settled on a supervisor who I had worked with during my Masters degree at Loughborough and who was happy to meet both in person and via web call. This was the first learning point for me as I enrolled, that I would have to come to terms with long commutes and dodgy internet connections on calls if I was to gain the experience and supervision required. I will admit here that, perhaps naively, I had assumed there would be far more supervisors taking on new trainees near London than in fact there were.
If nothing else, the enrolment process can serve as a big reality-check. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case you can leave university with a master’s degree and jump straight into work as a Trainee Sport Psych with any top tier sport team; unless you are very well connected, or you are lucky enough to have a supervisor that can provide a placement for you. Which leads me to the next hurdle: finding a placement opportunity, let alone one willing to pay.
Personally, one of the toughest aspects of the enrolment process I found was finding a placement that’s a good fit for your experience needs, is willing to allow you to work with their team and are happy to pay for (at minimum) your travel costs incurred whilst helping the team. Unfortunately, as in wider sport, the landscape is awash with teams and coaches looking for free support due to tight budgets, or the more successful organisations offering volunteer roles as competition for a foot in the door at the top level is fierce. Ultimately, after talks with established Sport Psychologists I found the perception to be that working for free can undermine the value of the profession on the whole and that where possible this should be avoided, however the reality is that if you want a convenient, appropriate and relatively stress-free placement process then offering services for free (initially) is a pragmatic way in.
Unfortunately for myself and many others however, it’s simply unaffordable to work for free. Which in my case led to over 30 rejections, of which eight were promising leads, and of those eight only one was willing to complete the paperwork required by the BPS to provide me a placement. For me, this whole process took nine months to complete fully which when starting out after my masters was something I had never expected. However, this process was extremely valuable in testing my resilience, reinforcing the belief that this career truly is where I want to be, and in teaching me lots about the inner workings of various teams whether that be internal politics and red-tape challenges, or their perception of sport psychology overall.
One thing I would say to anyone looking to start to try and gain a placement in a realistic timeframe, is to always call people rather than email where you can and try to set up face to face meetings. I found it much easier to explain the aims and potential benefits of Sport Psychology and gain positive responses when talking face to face over a coffee, than when compared to email where, for busy coaches, your message can get lost in the crowd.
Another valuable skill the process of sourcing a placement taught me was the ability to ‘sell yourself’ to a potential club whilst maintaining ethical principles. It can be easy when trying to gain interest from potential clients to promise the world and suggest you will improve performance, however if you don’t manage expectations from the get-go you may be shooting yourself in the foot when a client comes to you and expects to magically improve their performance, and you then have an uphill battle explaining that Sport Psychology can take time, and doesn’t guarantee anything; especially if the placement are keen to get their ‘money’s worth’.
Now 9 months is a long time to be sourcing potential clients, be rejected, try again and keep trying, so if you have any free-time around that it can be a great opportunity to lay the groundwork ready for when you start. For instance, during the time I was searching for a placement I built a website, designed and printed business cards, researched the QSEP2 paperwork process over and over, read countless papers on sport psychology in practice, got a job to help save for the qualification fees, and engaged with trainees currently on the qualification to gain tips and insight into working in sport psychology. Of course, I’d have preferred not to search for so long but if you find yourself in a similar situation, make the best of it as once you start you may not have the time available to do many of the preparation activities I’ve mentioned above.
To give you some idea of how you can make the QSEP2 work then, I’ll briefly explain my current situation. I now have a placement with a local athletics club two days a week with ad-hoc sessions which can be booked in throughout the week, alongside consultation work with an esports team which is conducted remotely. I also have a part-time job in retail to help with the initial costs, and regularly speak with my supervisor via email and skype since I’m relatively far away for frequent face to face meetings. My work with the club comprises workshops raising awareness of what sport psychology is and how it can potentially benefit the group, working with individual athletes and their parents providing support, and being available at training sessions when required alongside private consultations booked via my website (abbottsportpsy.com).
I’ve written this article as there seems to be a lack of personal accounts of trainees in the early stages of enrolment/pre-enrolment out there to help inform those thinking of joining the QSEP2. I hope this article will help anyone looking to enrol on the QSEP2 understand a little better the processes involved, practical considerations, and the journey embarked upon. I hope I have not scared anyone off, and through conversations with other Sport Psychologists I know I have been a little unlucky in finding a placement, but if my frank account helps prepare anyone for some of the challenges you may face enrolling on the QSEP2 then that can only be a positive.
Some key takeaways:
- Be resilient
- Meet face to face when possible
- Be flexible
- Be patient and use spare time positively
Trainee Sport and Exercise Psychologist