I had a conversation about my last post (So-Called Mental Skills Coaches) with a colleague in England and a number of points came up that may be worth sharing.
Basically, the “sniffiness” of sports psychologists regarding “mental skills coaches” is part of a longstanding dispute regarding qualifications. Basically, those who have them, want to keep “the bums out of the racket.” In other words, they worked hard for their credentials, why should someone who hasn’t done that work be given a pass?
There is a story about one of my political heroes, Clarence Darrow, a lawyer who defended the weak and poor often enough. As a prominent lawyer, he was involved in administering the bar exam to prospective lawyers, a test that, if passed, allowed that person to legally practice law in that state. There was a short, somewhat obnoxious candidate, who failed his first attempt miserably, failed his second attempt, and barely squeaked by with a pass on his third attempt. Hearing that he had passed the attempt this person strutted about, trying out his new found prominence. Darrow looked down his nose at the man and said, “I suppose you will be all in favor of raising standards now?” (This is from memory, don’t quote me on this.)
This is a well trod battlefield, the field of contentious qualifications. Some of these “standards” of preparation get made into laws (not surprising for the lawyers). Others are more relaxed.
The profession of “mental skills coach” is now growing. If it were to be squelched because those people “lacked the qualifications of sport psychologists,” it may never get off of the ground, so I am not in favor of that. The story of Lanny Bassham is illustrative.
Lanny Bassham is a mental skills coach, effectively. He makes no bones about not being a “sport psychologist,” he states this explicitly. When Lanny got his business going (Mental Management Systems), sport psychology didn’t exist per se. Sport psychology only began in earnest in the 1970’s but because there is an existing discipline (psychology), it could establish itself as a concentration of study under the pre-existing topic, rather having to create an entirely new academic subject. Lanny refers to himself as a “performance enhancement specialist.”
If you are unfamiliar with Lanny’s story, here it is in a nutshell. Lanny went to the Olympic games in 1972 as a rifle shooter. He shot very poorly, but ended up with a silver medal. He had never shot before spectators of any number, but that in his mind couldn’t have been the cause of his poor performance. Because he had an Olympic medal, he had a certain standing amongst successful Olympians, so he set himself the task to find out from them what the secrets of performing at the highest levels were from that group of athletes.
He found that the common thread that bound together the winners was certain mental attributes that he now teaches. But all he had were interview notes and a program based upon those that was not very well developed yet. So, he set about training himself using his new found insights and two years later went to the shooting world championships, in which he entered a ridiculous number of events, winning most of them while setting a few world records on the way. He then went back to the Olympics in 1976 and took gold.
Lanny Bassham tested his new ideas to see if they could effect the performance of an elite rifle shooter, himself, and found they worked very, very well. Lanny is in the shooting hall of fame.
Lanny basically has offered to share his insights, gained in this manner, with others. Anyone who claims he should not do that because he is “not qualified” is an idiot.
Eventually we will have better training programs for the mental game of archery and some certifications (this is happening now, I have asked some people to write about that topic for Archery Focus) but until then we will have uncertainty as to who is qualified to help athletes with the mental games of our sports. And, I suppose we will have quotation marks around mental skills coach for a while longer.
Postscript I endorse Lanny Bassham’s insights, personally, and have recommended his book, With Winning in Mind, to thousands of archers and coaches as an excellent entry into the mental game of archery.