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Supervision and Consultation in Exercise and Sport Psychology

This section provides information about supervision and consultation for people interested in, or working in, exercise and sport psychology, such as those who are:

  • expanding a general psychology practice to include athlete clients

  • recent graduates starting to do applied work in exercise and sport psychology

  • students in exercise and sport psychology

  • exercise scientists working with athletes

  • working on completing the practicum requirements for Certified Consultant, Association of Applied Sport Psychology

Why Seek Exercise and Sport Psychology Supervision and Consultation?
  • The primary reason for individuals to seek supervision is to help insure the health, welfare, and happiness of clients.

  • A secondary, but still extremely important, function of supervision is to help professionals and students grow as psychologists and counselors. Practitioners function in an ethical manner when they use supervision to become even more competent at what they do.

  • Supervision is one method for licensed psychologists to gain expertise in the specialization of sport psychology in order to ethically use the title “sport psychologist.” The APA ethical standards suggest that psychologists work in areas that are within their boundaries of competence as defined by their education, training, consultation, and supervision (APA, 2002).

  • Supervised experience is a requirement for certain certifications (e.g., Certified Consultant, Association of Applied Sport Psychology [AASP]). Members of AASP may seek this Certified Consultant status if they meet the requirements of education and practice.

  • Supervised experience may be required of students in order to fulfill practicum requirements in their graduate degree programs.

  • Consultation (the process of meeting with peers to discuss treatment methodologies) can help practitioners maintain and enhance their skills, manage difficult clients, and adhere to the ethical principles of the discipline.

What Makes Sport Psychology Different?

Although the practice of sport psychology has many similarities to other areas of psychology, there are also many differences. These differences often create difficult ethical decisions, and supervision is an excellent place to discuss issues such as:

  • traveling with teams

  • being seen in public with clients

  • consulting with coaches and athletes simultaneously

  • communicating frequently with clients over long distances

  • working with high-profile clients

  • managing confidentiality in an athletic system

  • dealing with both performance and clinical issues

  • consulting with multiple professionals (e.g., athletic trainers, physicians) for service delivery

Supervision Defined

Supervision is a professional activity in which a person with more experience and training in a specific domain oversees the work of another who has less experience in that area. The primary goal of supervision is to ensure client welfare. A second goal of supervision is to provide a forum for interaction designed to help the supervisee gain more expertise in the form of skills and knowledge by drawing upon the supervisor’s feedback and advice. Supervisors may also make formal evaluations of their supervisees’ functioning. The supervisee may then submit this appraisal as part of an application for licensure or certification. In some settings, the supervisor is legally responsible for the supervisee’s decisions and actions regarding clients, as in some states where a licensed psychologist may be held liable for a supervisee’s actions related to clients.

Distinguishing between Supervision, Consultation and Teaching

Supervision is a vital component of training in many disciplines. Supervisors often act as gatekeepers to a profession by making sure that people are competent and safe to work in a specific profession. Supervisors work closely with supervisees to resolve problems, raise competence levels, and discuss alternatives when needed. If supervisees are unwilling or unable to perform competently when provided with adequate opportunity and supervision, supervisors’ ethical responsibilities generally include turning individuals away from the field, or even reporting them to licensing boards or association ethics committees.

Supervision may be primarily distinguished from consultation in that a consultant assesses a situation and provides suggestions to help a person or organization function better within a specific setting. The consultant may also provide ongoing appraisal of the consultee’s functioning. However, the consultant’s suggestions do not need to be heeded by the consultee. For this reason, consultants generally have less exposure to legal liability for the actions of their consultees than do supervisors.

Supervision is similar to teaching in that a teacher shares expertise about a specified subject for the benefit of students. A teacher may be evaluated upon his or her merits and may provide an appraisal of a student’s learning or participation in the form of a grade. The primary distinction between teaching and supervision, however, is the extent to which a supervisor may be expected to serve as a gatekeeper for a profession and is held legally accountable for the actions of a supervisee.

Whom Do I Ask to Supervise My Applied Sport Psychology Work?

Psychologists usually seek supervision from a psychologist with expertise, training, and knowledge in sport psychology (go to “Become a ExSptPsy Professional” on this website). Supervision from recognized authorities in sports professions (e.g., mental training, sports medicine) can also offer substantial learning opportunities for psychologists.

Students seeking supervision to fulfill the requirements of their degree program and/or a certification or licensing body (e.g., APA, American Counseling Association, AASP) should select supervisors whose credentials are consistent with those required by their institutions and the licensing bodies that prevail over the area in which they desire to practice.

What is a Good Service Delivery Model for Supervision?

Experts in the supervision of psychotherapy recommend that a supervisor and supervisee create a written contract that states in detail the nature of the supervision relationship (Cleghorn & Levin, 1973). Elements in this contract might include:

  • the frequency of meetings and how they will be conducted (face-to-face, by telephone, via e-mail or some combination)

  • the type of supervision (i.e., individual or group supervision or some combination)

  • how the supervisee’s work will be made available to the supervisor (e.g., self-report, written case notes, audio or videotapes, or whether the supervisor will observe the supervisee in person),

  • the evaluation process

  • the fees. Supervision by someone outside of one’s educational institution often requires payment for services rendered. This fee should be agreed upon prior to starting the supervision

The goals of supervision should also be spelled out (Andersen, 2005; Cleghorn & Levin, 1973). Sample goals might include:

  • providing feedback to the supervisee about his or her choice of strategies

  • measuring the supervisee’s progress in acquiring skills in order to successfully manage relationships with coaches

  • increasing the supervisee’s knowledge of a particular sport

Although sport psychology supervision may not involve the same type of supervisee self-exploration or self-disclosure that psychotherapy supervision usually entails, supervision should help supervisees become aware of clinical issues that an athlete may present, and the ethical problems and cross-cultural considerations that can occur in sport psychology consulting.

What Does Good Sport Psychology Supervision Look Like?

Good supervision involves a balance between a supervisor’s didactic instruction, his or her feedback to the supervisee, and the supervisee’s active participation in applying the targeted skills with clients and reporting the outcomes (Kaslow, 1986). A feedback loop is thus generated and its momentum is sustained by the supervisee’s questions and the supervisor’s on-point inquiries (Holloway & Neufeldt, 1995).

The length of the supervision process is often determined by the number of hours of experience needed by the student or professional to fulfill a requirement determined by the degree program or the certification or licensing body. The number of hours and type of supervision required is also often determined by the program, certifying, or licensing board. For example, a common suggestion for supervision might be one hour of face-to-face supervision for every ten to fifteen hours that the supervisee spends in specific activities (Baird, 2005). Many sport and exercise psychologists continue their supervision/consultations throughout their careers as a means of personal development.

Good supervision begins with a clear understanding of each party’s expectations for the other, and with a defined time frame specifying the approximate date of termination (Baird, 2005). This process may be difficult to set in place for those individuals who are already licensed or certified and are trying to increase their competence in a specific area. The process is most effective when meetings occur on a consistent basis, expectations are met by both supervisor and supervisee, and any problems that arise are addressed promptly and in a straightforward manner (Haber, 1996).

How Can a Supervisor Be Found?

Contacting college or university faculty to find a supervisor in psychology or sport psychology is a good place to start. Asking peers for a referral may also be an effective strategy. Requests for supervision may be made directly to particular individuals or posted on the Division 47 listserve (see “About Division 47” on this website for more information). Some certifying organizations provide a list of those who have met certain requirements themselves and are available to provide supervision. Visit AASP for additional information.

How Students Can Derive the Greatest Benefit from Supervision

Supervisors differ in their supervision styles and theoretical orientations. Some supervisors may be quite formal, whereas others may be willing to share personal experiences concerning their learning through their own mistakes. Supervisors may also, by virtue of their area of practice, offer specialized knowledge, or access, which may be of value to a particular student. To meet graduation requirements, it is important for students to secure supervision from a professional whose credentials and experience are approved by the student’s educational institution. At times students need to communicate with their supervisors about difficult subjects (e.g., mistakes, weaknesses, countertransferential responses). Therefore, comfort with a supervisor is also an important consideration in obtaining supervision.

As noted in the section above describing a model for service delivery, a contract for supervision, can help clarify the purpose and parameters of supervision. Actively participating in the supervision process, through focused attention, raising questions, and initiating discussion, helps make the experience a richer one for the supervisee (Haber, 1996).

What to do if the Supervision Process Is Not Working

Some signs that the process may have broken down are a supervisor:

  • missing meetings

  • appearing to be bored

  • appearing hostile or aggressive

Or the supervisee:

  • feeling uncomfortable with a supervisor’s off-color, inappropriate, or discriminatory remarks

  • not feeling comfortable sharing pertinent information because of fear of poor evaluation

  • not growing professionally

Providing feedback to supervisors is important. Advice from a trusted teacher or professional may help supervisees gain the encouragement needed to address concerns. Supervision can proceed if perceived problems are adequately resolved. Should a satisfactory resolution fail to occur, the supervisee would be wise to terminate the process and seek supervision from another professional. Under some extreme situations, it may also be appropriate to report such problems to an educational institution or a state or organizational ethics board.

Final Thoughts

Supervision is a process from which one can draw upon the expertise and “in the trenches” knowledge of a seasoned professional. This experience is essential for the development of competence in one’s practice of sport psychology. For the person providing the supervision, the process also offers an opportunity for sharing, as well as personal development through the act of service. It should be noted that even experienced sport psychologists often continue to use supervision and/or peer consultations to enhance their services throughout their careers.

For additional information about sport psychology visit the Association of Applied Sport Psychology.

To join APA Division 47, you must be a member or affiliate of APA and request Division 47 affiliation.


APA Division Services
Telephone: (202) 336-6197
Fax: (202) 218-3599

Date created: 2011
Division 47 committees