Sport and exercise psychology has traditionally been understood to consist of a set of skills and theoretical underpinnings distanced from culture. These skills have been taught in postsecondary educational settings and presented in authoritative textbooks. Although readers might not at first recognize what rests beneath the surface of these writings, a closer look suggests that they are in fact culturally informed and in relation to one culture, suggestive of a very specific cultural competence, loosely referred to as European in origin. Thus, the practitioner or researcher who works within a group that conforms to mainstream cultural practices is engaged in culturally competent work, intended only for that population.
Culturally Competent Practice
Sport and exercise psychologists are becoming increasingly open to cultural sport psychologies whose approaches account for cultural uniqueness, in place of a single monolithic cross-cultural approach. There is now a greater understanding among a growing number of scholars in sport science that what motivates athletes and exercisers, in part, pertains to their cultural socialization. Underpinning much of the discussion of cultural sport psychology is the search for culturally relevant strategies for practitioners and researchers, targeting discrete groups and better understanding each group’s uniqueness.
Cultural competence involves a narrower approach than multicultural competence, with one’s focus placed upon what defines a given culture in terms of conventional practices. One might seek to become culturally competent in terms of the general practices of American Indians, Latin Americans, Indo-Canadians, Muslims in Kuwait, or another general grouping of people, residing in a geographic region at a specific moment in time (current practices). One might also seek to learn the current religious practices of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or Buddhism, generally, in advance of working with athletes who actively practice any of the above sets of beliefs.
Within sport and exercise psychology, the onus is on the practitioner and researcher to seek an understanding of the cultural other, partly in advance of consultation, and partly through an open exchange with the client and astute observation for confirmation of what ought to be appropriate cultural practices. There are several general dimensions that are found within cultural competency training. Included among these criteria are (a) what constitutes appropriate use of physical space between people during formal and informal conversations; (b) whether time is regarded in terms of a clock (clock-based time) or an event (event-based time); (c) whether university education, life education, or both types of learning are regarded as creditable; (d) eating practices; (e) appropriate dress; (f) views of gender definition, and on a continuum; (g) the practice of sustained or averted eye contact; (h) where a group resides in terms of individualism to collectivism; and (i) how often one should speak or listen within a conversation—contingent upon the nature of the discussion and one’s place within.
Courses are often provided for professionals to inform them what constitutes culturally competent behavior. A common belief is that after one has completed a formal cultural competence education module, one has gained the necessary cultural skills to conduct appropriate cultural practices with competence. However, taking a course to learn the tenets of cultural competence is only the start of a larger educational process in which one seeks to hone the necessary skills and then correctly support the cultural identity of one’s client base. Hence, application of the educational module and the successful integration of the teachings determine whether one is effectively skilled and thus culturally competent.
Within sport and exercise psychology research, there are also important cultural practices that must inform a culturally competent exchange, building on the aforementioned dimensions. Specific methodologies might lend themselves more closely to the general tenets of a given culture. For example, within a collectively minded culture, the use of participatory action research might feature appropriate consultation processes and engaged group discussion. Research protocols might also require a feast in advance of data collection. One’s methods might also vary depending on the cultural group in question. For example, the researcher might use talking circles in place of conventional focus groups when engaging with select indigenous populations. Writing practices might also vary from a conventional presentation of data to storied writings and teachings, reflecting the cultural practices of the participants and their cultural community. Cultural competence within research contexts, then, must permit opportunities to feature participant-relevant practices, leading to the featuring of diverse perspectives and voices as opposed to cultural silencing.
Cultural competence denotes a general approach intended to provide researchers and practitioners with a set of useful rules in advance of work with a population unfamiliar to them. The understanding and honing of these skills is meant to undergird approaches to communication, the selection of appropriate motivational skills, and also investigative techniques. These general strategies are intended as a platform upon which specific culturally safe practices are negotiated with the intended audience. The dialectic between cultural competence and cultural safety fosters what becomes the meaningful approach, developed to centralize the identity of the client or the participant.
- American Psychological Association. (2002). Guidelines on multicultural education, training, research, practice, and organizational change for psychologists. Washington, DC: Author.
- Kontos, A. P., & Breland-Noble, A. M. (2002). Racial/ ethnic diversity in applied sport psychology: A multicultural introduction to working with athletes of color. The Sport Psychologist, 16, 296–315.
- Martens, M. P., Mobley, M., & Zizzi, S. J. (2000). Multicultural training in applied sport psychology. The Sport Psychologist, 14, 81–97.
- Riggs, D. W. (2004). Challenging the monoculturalism of psychology: Towards a more socially accountable pedagogy and practice. Australian Psychologist, 39, 118–126.