Sports Consulting

Consulting may be described as a temporary relationship  that  is  developed  when  an  individual  or entity  seeks  information  or  advice.  Consultation may  occur  at  the  individual,  group,  or  organizational  level.  It  is  intended  to  help  the  designated client  function  more  effectively  and  efficiently within a specific setting.

Although consultation is a helping relationship, it differs from psychotherapy, counseling, or coaching along a number of dimensions. Psychotherapy (or counseling—used interchangeably for the purpose  of  this  article)  is  often  described  as  directed toward  remediation,  restoration,  or  recovery  of former  functioning.  In  contrast,  consultation  is designed  to  improve  or  enhance  functioning  and performance.  It  is  intended  to  resolve  a  problem or assist in the development of performance excellence,  as  compared  to  changing  an  individual’s overall  functioning.  Although  the  relationship between  consultant  and  client  may  be  an  important  means  to  the  end  (e.g.,  positive  results),  the relationship per se is not the focus of consultation. Psychotherapy is bounded by strict rules regarding confidentiality,  and  services  almost  always  occur within  a  therapist’s  office.  Issues  of  confidentiality  within  consulting  are  more  complex,  in  part because multiple players may be involved; services often take place within the client’s work setting.

In a strictly medical model of psychotherapy, the practitioner  performs  an  assessment  from  which a  diagnosis  is  derived.  This  in  turn  determines the  practitioner’s  plan  for  treatment.  Treatment is  hierarchical  in  nature:  The  therapist,  by  virtue of  knowledge  and  regulation,  is  in  a  position  of power in relation to the client or patient.

Consultation may share many of these elements, such  the  sequential  aspects  of  data  gathering, evaluation,  and  decision  making  in  regard  to  the most  useful  intervention.  As  with  psychotherapy, this process may take place via interview alone, or may  be  augmented  by  the  use  of  relevant  assessment  instruments.  At  the  same  time,  the  method of interaction and presentation may be much more collaborative.  Assumptions  are  made  that  the client  has  the  requisite  skills  to  perform  the  job; it  is  the  consultant’s  role  to  assist  in  the  specific enhancement of that job.

At times and in some settings, the term coaching is used interchangeably with consulting. Often, however,  a  coach  is  in  the  position  of  a  teacher, imparting knowledge about specific skill development. Consulting, in contrast, usually implies that the consultant will assist in providing information or assist with application rather than specific work skill development.

Psychotherapy  and  coaching  are  often  dyadic in nature, involving an interaction of two people. Consultation  can  be  considered  triadic,  involving consultant,  consultee,  and  client.  The  consultee may  be  the  contracting  organization,  interested in  having  the  consultant  work  directly  with  the client.  Alternatively,  consultants  at  times  work directly only with the consultee concerning the client; knowledge of the client in this situation may be indirect.

As a consultant, one is typically hired or retained as an outsider rather than a staff member who is part  of  the  organizational  structure.  The  advantage to this role relationship is that the consultant is  less  bound  by  some  of  the  constraints  that  an employee may experience; the consultant may feel freer to offer advice, recommendations, or suggestions even if these might prove unpopular. On the other  hand,  the  system,  or  organization,  has  no obligation to accept the advice proffered.

Use of Title

In  contrast  to  counseling,  psychotherapy,  or  psychology,  which  may  be  regulated  by  law  for  the protection  of  clients,  the  term  consultant  is  not regulated.  The  term  is  widely  used;  it  does  not imply any specific training or ethical duty. For that reason,  it  can  be  viewed  as  positive,  neutral,  or because it is so widely used in some settings, might be considered pejorative.

Applications to Sport Psychology

sport  psychology  consultant  is  a  professional with  expertise  in  understanding  systemic  structures,  interpersonal  interactions,  or  mental  skills for  optimal  performance,  brought  in  for  specific assistance over a limited period of time. For example, such a consultant might work with a university athletic director to develop services that would assist  athletes  in  stress  management,  might  assist a  coach  in  developing  learning  strategies  regarding optimal methods for team teaching, might be brought  in  to  work  with  a  team  on  leadership skills  or  team  cohesion,  or  might  work  with  an athlete on mental skills development.

Within  sport  settings,  the  term  therapist  may imply  psychopathology;  the  term  consultant  may not hold the same negative connotation. Although consulting  and  coaching  may  be  similar,  within sport  settings  the  term  coach,  without  modification, may be confusing. On the other hand, when modified  in  a  specific  way,  such  as  mental  skills coach, it may have greater acceptability.

Sport  psychology  consultants  receive  graduate training in both psychology and the sport sciences in order to offer requisite consultation with regard to cognitive and behavioral skills for performance  enhancement  or  optimal  performance.  As  with more  generic  consultation,  the  actual  work  may occur at the individual, team, community, or organizational  level.  Because  there  are  various  routes to  competent  practice,  potential  practitioners and potential clients in North America should be guided by the criteria for becoming a certified consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology  and  the  proficiency  in  sport  psychology of the American Psychological Association.


  1. American Psychological Association. (2013). Public description of sport psychology. Retrieved from
  2. Aoyagi, M. W., Portenga, S. T., Poczwardowski, A., Cohen, A., & Statler, T. (2012). Reflections and directions: The profession of sport psychology: past, present, and future. Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 53, 32–38.
  3. Association for Applied Sport Psychology. (n.d.). About certified consultants. Retrieved from
  4. Lowman, R. L. (Ed.). (2002). The California School of Organizational Studies handbook of organizational consulting psychology: A comprehensive guide to theory, skills, and techniques. San Francisco: JosseyBass.
  5. O’Roark, A. M., Lloyd, P. J., & Cooper, S. E. (2005). Guidelines for education and training at the doctoral and postdoctoral level in consulting psychology/ organizational consulting. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from
  6. Sachs, M. L., Lutkenhouse, J., Rhodius, A., Watson, J., Pfenninger, G., Lesyk, J. L., et al. (2011). Career opportunities in the field of exercise and sport psychology. In M. L. Sachs, K. L. Burke, & S. L. Schweighardt (Eds.), Directory of graduate programs in applied sport psychology (10th ed., pp. 251–277). Indianapolis, IN: Association for Applied Sport Psychology.

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