Supervision in Sport

Supervision is a central component of professional training  and  development,  providing  opportunities  for  sport  psychology  (SP)  practitioners  at  all levels  to  use  the  experiences  and  knowledge  of others  to  examine  themselves.  Supervision  is  also required  for  certification  or  licensure  (e.g.,  registration, chartering) in most of the psychology and helping  professions  (e.g.,  psychology,  counseling, social work), and in the exercise and sport science fields  (e.g.,  athletic  training,  strength  and  conditioning). Those seeking supervision to fulfill degree requirements,  or  to  become  eligible  for  certification  or  licensure,  must  know  what  requirements are  expected  by  their  institutions,  and  the  licensing bodies in that area (e.g., American Counseling Association,  American  Psychological  Association [APA],  Association  for  Applied  Sport  Psychology [AASP], British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences [BASES]). Ideally, receiving and providing supervision are career-long endeavors.

Definition and Purposes of Supervision

Supervision is a relatively long-term interpersonal relationship  aimed  at  developing  self-knowledge and  comprehension  of  services  and  therapeutic processes  through  feedback  and  communication with  another  skilled  professional.  The  primary goal of supervision is the welfare of clients in the supervisees’ care. SP supervision also serves several purposes  for  trainees,  experienced  practitioners, and the general public. Supervision helps trainees, and even seasoned practitioners, learn to work ethically and effectively, develop new skills, gain confidence, and enhance self-awareness—all of which are  necessary  for  effective  practice.  For  skilled practitioners,  supervision  helps  ensure  ongoing feedback  and  opportunities  for  growth  as  service providers. The general public benefits from supervision because supervisors assume high degrees of legal  and  ethical  responsibilities  for  supervisees and  their  clients,  serving  gatekeeping  and  quality control roles that protect the public from inept, or even dangerous and exploitative, practitioners.

A Brief History of Supervision

In the fields of clinical and counseling psychology, supervision is considered a central feature of professional practice. Thousands of research articles, books,  and  chapters  on  supervision  models,  processes, and training in these areas of practice have been  published.  With  regard  to  training,  licensed psychologists  and  professional  counselors  in  the United  States  are  required  to  complete  2,000  to 4,000  hours  of  supervised  training  and,  in  many cases, to take coursework in supervision. The field of physical education (PE) also has a long history of supervision with an emphasis on overseeing of student  teachers’  internships.  As  in  psychology, supervision  is  an  integral  component  of  training and development. SP is closely related to both psychology and PE, and it is somewhat surprising that supervision has received limited attention in the SP research  literature  and  in  terms  of  requirements for certification (licensure, registration). For example,  the  BASES-accredited  sport  psychologists  are required  to  have  completed  only  directed  studies and  consulting  under  the  guidance  of  a  supervisor  who  is  accredited.  Similarly,  a  practitioner who becomes a Certified Consultant of the AASP (CC-AASP)  must  complete  coursework  but  need to  have  only  400  hours  of  supervised  practicum experience under the guidance of a supervisor who holds the CC-AASP credential. In Australia, attention to supervision of sport psychologists is greater than many other countries but that is because SP practitioners  are  trained  as  psychologists,  and  to become  registered  (i.e.,  licensed)  psychologists, students must complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience in a master’s degree or 1,500 hours in a professional doctoral program.

The  limited  attention  in  the  SP  literature  to supervision in terms of research and practice may both reflect and contribute to the low levels of SP supervision provided and received. A study of SP practitioners  in  the  United  Kingdom  (see  the  last entry in the References: section) showed that 31%  of  those  surveyed  had  received  no  supervision  of  their  practice  in  the  past  12  months,  and 50% had participated in only one to five supervision sessions in the past year. Further, when asked about  the  need  for  supervision  post  accreditation (after obtaining licensure, registration, chartering), 71% reported that supervision was important only when  needed.  One  might  assume  that  the  29% who indicated that supervision was important and should occur monthly or fortnightly received regular  supervision,  but  only  5%  of  the  sample  had been supervised 11 or more times in the past year. It appears that applied SP supervision is advocated as a best-practice guideline but has yet to be fully integrated into training and practice.

The Focus of Supervision

The focus of supervision varies greatly depending on the theoretical orientations and models of supervisors  and  supervises  (e.g.,  psychological  skills training  [PST],  cognitive  behavioral  approaches, narrative therapy models). In general, supervision involves client-case conceptualization (e.g., formulations of what is happening for the client), discussions of centered around professional growth (e.g., supervisee’s  self-reflections,  knowledge  gained, knowledge needed), and the dynamics of the working alliance between supervisors and supervisees.

The “hows,” “whys,” and “wheres” of conducting supervision also vary widely and may include in vivo observations of a supervisee’s work with an athlete, coach, or team, and reviews, critiques, and discussions  of  digital  audio  and  video  recordings of  client–practitioner  interactions,  or  indirect observations through supervisees recounting their experiences in narrative forms or engaging in role plays with their supervisors to rehearse upcoming encounters  with  clients.  Also,  part  of  supervision may look like advanced training where supervisors instruct and model new techniques to help supervisees expand their helping repertoires. There are no specific guidelines for the frequency of supervision. AASP recommends 1 hour of supervision for every  10  hours  of  service  delivery,  but  the  duration and frequency of supervision vary depending on the developmental needs of the supervisee. For example,  students  starting  their  first SP practica need much more attention than a seasoned professional taking part in peer supervision.

Models of Supervision

As  there  are  many  effective  approaches  to  psychotherapy,  coaching,  and  teaching,  so  are  there many  different  approaches  to  supervision.  The best  model  of  supervision  is  the  one  that  fits  the supervisor and supervisee in the particular circumstances  in  which  they  are  working.  For  many  SP consultants, the model of supervision is a reflection of, or runs parallel to, the type of treatment model the supervisee is employing in service delivery. For example,  the  supervisor  of  a  practitioner  who  is addressing performance enhancement issues via a PST model might focus on the skills used in teaching  those  interventions  to  athletes.  Supervisors might  also  work  with  supervisees  on  their  own professional  concerns  (e.g.,  anxiety,  irrational thinking) regarding SP practice, and may support them  in  using  PST  interventions  to  address  their development and practice (e.g., mental rehearsal of sensitive client interactions, examination of supervisee  self-talk).  A  supervisor  using  a  psychodynamic  approach  might  examine  supervisee–client transference and countertransference processes, as well as the supervisor–supervisee transference and countertransference dynamics.

Most  models  of  supervision  include  commonalities—supervisees’  expectations,  desires,  theoretical backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, skills, knowledge,  and  anxieties—that  are  discussed and  used  to  determine  the  course  and  focus  of supervision.  Supervisors  and  supervisees  usually identify  mutually  agreed-upon  goals,  monitor progress  toward  goals,  and  evaluate  goal  attainment.  These  processes  typically  occur  in  regular face-to-face  encounters  (or  distance  interactions through  Internet  or  phone  connections)  between supervisors and supervisees or in small groups (or both). In the relatively long-term intimate working relationship  in  supervision,  effective  communications  between  supervisors  and  supervisees  play central roles. To enhance communication and the quality  of  the  supervision  experience,  it  has  been suggested that supervisors be mindfully present in supervision encounters. This mindful stance positions the supervisor in the here-and-now moment and nonjudgmentally open to anything that arises. The supervisory space becomes a caring and holding environment where supervisees’ strengths and frailties  are  both  embraced  in  loving  care.  Often supervisees  need  to  disclose  to  their  supervisors difficult  or  embarrassing  material  (e.g.,  counter-transferential  responses).  A  mindful  supervisor with many Rogerian characteristics (e.g., genuine, empathic,  nonjudgmental,  and  having  unconditional positive regard) may help reduce the potential  perception  of  threat  and  allow  supervisees  a safe  and  secure  space  to  examine  (with  curiosity, not  dread)  their  human  qualities,  their  strengths, and their weaknesses.

Supervision as an Assisted Form of Self-Reflective Practice

Self-reflection is an important component of effective practice that can enhance self-awareness, help individuals  identify  their  strengths  and  weaknesses, and make it more likely that practitioners will approach challenging situations in thoughtful ways.  Self-reflection  is  an  essential  component  of effective  practice,  but  self-reflections  cannot  take the  place  of  supervision.  Supervision  involves  an interpersonal  relationship  that  is  focused  on  the development  of  the  supervisee’s  insight,  professional  growth,  and  development.  Practitioners who  rely  on  self-reflection  without  supervision lack an outside voice that might provide corroboration,  doubt,  oversight  for  the  athlete’s  welfare, and gatekeeping to protect the public and the field. Self-reflection is important, but it is probably most effective when combined with supervision.

Clarity on the part of the supervisor can make it  more  likely  that  self-reflection  will  be  a  part of  the  supervision  process.  Effective  supervisors encourage  self-reflection,  the  expression  of  feelings and opinions, and follow all ethical guidelines including those with regard to confidentiality and modeling  professional  behavior.  Supervisees  are likely  to  benefit  from  opportunities  to  self-reflect as  part  of  supervision  if  they  are  prepared  for supervision sessions, have kept up-to-date progress notes,  have  acted  ethically,  have  been  willing  to critically  examine  themselves  as  SP  practitioners, have  not  concealed  information  about  their  athlete  sessions,  and  have  provided  feedback  about supervision.

The Future of Supervision

SP lags behind psychology and PE in terms of the attention paid to supervision, but there are many opportunities  with  regard  to  supervision  for  SP professionals.  The  history  of  supervision  in  sport and  performance  psychology  has  not  been  particularly  bright,  but  the  future  has  the  potential to  be  all  that  is  needed  to  best  serve  the  athletes with  whom  sport  psychologists  work.  For  example, in Australia all registered (licensed, chartered) sport and exercise psychologists have to complete at  least  10  hours  (every  year)  of  continuing  professional  development  that  involves  speaking  to peers or mentors, in a supervision context, about their work with clients (or students). Studies have shown  that  post-registration  supervision  is  often seen as ad hoc rather than as something essential to practice. A possible path for the future of supervision may be that policies and standards, such as those found in Australia, will become widespread across the globe.


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  6. Watson, J. C., II, Lubker, J. R., & Van Raalte, J. L. (2011). Problems in reflective practice: Self-bootstrapping versus therapeutic supervision. In D. Gilbourne & M. B. Andersen (Eds.), Critical essays in applied sport psychology (pp. 157–172). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
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  8. Winstone, W., & Gervis, M. (2006). Countertransference and the self-aware sport psychologist: Attitudes and patterns of professional practice. The Sport Psychologist, 20, 495–511.

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