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Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology

Parenting towards qualification

18 February 2021 | by Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology

The following article, presented on behalf of the Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology, was written by Alban Dickson (University of Stirling).

It is a slick exercise.

Scroll through the vast library of photographs on your phone.

A robust foundation for exploring values, in either consultancy or workshop environment.

Now, select just one image that is meaningful to you, that is important, that brought you to this point today; one that matters.

Invariably for me, it is my son.

I never expected this to engulf my identity. Indeed, I have become “that” person.

You may be wise to avoid me during conference coffee breaks because – unwittingly – I will share some reflection based on parenthood.

If only I knew how to stop.

My wife presented the news of our family expansion in the final months of my MSc, when I was only weeks into starting a new full-time role at a Higher Education institution.

I had been worried I would even manage to complete my dissertation; what would the trials of pregnancy bring?

Dive forward and we haven’t risen for a breath since.

I now approach my third, and hopefully final, submission for Stage 2 (Qualification in Sport & Exercise Psychology).

A peculiar dance of career transition, juggling and personal identity every step of the way towards shuffling off the prefix of “trainee”.

The year 2020 won’t be remembered for making parenting any simpler.

Yet, on one level it brought many blessings. Time on furlough forged opportunities for missed reading, writing and applied work. And with it, on occasion, came a healthier balance of study-family equilibirum.

The seismic shift to online platforms finally opened up an abundance of learning and connection, not just for parents but for anyone outside of one standard deviation of the geographic norm.

It was as if the long road towards chartership had suddenly installed a “parent and child lane”.

10 years ago – replacing the pandemic with a banking crisis and volcanic ash - I would have thrown myself into so much more.

CPD events in London? Make a weekend of it!

Work placement abroad? Sounds perfect!

Work for free? Well, yes.

I cannot comment on the opportunities available for sport psychology a decade ago, but to get that foot in the door I would have thrown myself into anything which came knocking. Now, there is too much at stake.

To work for free (or “volunteering” as some would have us believe) can be invaluable, although there is no guarantee and rarely a gift receipt included.

It always presents a dilemma as we weigh up the risk of both devaluing ourselves and our profession.

When you add the dimension of parental duties, it is not even a possibility.

This goes beyond financial responsibilities, but returns us to investigating our core values; what really matters.

Can I justify in myself – let alone to my family – that by giving up those precious hours of a Tuesday night I am moving in the direction of becoming a better father?

From my reflections, the answer is often negative.

It is perhaps no surprise that my preferred models of practice are, what some would categorise, third-wave cognitive therapies.

My philosophy of practice also hinges on exploring meaning, purpose and qualities.

Without understanding an athlete’s meaning, can we even do sport psychology?

Without knowing my values as a parent, can I even do sport psychology?

We must practice what we preach, but that goes way beyond using self-talk during home workouts or visualisation before a presentation.

Through a curiosity about Acceptance & Committment Therapy and Personal Construct Psychology, I have come to understand myself in a different way, and found clarity when it all has felt too much.

Parenthood has created many junctions in my life but also equipped me with the ubiquitous values compass that I can turn to.

I have learned to prioritise and trust what truly matters when confronted by a fork in the road. Rarely, does it let me down.

It still remains that were it not for my parental identity I would throw myself into all the opportunities that are out there.

With due diligence, I could offer so much more of my time and barely blink at long drives to and from venues.

For a chance meeting over coffee or a guest lecture with a hefty price tag I would (to adopt the motto of a team I work with, not Hannibal himself) “find a way or make one”.

The opportunities to practice, learn and connect remotely must be the biggest lesson our profession carries forward from last year.

We have innovated and grown, as has the potential and profile for sport psychology.

For the sake of sport psychology, and those who practice, there is no going back.


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