The Needs Assessment – A Sport Psychologists Number One Tool

A psychologist is not a psychic, though people seem to muddle the two, and even believe psychologists can read minds. Unfortunately, we cannot. What we can do is listen to other people speak their minds’ and understand how best to help them. In sport psychology, one of the quickest and more informative ways to do this is by conducting a needs assessment.

A needs assessment is a way of evaluating the psychological demands on individuals or groups. This can be done through observation, information from the client/coaches/others, as well as researching literature or information from sport governing bodies. My favourite method is the performance profile. It’s fairly simple and easy to understand which means it’s great to use with athletes who have little to no knowledge of sport psychology.

It was created by Butler and Hardy (1992) based on Kelly’s (1955) personal construct theory to assess the factors that athletes consider to be important to their own performance.

A blank performance profile

Why is it good?

  • It creates an appreciation for all the aspects involved
  • The athlete takes an active role
  • It increases communication between athlete and therapist
  • It can develop the athlete’s self-awareness and increase their motivation (Weston, Greenlees & Thelwell, 2013).
  • Able to identify weaknesses as well as strengths of their performance, and areas that are resistant to change
  • It can be used in team building practices (Yukelson, 1997).

Using the performance profile

Stage 1 Identify Qualities
Stage 2 Understand Qualities
Stage 3 Ideal Levels
Stage 4 Actual Levels
Stage 5 Calculate Discrepancies
Stage 6 Identify Strongest/Weakest

So just to illustrate it a little more… you meet with your client who is a hockey player. You have a chat and get to know each other then introduce the performance profile. He will identify the qualities important to his game (at this point, you don’t suggest any – this is what they feel is important for now). Then to understand the qualities, discuss them! Communication is key to ensure that you are on the same page about what the quality is. Ask them to rate their ideal level of the qualities, usually a 1-10 scale is used, then their actual levels. It’s important to note that they don’t have to ideally be a 10/10 in everything – sometimes that’s a little unrealistic. Then calculate the discrepancies to identify their strongest and weakest qualities to then figure out where to go from there… ppfillIn this mock up (half of) one, you can see that although goal setting has the lowest actual level, the discrepancy between actual and ideal is only one whereas self-talk has five points difference and stick handling has three. Those two would be the qualities to work on improving, firstly. And actually, those two might work well to combine, for example using positive self-talk when stick handling to encourage and praise.

The performance profile can be adapted with regular sessions and used to monitor progression. When implementing recommendations, it’s important to consider the time frame in which you have to work, is it a couple of weeks to make the improvements or a season-long project? It’s important to consider the facilities and resources available – do they have access to an Olympic standard training room or is it a local gym? Finally, consider the athlete themselves; if they are a student then parents may have an influence on them, they may have school commitments in addition to those set by the coach; if they’re non-professional then they have to balance their sport with work and life commitments.

So there ya’ have it folks. A performance profile is a sport psychologist’s dream come true!


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