For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Why you May Want to Think Twice Before Hiring a “Mindset Coach” – Perspective from a Practising Sport Psychologist

“The composition of sermons is not very difficult.  Invent first and then embellish..set down diligently your thoughts as they rise in the first words that occur…I have begun a sermon after dinner and sent it off by the post that night.”

  • Samuel Johnson (1709-1784),

Famous English writer/poet/literary critic

“Mindset Coaching.”

“Mental Resiliency Training”.

“Performance Longevity.”

What do these terms mean to you?  Could it be that they are simply the latest reincarnations of the “sermons” that Samuel Johnson wrote about over 300 years ago, manifesting themselves in the form of unregulated, jargon-laden social-media posts, articles, and services provided by questionably qualified “professionals” looking to take advantage of vulnerable consumers?

The field of sport psychology – almost 100 years old – has very well-established standards and regulations for individuals wishing to become practitioners.  Of primary importance is the standard that someone dispensing – and charging a fee for – advice about the psychology or mental aspect of sports performance must have actually studied the subject and earned a degree from a recognized academic institution.

In fact, the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AAPS, founded in 1985) has required that individuals practicing under the term “sport psychologist” have, at a minimum, undergraduate degrees in both psychology and sport science, and preferably, a Master’s degree and/or PhD in psychology or sport psychology from a recognized academic institution.

Thus, an unqualified individual who lacks these academic credentials yet still wishes to provide services that fall under the category of “sport psychology” must come up with jargon like “mental resiliency training” as a term for their services.

Consumers face a host of potential problems when hiring and paying someone for “mental resiliency training” or any other bastardized form of sport psychology, not the least of which is the fact that there can be no guarantee of the competence of the person providing the service, or that the person has any background, education or experience in any legitimate form of actual sport psychology.

Even more concerning for consumers hiring “mental resiliency trainers” should be the fact that they cannot be sure ofthe truthfulness, helpfulness, or even the safety of the information and services they are being sold.

How do actual sport psychologists feel about this issue?  Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with Mahsa S. Durbano, who happens to have a Master’s degree in Clinical psychology with a specialisation in Performance from York University, to get her thoughts on the subject.  Below is a summary of our conversation.

Q: How did you get started studying sport psychology?
A: It was a journey to say the least! I began my undergraduate studies in the field of English literature and creative writing simply because that is what I was most passionate about at that particular time in my life.  Upon completion I began working as a writer within the Ministry of TCU (Training, Colleges and Universities) under Minister John Milloy where I analysed and summarised Bills, prepared speeches, and drafted legislature.  While working there I began pursuing a night class called ‘Meeting the inner child’ with some friends at an institution called Transformational Arts College.  What began as a light-hearted night class pursued in the name of fun, quickly turned into a passion.  Shortly thereafter I enrolled in the full Psychotherapy program and dedicated my time to becoming a full-time student.  Upon the completion of my studies I had come to recognise that my endeavours would not be complete unless I had developed a thorough background in both Psychotherapy and Clinical psychology.  Shortly after I was able gain acceptance to pursue a Master in Clinical psychology at York University which eventually transitioned into a focus on sports through a specialisation in Performance, which extended my Master’s by a year.

Q: What interested / interests you most about the subject?
A: I have always been a very athletic individual.  I came to recognise that my perception of life and my views of the world had transformed while engaged in my studies on the clinical realm.  While the perspective shift was on all life levels, it was very keenly focused on personal performance within my athletic endeavours and friends/teammates around me.  At the time I lived near a golf and country club where my partner and I golfed at every day. 

Q: Tell us about the work you have been doing since you earned your degree?
A: While my background has allowed for me to operate under any sport, I have primarily focused my attention in areas that interest me the most such as Golf, hockey, soccer, and basketball.  In the short period that I have been practising I have guest lectured at colleges and universities, have written published articles, participated as a researcher in Neurofeedback training, and have worked  with professional individuals on the pro tour and at the NHL level. I have also been working with professional teams such as the Humber Hawks, the Sun Devils (Arizona State University) and Hamilton BullDogs.  During this period I also opened and now operate my own practice with multiple offices in the GTA and surrounding areas, called Limitless Performance.

Q How important is it to you that practitioners of sport psychology are held to high academic and professional standards?
A: Having standards add to the credibility and legitimacy of your profession as well as ensures a safer environment for both the clients and the organisations that use our services.  Being a certified psychologist ensures that the professional has completed adequate training, has hands-on experience and has access to the tools necessary for the maximal benefit of the client.

Q: How do you feel about “mental resiliency trainers” or “mindset performance coaches”?  Do you think they have a role to play in high performance sports environments?
A: Coaches and trainers that are not certified lack the oversight of a governing body. Therefore they may not make referrals, may not be held accountable to losing their licence, may not have proper insurance and the other benefits afforded to a certified professional. In addition there may be a lack of accurate diagnosis and experience as professionals are required to undergo placement in coop, internships, vigorous research clinics and countless hours of personal training to ensure the safety of the client.

A professor once stated that the human mind is a museum that is organised like a maze, and the opportunity to walk through this arena is a complex privilege where we apply only our knowledge and expertise while withholding our own personal projections.  It’s tough to imagine that a “mindset performance coach” is truly capable of separating themselves from their own personal experiences as the nature of their therapy is simply based on experience rather than education.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the consumer of any good or service – including services related to youth soccer – to do their homework, educate themselves and demand a high standard from the providers they hire.  Hopefully, as consumer education about sport psychologists and the work they do improves, the prevalence of charlatans peddling false and/or misleading information will concurrently decrease.  Here’s to hoping that the day will come when all practitioners working with athletes are held to the highest possible standards – sooner rather than later.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started!



Mahsa S. Durbano is a Performance Psych Consultant who specialises in the mental side of performance. Her education entails of an undergrad in English literature and creative writing, a degree in Psychotherapy, and a Masters in Clinical Psychology with a specialisation in Sport and Performance. Mahsa works closely with high tier athletes of all ages and abilities in helping them perform to their full potential, while understanding the importance of supporting the dynamics between the athlete and coaches in reaching their goals and navigating the world of competitive performance. She is especially keen on assisting athletes who aspire to achieve the competitive edge required to compete at the National and the Pro-Touring professional level.