Knowledge and perceptions of sport psychology within English soccer.

That’s the title of the paper to which this summary refers:

Pain MA, Harwood CG.

School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Loughborough University, UK.

The aim of the present study was to examine knowledge and perceptions of applied sport psychology within English soccer. National coaches (n = 8), youth academy directors (n = 21) and academy coaches (n = 27) were surveyed using questionnaire and interview methods. Questionnaire results revealed a lack of knowledge of sport psychology that appeared to underpin some of the most significant barriers to entry for sport psychologists. These included lack of clarity concerning the services of a sport psychologist, problems fitting in and players’ negative perceptions of sport psychology. Overall, however, lack of finance was the highest rated barrier. Six barrier dimensions emerged from the interview data: negative perceptions of psychology, lack of sport psychology knowledge, integrating with players and coaching staff, role and service clarity, practical constraints, and perceived value of sport psychology. These findings were broadly compatible with the survey data, with finance emerging as a major barrier and misconceptions of sport psychology being common. Our conclusions are discussed in relation to the practical implications of the study for both applied research and the provision of sport psychology services within English soccer.

PMID: 15513275 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Whilst that reflects my own thoughts on the matter, the item about financial barriers is new to me.

As for the misconceptions about sport psychology – the longer I look at this, the more forgivable they become.

For better or worse, British football has history, tradition, a way of speaking. Now, I can write all I like about that history being misapprehended, and I can complain about how tradition is preventing us getting what we say we want from the England team, and I can shrug wearily at the more-working-class-than-you competition that football-speak encourages.

All that is just the way it is. I might not like it, but I can tell when I’m in a tiny minority, and I’m in one here.

And is it just my observation that sport psychology has rolled into football town, with its caravan stuffed with medicines for golfers and tennis players and athletes, crying “roll up!” expecting “the peasants who inhabit these parts” to gather gratefully round?

Of course, the locals ignored it. I don’t blame them. The longer I pursue this career, the more hot my embarrassment that its public faces are Oliver James and Paul McKenna. (And what is it with psych stuff and balding, short-sighted men? That’s quite a good description of me, for a start. And think Freud, Jung, Adler.) If that’s how I feel, how is someone with no need to know much about all of this going to respond? With suspicion, at the very least?

And I begin to wonder if there isn’t something just a little bit rude about the failure to express sport psychology ideas in the language of the sport being addressed. If I were to compile a list of the top ten all-time British sports psychologists, six of them would be football managers from Scotland and North-East England. And I don’t think I’d make it to ten even with their help. Did any of those men use psychological terminology to their players (some did in interview, but that’s a different matter) or did they find a more successful way to put things across?

The very word “psychology” doesn’t help. That tricky quintet of consonants at its front, the OED’s equivalent of a dirty mac. For most people, the introduction of the word into conversation means that something has gone badly wrong. It has illness, madness, all over it. And that’s psychology’s fault, not sport’s, not football’s. After all, this is the body of knowledge that found it necessary to say “object relations” when all it means is how well you get on with folk. You can’t blame someone in sport if they suspect that sport psychology is a conspiracy to get them into a straitjacket. Because there are psychotherapists out there who say that “we’re all broken”, that we all need “therapy”, we all need it for all of our lives..

That’s part of what’s behind the “history” on this site. There are problems in playing football that aren’t to do with physical practice or tactics or fitness. Some of the answers to those problems are to be found in the game’s history, surely? Or at least some idea of them? (Albeit I also enjoy the history purely for its own sake and always have).

And if we do want to import ideas from outside football, in the way Clive Woodward did so briefly and yet successfully for rugby union, can we not at least have the basic politeness to say, when in Rome?

UPDATE: Serendipitous smiley. And why not.

1 Reply to “Knowledge and perceptions of sport psychology within English soccer.”

  1. I always thought The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was a good study into sports psychology.

    The father of my ex-girlfriend was a serious long distance runner, and he could talk for hours on the psychology of running and what makes a champion. He used to tell me a method of racing up hills which used to leave a lot of his opponents completely demoralised (basically, leave them to race to the top, go up at three-quarter pace, they will arrive at the top on the flat very tired, you arrive relatively fresh and should be able to pass them on the flat…very demoralising for those who’ve given it their all uphill).

    I’m sure Mr Holland could talk for hours on the psychology of cycling in a similar vein. Boxing would also make for a fascinating study, and having unwisely clambered into a ring on several occasions I would imagine that it must rank as one of the most psychologically demanding sports there is.

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