PSYCHOLOGY IN FOOTBALL
Phil Johnson C. Psychol
Chartered Sport & Exercise Psychologist; Dip Psych Football.
Routledge Taylor Francis 2010
This is a most refreshing book, in its content and its clear applied focus. It is also a rare opportunity for sport psychologists, students, trainees or applied consultants to have an insight into the workings of elite professional football, but viewed from perspectives they might not ordinarily find in sport psychology literature or `applied' textbooks. Mark Nesti is Reader in Sport Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, and communicates 15 years experience working in Premiership football, some achievement in itself!
The book is not about applying mental skills training, but how a sport psychologist practicing existential psychology, in tandem with organizational psychology, has helped structure an approach to sport psychology support, that has more focus on creating the right environment for performance, rather than target the performers exclusively. In considering group cohesion, dynamics, values, philosophy, communications, transitions, identity, team building, supporting the support staff, this is no conventional applied sport psychology text. Dealing with topics less common to sport psychology practice such as spirituality, and religion, within a multicultural team ethos, and how existential approaches facilitate self-development and community, are features that spark the imagination.
A central tenet of Nesti's work is understanding football culture, and indeed specific club culture, comparing for example the people and staff of Bolton, and Newcastle with Chelsea and Arsenal, indicate how values from the local communities impact on their perception of their teams, and how values within the club may or may not reflect its support base. Thus the environment of the club, physical and indeed cultural affects everyday actions. Mike Forde, Director of Football at Chelsea in his `foreward' is clear that culture and environment are key to success, and sport psychologists have the opportunity to influence this positively.
Found more commonly in recent applied sport psychology literature, is the `beyond mental skills training' statement, supporting a wider brief for sport psychologists. Additionally is some criticism for the lack of `applied' literature, and a gap in the education and training of sport psychologists to make them fit for purpose. These are views, which I also support. The approach Nesti takes also goes beyond cognitive behavioural approaches, and more with "new concepts such as existential anxiety, identity, values and spirit".
In the detail of the book, setting the scene for entering professional football as a sport psychologist provides rare and positively helpful guidance, a must read. The counseling approach strengthens the need for sport psychologists to develop this ability and skill if they are to flourish at all levels of elite sport. The concept that the sport psychologist supports the support staff, is certainly one I wholeheartedly support, the dozen or so clubs I have worked. Concepts such as appraisal, humility, trust, leadership, are all examined within an organizational psychology framework, again not mainsteam sport psychology, but highly recommended as effective and well regarded. Spirituality, the role of a chaplin, interpersonal relationships within the dressing-room.