Back

Sports Psychology with an Academy Football Team

As a practitioner I have worked at two league of Ireland academies within the U19 and U17 age groups. The work carried out is based on the needs of the group, the individuals within the group and the coaching staff. The support provided has mainly been focused on creating an optimal environment for team functioning. The aim of the support is to work with and through the head coach to help him better lead the team using sports psychology principles. 

One of the models used to inform this work is the multidimensional model of leadership (Chelladurai, 2007) outlined below. According to this model, team performance is dependent on whether the actual behaviour of the coach matches with the required behaviour for the situation and preferred behaviour of the group. The aim of the support is to help the coach match their leadership characteristics to the actual behaviour required for the team to perform. 

A flowchart to illustrate optimal performance

How do we know which behaviour will be optimal for the group? Another theory used to inform the support for the coach is social identity theory (Turner & Tajfel, 1986). According to this theory, a person will act differently depending on the situation they are in. For example, we may behave differently with our family compared to when out on the pitch. According to this theory each group is made up of different individuals with different identities and as a result each team is unique. Therefore, we have to help the team create their own identity and the coach’s behaviour should match the identity of the team. 

An example of creating an identity was during pre-season when each player and coach had to make a short speech to the group explaining why they play football, their goals and what values they would use to describe a time when they were a good teammate. This enabled the coach and team to understand more about one another. Through this work, the team developed values and aligned behaviours that everyone agreed represented the team.

A picture of teenage athletes playing soccer

I am an advocate for bringing sports psychology support alive during training sessions. We developed behaviours that linked to our values on the pitch and off the pitch. During training we worked on one value in each session. For example, by asking them to rate their level of support, which was focused on verbal and non-verbal communication, during the training session. They would then be asked to state how they can improve in the next repetition or set, and then the session would continue. We would then debrief after the exercise.

This work helped the coach adapt his behaviour to the team values and individual players. For example one player was motivated by winning and being the best whereas another player took part in sport for fun. When speaking with the players the coach could adapt his behaviour to meet the needs of each individual player. 

These are some examples of the work we have carried out and continue to carry out with teams and coaches in sport. It is important to remember that all support was based on the identified needs of the group, and what works in one situation might not work in another. This highlights the need for a tailored approach to support the needs of the individuals, team, coach and organisation.

References:

Chelladurai, P. (2007). Leadership in sports. In G.Tenenbaum & R. C. Eklund (Eds.). Handbook of sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 113–135). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1986) The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior. In: Worchel, S. and Austin, W.G., Eds., Psychology of Intergroup Relation, Hall Publishers, Chicago, 7-24.