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An Exploration of the Experiences of Elite Youth Footballers: The Impact of Organisational Culture

Champ, Francesca and Nesti, Mark and Ronkainen, Noora and Tod, David and Littlewood, Martin (2018) An Exploration of the Experiences of Elite Youth Footballers: The Impact of Organisational Culture. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. ISSN 1041-3200


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The present study explored how the organisational cultural experiences of elite youth footballers shaped their identity development and behaviour. The first author occupied the position of sport psychology practitioner-researcher within one professional football club over a 3-year duration. Traditional ethnographic research methods were employed, including; observations, field notes, reflections, and informal interviews. A Cultural Sport Psychology (CSP) perspective on identity as a social construction, and research on the cultural characteristics of professional football were used as frameworks to make sense of the data. Despite the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) in 2012, the traditional masculine culture of professional football dominated the studied club. Creative non-fiction vignettes revealed that youth players were encouraged to develop their self-stories focused on a single-minded dedication to professional football. The limited identity-related resources offered at both club, and cultural level is detrimental for players in terms of their well-being, and long term psychological development. From the results of this study, we suggest that future sports psychology practice within professional football may best be delivered at an organisational level. However, in order for a sport psychologist to be effective in this role they must develop an understanding of the sub-cultural features and characteristics of the organisation. In line with this, there would be great value in introducing a focus on organisational culture within sport psychology professional training and education routes.

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