Supporting Academy Football Coaches to Develop Psychological Attributes in Male Academy Players

  • Dan Wixey

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The overarching purpose of this thesis was to support academy football coaches to better facilitate the psychological development of young players. To achieve this purpose, three empirical studies were conducted, each with a respective aim. Study one (Chapter 3) aimed to first identify the key psychological attributes to develop within young academy players. Building on study one, study two (Chapter 4) aimed to explore the coaching strategies that can facilitate the development of each psychological attribute, and also to examine the observable behaviours that indicate that the attribute is developed. Finally, study three (Chapter 5) aimed to apply the knowledge constructed in study one and two by designing, delivering, and evaluating a sport psychology coach education and support programme at a case study football academy. Study one (Chapter 3) interviewed nine academy coaches who worked within a category one football academy, with eight psychological attributes constructed from thematic analysis of the interviews: commitment to develop, confidence, coping with the demands of high-level sport, drive to achieve goals, emotional control, resilience, self-aware and reflective, and strong work ethic. The findings provide greater direction for the attributes to develop in academy players but also indicate that current frameworks may not fully capture the key psychological attributes players need to develop in order to successfully progress out of the academy. Study two (Chapter 4) interviewed twelve, category one and two, academy football coaches to explore the coaching strategies used to develop each of the eight psychological attributes identified in study one. Fifty-two coaching strategies were constructed across the attributes providing academy coaches with a catalogue of user-friendly strategies to support their players’ psychological development with. Study two also identified behaviours that indicated the successful development of each attribute, knowledge that can help coaches to observe, intervene, monitor, and assess the psychological development of their players. Study three (Chapter 5) involved the design, delivery, and evaluation of a 14-month coach education and support programme with a case study academy: Dock FC. Summary coach interviews indicated that the programme was well received and helped increase awareness and to some degree their application of strategies to support the psychological development of their players. An indirect approach to the programme was taken to reflect the landscape of psychological support in academies present at the time of the study. Summary player focus groups, along with the coach interviews and researcher reflections indicated that this approach worked well, offering a tangible approach for sport psychology practitioners to adopt, more readily, in football academy environments. The research within this thesis offers empirically informed knowledge which extends the extant literature significantly. The thesis provides novel information on: (a) the key psychological attributes to prioritise the development of in the modern-day academy football player; (b) coaching strategies to support the development empirically informed psychological attributes; (c) behavioural indicators of successful psychological development; and (d) the real-world application of supporting academy coaches to develop targeted psychological attributes in the modern-day academy football academy. The insights provided in this thesis may help improve the holistic development that young football players receive throughout their football academy journey.
    Date of Award2024
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBrendan Cropley (Supervisor) & David Shearer (Supervisor)

    Cite this