The development, implementation and evaluation of an emotion-focused intervention in youth academy football
thesisposted on 27.07.2020, 14:05 authored by Philippa Mcgregor
Although psychosocial research in the field of youth academy soccer is growing (Harwood, Barker, & Anderson, 2015; Höner & Feichtinger, 2016; Mills, Butt, Maynard, & Harwood, 2012; Reeves, Nicholls, & McKenna, 2009; Reeves, Nicholls, & McKenna, 2011), there has been limited applied intervention work targeting developmentally informed areas of psychosocial inquiry (Turner, Slater, & Barker, 2014). In order to address the gap in the literature, this thesis set out to identify the most pertinent psychosocial factor within youth academy football; to develop, implement, and evaluate an intervention that would enhance and develop the identified factor across multiple stakeholders (including players, coaches, and support staff); and to utilise intervention findings to better inform applied research and practice in youth sport. The first study used an (auto)ethnographic approach to examine the psychosocial challenges (e.g. contextual, social, emotional) faced by academy football players during their youth development phase years (aged 11-16). A range of psychosocial factors were evident from accumulated evidence; however, of specific pertinence was the frequent occurrence and display of emotion-related challenges. The first study identified the importance of supporting the socioemotional needs of youth development players. The area of emotion was in turn identified as an avenue for further inquiry within youth academy football. The second study aimed to further investigate the area of emotion, exploring the emotion-related themes identified from the (auto)ethnography and existing youth academy football research through the use of expert panel groups. Two expert panels were completed, one with youth development academy football coaches (n=13) and a second with applied practitioners/researchers (n=5). Six emotion-related themes were identified from the existing literature (perception, support, competence, challenges, regulation, and responses) and were further explored via survey data from the expert panels. Analysis generated frequency descriptives for the quantitative data and thematic analysis provided higher order themes for the qualitative responses. The results indicated that the expert panels were in agreement that, inclusively, all of the emotion related themes were ‘relevant’ for youth academy football players. Qualitative analysis went on to identify emotion regulation as the most salient target area for future intervention work. Following expert panel recommendations, the findings were then followed up with a qualitative inquiry of the experiences and perceptions of youth development academy football coaches on the relevance of supporting players’ emotion regulation. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with (n=12) youth development football coaches from premier league academies. Interviews were thematically analysed, revealing eight higher-order themes (behavioural emotional expression, emotion stimulating triggers, individual considerations, playing situation, significant others, player experiences, strategies employed, and delivery considerations). The results showed how the developmental stage of the players, the academy environment, and experiences that come with youth academy football emerged as fundamental elements for emotion regulation consideration. Coaches reported supporting players’ emotion regulation less consciously than other areas of performance, which was attributed to limited understanding and knowledge of this aspect of psychology and youth development. To complement the work conducted in Studies 1 to 3, Study 4 was a process evaluation driven intervention targeting emotion regulation in youth development academy football. Studies 1 to 3 both informed and shaped the intervention that was designed. Participants were a mix of coaches (n=11), multi-disciplinary performance staff (n= 6) and players (n= 13) from the youth development phase of a Premier League academy football club. A mixed-methods, action research approach was used, producing a combination of quantitative and qualitative results. The quantitative findings revealed significant increases in players’ use of cognitive reappraisal emotion regulation strategies following the intervention delivery, but no changes in their use of expressive suppression strategies. A significant improvement was also reported for players’ emotional awareness. The qualitative findings revealed that players were more comfortable talking about their emotions as a result of the intervention work. The challenge of transferring cognitive reappraisal strategies for use during performance, when players had less thinking/conscious processing time available, was also identified as an important feature. As a result, it was concluded that working on emotion regulation with youth academy football players requires a twofold approach: firstly, targeting emotional awareness and, secondly, implementing emotion regulation strategies. Together, the studies in this thesis are the first to target the area of emotion regulation in youth academy football players, as well as employing process evaluation procedures to evaluate intervention design, implementation, and impact. The findings contribute to youth academy football, developmental emotion regulation, and the process evaluation literature, extending existing knowledge as well as deriving new and advantaged understanding from the combination of such inquiries. The findings also lead to the provision of advanced recommendations for future applied research and practice in youth sport in relation to the development, implementation, and evaluation processes.