A strong educational approach, emphasizing critical reflection

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Sofia Bunke
Department of Psychology, Lund University


Joanne Thatcher, Melissa Day & Rachel Rahman Sport and Exercise Psychology 234 sidor, hft. London: Sage Publications 2011 (Learning Matters) ISBN 978-1-84445-839-4

Joanne Thatcher, Melissa Day & Rachel Rahman
Sport and Exercise Psychology
234 sidor, hft.
London: Sage Publications 2011 (Learning Matters)
ISBN 978-1-84445-839-4

“…are people less active because they are unhealthy or are they unhealthy because they are inactive” (p. 18).

The purpose of this book is to identify and describe concepts, theories and updated research, within the authors’ areas of specialty, related to exercise and sport psychology, as well as to use this scientific base and draw applied parallels. What distinguishes this book from other sport and exercise psychology books is the strong emphasis on learning and critical reflection. The three authors hold PhD titles and are engaged in research and work within the applied sport and exercise psychology field. Joanne Thatcher who is the most qualified of the three is also the author of a number of additional scientific books within the area of sport and exercise psychology. It is encouraging to see three female professionals joining forces to write a book in a predominantly male area.

The book is divided into two parts, “Exercise psychology” and “Sport psychology”, but the authors underline the benefits of becoming aware of common applications across the two sections which is rewarding. It’s interesting that the authors chose to challenge the norm of always beginning with sport psychology and then presenting the area of exercise psychology by doing the opposite. Reflecting on the content of their book, it would have been refreshing if they had switched their title to “Exercise and Sport Psychology” to differentiate their book from the many other sport and exercise psychology books on the market.

The exercise psychology section highlights common barriers to physical activity as well as physical and psychological risk effects of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviors.  This is followed by discussions in relation to the importance of understanding the role of the self and an additional focus on selected models and theories in relation to behavior change. Furthermore, positive, as well as negative, psychological outcomes of physical activity and exercise are explored in relation to both a clinical and a non-clinical perspective.

The sport psychology section examines individual as well as social factors that easily affect thoughts, feelings and behaviors in relation to training and competition, more specifically looking into the competitive environment that from an athlete’s perspective could represent different kinds of pressure and/or challenges. There is a specific focus on transitions, such as injury or retirement from competitive sport. Mental toughness and flow are further described as important characteristics of peak performance. The section concludes by highlighting imagery and goal setting, two sport psychological techniques used to reach performance enhancement.

The educational approach is strong and learning activities are presented throughout the text; to use the words of the authors, “the aim of the book is to present exercise and sport psychology in an engaging manner which illustrates the practical application of this field and encourages readers to think critically about the theories and research we discuss” (p. 4).  After reading the book I believe that the authors have largely fulfilled their aim for the book.  Throughout, clear definitions of scientific concepts are presented and highlighted together with discussions relating to strengths and limitations. In addition, conflicting research is presented and reflected upon. The learning activities challenge the reader’s way of thinking and problematizing around both method and content. Other valuable educational approaches are case studies, which make the text more interesting and facilitate a deeper learning approach, as well as suggested further reading for students who want more information and depth.

Finally I would like to highlight a seemingly innocuous issue with possibly far-reaching implications.

The strong educational approach, is excellent, but can sometimes be too leading and therefore possibly counterproductive. For example, after each chapter the authors present a review followed by a learning activity where the readers can test their understanding. Since many of the answers in relation to the learning activity have been presented in the chapter review, this reduces the reader’s own thinking and opportunities to draw conclusions considerably.

Many sport and exercise psychology books make an effort to cover “the most important aspects” of the field and tend to include similar concepts, theories and research. The area of sport and exercise psychology is growing and it’s no longer obvious which important aspects should be included in a comprehensive textbook. I strongly believe that there is no longer always the need to “include everything; rather, I see value in focusing on specific areas of competence generating a deeper knowledge.  Joanne Thatcher, Melissa Day and Rachel Rahman state that they focus on key topics related to each section – what they consider these key topics to be are of course subjective. They focus on their areas of expertise, what they know best, and with good results.

In Sweden an important differentiation is made between clinical sport psychology (mental illness) and educational sport psychology (mental health). Since the two perspectives require different qualifications (licensed psychologist and sport psychology consultant respectively), I feel that the authors should have given more guidance for the readers to understand the difference between the clinical and educational approaches. Finally I would like to highlight a seemingly innocuous issue with possibly far-reaching implications. The authors sometimes refer to an individual who is less physically active or physically inactive as an “inactive individual”. Even though the underlying meaning is clear, this easily implies a unexpressed negative assumption. An individual, who is physically inactive, is not necessarily inactive altogether. The individual can be very active, even though physically inactive. I believe that these minor terms actually make a significant difference to how the reader interacts with the text.

To conclude, Sport and Exercise Psychology is well worth reading. As a reader you will find the content slightly different from the mainstream sport and exercise psychology literature and with a strong focus on critical reflection. Sport and Exercise Psychology is aimed mainly at undergraduate students, thus the strong educational approach, but could also be read by anyone interested in the field. Is especially well suited for the reader that has a genuine interest in understanding the science behind sport and exercise psychology.

Copyright © Sofia Bunke 2013

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