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Following the Second World War, in several countries, and particularly on those most affected by the war, the large number of homeless and orphaned children presented difficulties for authorities and health professionals. The United Nations commissioned the British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, already known for his research on maladjusted children, to produce a booklet on the subject. In his continuing research, Bowlby formulated the attachment theory, in which the basic thesis is that the infant needs to be able to relate closely to at least one caregiver to ensure normal social and emotional development. Bowlby’s theory has had practical importance in particular for decisions about treatment and care of young children. Of late, attachment theory has been developed in relation to modern psychological ideas about empathy, autobiographical memory and social representation. And now, to our knowledge for the first time, attachment theory has been applied to sports. Sam Carr, lecturer at the University of Bath Department of Education, suggests in his book Attachment in Sports, Exercise, and Wellness that attachment theory can contribute to the understanding of already established processes and themes of sport, such as motivation, coping, and group processes. Torbjörn Josefsson, PhD student at the Centre for Research on Welfare, Health and Sport (CVHI), Halmstad University, has read Carr’s book and finds that the author successfully applies attachment theory in the field of physical activity and health.

Inspirational reading

Torbjörn Josefsson
Center of Research on Welfare Health and Sport, Halmstad University

Sam Carr
Attachment in Sport, Exercise, and Wellness
161 sidor, inb.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2012 (Routledge Research in Sport and Exercise Science)
ISBN 978-0-415-57858-5

In the last few decades, the framework of attachment theory has contributed important elements to the understanding of human behaviour and what characterizes a healthy effective self. As described by Mikulincer & Shaver (2007), attachment theory is “a multifaceted theory of personality structure, functioning, and development, as well as a theory of interpersonal behaviour, emotional bonds, and close relationships” (p. 116). Being such a comprehensive theoretical framework, it is not surprising that attachment research covers many different subjects in the field of psychological and relational well-being such as psychopathology, affect regulation, stress, coping, mental health, religiousness and inter-group tolerance, to name only a few. In this book, Sam Carr introduces the reader to another rather new context for the attachment research field; sport. Carr’s intentions with this book is mainly to inspire a debate and a discussion about the importance of attachment in sport. As the author states, “attachment theory offers an interesting and new perspective in relation to the reverberation of parental relationships in the sporting context” (p. 2).

The book has seven chapters (and 128 pages): two chapters about attachment theory and the remaining five about how attachment theory could be linked to several sport related areas; motivation, group cohesion, stress and coping, social relations, and finally, to exercise and health. The first two chapters comprise an overview of attachment theory and its essential terms, and also how attchment is assessed. I find this relatively short overview adequate, well written and informative, especially for the reader who has no previous knowledge of attachment theory. The chapter about motivation discusses achievement goals as well as self-determination theory in an attachment perspective, and in the process several new potentially interesting research areas are suggested, for instance, the relation between attachment syle and sport involvement.

The relation between group cohesion and attachment is briefly discussed and one interesting future research area, recommended by Carr, is sports team involvement and attachment styles. In the attachment literature, there are many studies confirming that individuals with insecure attachment styles are more vulnerable to stressful situations, and they also have less adaptive coping strategies. On the other hand, people classified as secure are generally better at coping with traumatic life situations than the insecure. Thus, it is not surprising that attachment theory may offer an important additional understanding about athletes’ reactions when experiencing threat, fear, pain and injury.

The chapter about social relationships in sport and attachment offers a quite thorough description of friendship in sport, especially for children and adolescents, as well as of the relation between coach and athlete. The author concludes that attachment definitely can increase our understanding of sporting relationships. Since the core of attachment theory is relationships, in particular how early relationships with caregivers influence adult relationships, this definitively should be a topic for future sport research. The subject for the final chapter is attachment and health related behaviour, especially the relation between exercise behaviour and attachment patterns. 

I find Carr’s book to be well structured and a very inspirational reading. Numerous future research topics are presented that may be of interest for both attachment researchers and exercise and sport researchers. I do believe that Carr’s book provides an important first step in an integration of attachment theory into sport. Furthermore, Carr manages to convince me that attachment theory may significantly increase our understanding of several sport related subjects. An intriguing question is wether an attachment implication in sport may enhance sport performance. 

In sum, Carr successfully manages to give an overview of how attachment theory might be linked to different sport contexts.

© Torbjörn Josefsson 2012.

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