An international perspective on the past, present, and future of sport psychology

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Andreas Stenling
Umeå University


Robert J. Schinke, Kerry R. McGannon & Brett Smith (red)
Routledge International Handbook of Sport Psychology
613 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2016 (Routledge International Handbooks)
ISBN 978-1-138-02242-3

Routledge International Handbook of Sport Psychology, edited by Robert J. Schinke, Kerry R. McGannon, and Brett Smith, is one of many comprehensive textbooks aiming to provide an overview of the current state of knowledge in sport psychology. At a first glance one might wonder what another handbook of sport psychology has to offer, given recent publications of seemingly similar books such as the Routledge Companion to Sport and Exercise Psychology in 2014 (see my review here) or Sport and Exercise Psychology Research: From Theory to Practice in 2016.

The Routledge International Handbook of Sport Psychology gives an overview of emerging and established perspectives and topics, but it also contains a unique section on international histories and contemporary perspectives. The textbook is divided into seven parts where the first three parts highlight emerging topics, parts four to six provide an overview of more established themes, and the seventh and final part is focused on forecasts about the future.[1] The emerging topics are focused on three broad areas: (i) international histories and contemporary perspectives; (ii) athlete adjustment and transitions; and (iii) cultural sport psychology. Topics such as these are often only briefly touched upon or placed in a section for “special topics” (see for example the latest edition of the Handbook of Sport Psychology from 2007), which to some extent places them outside mainstream sport psychology. As noted by the editors in the opening chapter, categorizing certain topics as “special topics” in contrast to more mainstream topics might have the unintended consequences that such topics remain marginalized and have difficulties being fully integrated into the field. The editors further argue that it is likely that these emerging topics will be a part of the heart of sport psychology in the future. Whether all topics included in the first three parts of the book should be considered as emerging is debatable, but I like them placed at the start of the book, which might contribute to an increased attention to these topics in the future. The editors also discuss the concept of academic connoisseurship, and deliver an important insight related to the concept based on their own experiences: “no scholarly group reserves privilege over another when deliberating perspectives and approaches taken within the field.” In light of this the editors have tried to include a broad array of voices from the scholarly community to convey the diversity of identities and perspectives within the field.

I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters on international histories and contemporary perspectives in the first part of this textbook. These chapters present a comprehensive overview of the history of sport psychology in nine countries (Russia, USA, China, Japan, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Spain, and UK), with an emphasis on the evolution and unfolding of the discipline within each country. These chapters highlight key events and phases as well as crises and paradigm shifts that have had an impact on the growth of the field. It is particularly interesting to see examples where a country’s cultural and historical heritage is linked to the growth of the field, for example how ancient Chinese philosophy is linked to contemporary sport psychology.

Parts four to six are categorized by the editors as more established themes and covers well-researched topics in the areas of motivation and emotion, cognition, and group dynamics. I will not go into to detail about these chapters but merely mention that overall they are well written and provide an up-to-date overview of these research areas.

Given  recent global initiatives aimed at mapping the human brain and the human genome, it will be very interesting to see how these global initiatives will impact research in sport psychology.

The seventh and final part of the textbook, forecasts about the future, was also very enjoyable to read as it provides not only a general forecast for the field of sport psychology but detailed forecasts within selected areas of the field, such as athletes’ transitions, applied sport psychology, team resiliency, group dynamics, and interdisciplinary research. One chapter that stood out for me was Gershon Tenenbaum’s and Edson Filho’s chapter with the title “Overt-covert behaviors’ linkage: Forecasting the future of sport psychology science”. The chapter covers a broad range of topics related to information processing such as overt-covert research topics, information processing and response selection, knowledge base and structure implications on the perceptual-cognitive system, and perceptual-cognition-action linkage under pressure. They also discuss emerging research avenues involving epigenetics and the nature-nurture debate. Given  recent global initiatives aimed at mapping the human brain and the human genome, it will be very interesting to see how these global initiatives will impact research in sport psychology. As a final note, Tenenbaum and Filho discuss an important methodological issue and states that:

In addition to epigenetics, sport and exercise psychologists should consider theory integration rather than segregation. This is aligned with the importance of developing parsimonious models in applied psychology in general, and in sport and exercise psychology in particular (Gigerenzer, 2010; Filho, Tenenbaum, & Yang, 2015). While the exact sciences work towards theory simplification and unification, psychologists sometimes “treat other people’s theories like toothbrushes – no self-respecting person wants to use anyone else’s” (Watkins, 1984, p. 86).

This is an important issue and I totally agree that it needs more attention in the field. I also very much enjoyed Andrew Sparkes’ and Brett Smith’s chapter Interdisciplinary connoisseurship in sport psychology research. The chapter nicely conveys the inherent challenges and difficulties with interdisciplinary research, which entails researchers from different disciplines to jointly frame a problem, agree on a methodological approach, and analyze data. As noted by the authors, however, bringing sport psychology researchers together that are socialized into different world views, or paradigms, is a difficult task and may in some cases not even be possible due to incommensurable methodologies or epistemologies. Sparkes and Smith argue, and I agree, that the chances of successful interdisciplinary research in sport psychology is likely to be enhanced in the presence rather than absence of interdisciplinary connoisseurship.

A nice contribution to this textbook would have been a link to the ongoing debate in psychology (and other sciences) about the “replication crisis”, open science, and research transparency. Issues related to the (mis)use of statistics and questionable research practices are highly relevant to researchers in sport psychology. Including these topics in textbooks such as Routledge International Handbook of Sport Psychology could potentially bring this important discussion to the forefront of the field. I would also have liked to see more emphasis on research methodology, but maybe these topics can be included in the next edition.

Taken together, I commend the editors for a job well done with this textbook and for having brought together an impressive author list consisting of international experts. I think this textbook is a valuable resource, particularly for students and researchers, as it provides a comprehensive view of the past, present, and future of the international field of sport psychology.

Copyright © Andreas Stenling 2017


[1] For full Table of Content, see https://www.routledge.com/Routledge-International-Handbook-of-Sport-Psychology/Schinke-McGannon-Smith/p/book/9781138022423
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