Important, impressively comprehensive handbook, albeit limited to physical disabilities

Marit Sørensen
The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences

Jeffrey J. Martin
Handbook of Disability Sport & Exercise Psychology
464 pages, hardcover.
Oxford: Oxford University Press 2018
ISBN 978-0-19-063805-4

Jeffrey J. Martin’s Handbook of Disability Sport and Exercise Psychology is a truly comprehensive textbook that at times stretches well beyond a strict psychological focus in order to capture the complexity of the area and stimulate deeper reflection. The author is a professor in the Division of Kinesiology, Health, and Sport Studies at Wayne State University, USA. He has worked for 25 years with a broad perspective on psychosocial aspects of disability sport and physical activity and is internationally well known and recognized for his extensive contributions to the field.

The book is organized in three parts. Part one skillfully prepares the reader for critical reflection about the extant knowledge base that is presented in the two parts that follow. This is done by discussing important and relevant issues within philosophy of science, scientific methodology, different ways of thinking about disability as well as an introduction to the “disability world”. Reading part one as an introduction before going into the next parts is highly recommended for a fuller appreciation of the interchanging contributions between psychological research on general sport and exercise, and psychology of disability sport and exercise. The reader will learn about similarities of athletes and exercisers in general, as well as obtaining insight in some of the issues that may be specifically related to having a disability. Each chapter of the book ends with a summary with suggestions for further research.

Part two is about disability sport psychology, and consists of six sections with a total of 19 chapters on topics from general sport psychology where a certain knowledge base has been established in disability sport. Section one examines the benefits of disability sport that have been demonstrated; the many ways individuals with a disability are stimulated or hindered to enter sport; challenges and joys when they are active in sport; and issues related to leaving sport. Section two is about the social dynamics between peers and teammates, as well as the relationship with the coach. Section three examines various aspects of identity related to sports participation for individuals with a disability, among them the “Supercrip” identity is thoughtfully examined. Section four is on motivation, and three of the most prominent motivational theories in sport psychology are presented and discussed. The fifth section covers literature on emotion, affect and mood, with stress and anxiety, research on The Profile of Mood and finally positive mood states and affect as central topics. The last section is called “Cognition” and deals with cognitive aspects of self-perceptions such as self-esteem, various self-concept models and self-efficacy research. Traditional personality factors are reviewed as well, and the final chapter is on performance enhancement.

Part three is about exercise in a broad sense, including leisure time physical activity and recreational activities. This part consists of five sections with a total of 16 chapters. The first section, section seven, concentrates on the benefits of physical activity for individuals with a disability, such as fitness, weight and function, quality of life, and family benefits. Section eight discusses individual, social, and environmental barriers for physical activity experienced by individuals with a disability. The third section, section nine, reviews theory-based research in the field, and examines self-efficacy, theory of planned behavior, the stages of change model, and intervention research aiming at change in physical activity and related cognitions. Section 10 deals with body image, and discusses assumptions often made about individuals with a disability. It also examines research on the benefits of physical activity on body image cognitions.

It is a valuable tool also for teachers and coaches and has a true potential to take the psychology of disability sport and exercise field a huge step forward.

The author describes the last section, section 11, “Special Topics”, with five chapters, as quite eclectic in nature. This is certainly true, to the extent that it may give the impression of putting together all that should be mentioned without a main thread keeping it together. The chapters are short summaries of research without quite the depth of reflection that we have become spoilt with in the earlier parts of the book. This makes reading them a little disappointing compared to the rest of the book. Research on physical education students with and without disabilities, physical education teachers, adapted physical education specialists, peer tutors and teacher aides is relatively briefly summarized before one specific rehabilitation program for military war veterans, the Wounded Warrior program, is introduced. In that connection, it would have been nice to see the link back in history to the old cradle of disability sport as such, namely the Stoke Mandeville Games in England, which was just that, a program of rehabilitation of Second World War veterans. At the very end a brief chapter on intellectual disabilities is included. In the preface, the author explains this with the fact that this group of athletes have returned to the Paralympics and therefore should be highlighted.

The book is, as stated in the beginning, impressively comprehensive and detailed coming from a single author, and very thoughtful – while not everything can be included. The author explains that he has selected disability groups based on who are most frequently represented in sport, such as Paralympics, and this did not include individuals with chronic illness. That may explain excluding individuals with mental illness, but it is still not quite understandable for me that a comprehensive textbook of sport and exercise psychology does not mention mental health as a topic, within sport and exercise alike. Mental health issues are present in both sport and exercise at all levels, also for individuals with physical disabilities, without necessarily being mental illness.

Having said that, I will conclude by saying that Martin’s Handbook of Disability Sport and Exercise Psychology is a huge contribution to the literature and a great step forwards for scholars and practitioners within sport and exercise for individuals with (mostly physical) disabilities.  It is a valuable tool also for teachers and coaches and has a true potential to take the psychology of disability sport and exercise field a huge step forward.

Copyright © Marit Sørensen 2018

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