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Understanding the psycho-social and cultural aspects of professional women's football: An examination of the junior to senior transition

Stratford, A (2023) Understanding the psycho-social and cultural aspects of professional women's football: An examination of the junior to senior transition. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Professional women’s football is receiving unprecedented attention, with live and television spectator records, sponsorship deals and media recognition reaching new heights. Despite this exponential growth, financial restraints, limited resources, and the permanent shadow of the men’s game ensures that there are still many barriers faced by players trying to develop a career in women’s football. Psycho-social and cultural challenges alongside reduced opportunities, limited exposure to competitive environments and minimal research in the female game has resulted in a lack of players successfully transitioning into senior teams. This thesis aims to develop an understanding of the cultural and psycho-social constructs of women’s football and identify how these influence player experiences of the Junior to Senior Transition (JtST). A multi-method longitudinal design (inc., interviews, observations, ethnography, voice notes and reflective diaries) allowed for lived experiences of the JtST to be captured. JtST (n = 36). JtST. Study One utilised semi-structured interviews with academy staff (n = 6) and successfully transitioned first team players (n = 3) to examine perceptions of the Thematic Analysis identified key themes and common experiences across participants. Study Two adopted ethnographic principles (over a period of 25 months) to examine whether emerging issues from Study One manifested within the current academy environment, and how these influenced preparations for the Study Three provided a narrower, ethnographic lens to centre upon a reduced concentration of players to examine the specific JtST that players experience (n = 17). The data for Studies Two and Three was thematically analysed throughout the collection process and represented through the use of Creative Non-Fiction and Vignettes (n = 4 for Study Two, n = 6 for Study Three). Three key findings were identified across the thesis. Firstly, the academy environment has a multi-purpose nature, in that it is required to support players with their football, educational and holistic development. As such, a large range of individuals with many aspirations exist within one environment that lacks organisational structure and coherence. Secondly, the JtST equires movement between the junior, academy and senior, first team environments. Players survived within phases of uncertainty and isolation (i.e., 17-21 years) with, at times, poor and confusing communication, limited understanding, guidance and advice aligned to their individual development. Players struggled to manage and enjoy the JtST experience. Finally, the role of the academy coach (i.e., developing 16–21-year- old players with diverse educational and vocational aspirations, football technique, psycho-social characteristics, skills and behaviours aligned to various stages of maturation) is an increasingly demanding job. The focus of the academy coach, and supporting staff, cannot be solely to develop players for the first team, rather it must be to develop well-rounded individuals in football, education and proficiencies such as communication, identity development and psycho-social skills. Collectively, the results identify the limited ability for clubs to respond to the desire for more homegrown players, with the organisational structure of the academies being identified as hindering the ability for players to transition. Whilst a small number of talented players make the transition successfully, this is rare, with many opting to transition to lower league senior teams, or transitioning out of football altogether, due to the limitations and restrictions of the current development pathway.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Womens Football; Transitions; Psycho-social Factors; Culture; Identity
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure > GV561 Sports
Divisions: Sport & Exercise Sciences
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2023 15:06
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2023 15:07
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00019606
Supervisors: Thomas, L, Richardson, D and Murphy, R
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/19606
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