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Identity in Elite Youth Professional Football

Mitchell, T (2015) Identity in Elite Youth Professional Football. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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The concepts of Athletic Identity (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder,1993) and identity (Erikson, 1950, 1968) both carry notions of having a clear sense of self definition. Applied practitioners in elite professional football settings (e.g. Holt & Dunn, 2004; Harwood, 2008; Nesti & Littlewood, 2010; Nesti, 2013) have championed the notion that individuals who possess a clear sense of self, (generally) cope with the demanding nature of first team football, and the daily challenges that arise from their chosen profession (i.e., injury, de-selection). Conversely, a small number of researchers have consistently argued that professional football club culture may not support the development of a clear sense of identity in (young) players, as it has been described as espousing notions of power, dominance, authority and insecurity (see e.g. Parker, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001; Roderick, 2006, 2006a). The present thesis explores the role of identity, the impact of football club culture on its formation, and its importance in the career trajectory of youth team footballers.

Across three distinct studies, this thesis explores the concepts of Athletic Identity, identity, and the creation of club culture within youth and professional football. Study one used a cross sectional approach, within and across levels of play along with distinct situational, demographic variables to assess any differentiating factors in Athletic Identity in 168 (N = 168) youth team footballers. Football club explained 30% of the variance in exclusivity among players (p = .022). Mean social identity was significantly higher for those players in the first year of their apprenticeship compared to the second year (p = .025). The range of variance for exclusivity amongst players suggested it was the cultural climate created at each individual football club that impacted this subscale of Athletic Identity. Study Two used a qualitative approach with the aim of critically exploring the perceptions of practitioners in relation to; ideal player characteristics, working practices, organisational culture and environmental conditions. These facets are influenced by practitioners within youth development programmes, all of which contribute to shaping a player’s identity (Erikson, 1968). A total of 19 youth development practitioners were interviewed during data collection. Practitioners provided an explicit and clear blueprint of the ideal player characteristics required for successful upward transition, including, self belief, dedication and self awareness, which are synonymous with notions of identity. Finally, Study three used a case study approach to critically examine how players’ experiences of a professional football environment and culture served to shape their identity and allows them to cope with critical moments. A Championship football club served as the case study in which 4 players were interviewed 3 times over the course of one season. Findings were represented as narrative stories of each player. Findings suggested that having a clear sense of identity provided players with a platform for resilience and perseverance throughout a range of critical moments.

In summary, it is vital that appropriate internal (club) and external (affiliated organisations) strategies are developed and integrated into practice to ensure that players develop a clear sense of identity and meaning. It is essential that this transcends the professional football domain for players to have the best possible platform for career progression and career termination.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sport Psychology, Career Transition, Identity, Talent Development, Soccer
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure > GV561 Sports
Divisions: Sport & Exercise Sciences
Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2016 12:18
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2021 23:27
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00004544
Supervisors: Littlewood, M, Nesti, M and Richardson, D
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/4544
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