Existential Psychology and Sport: Theory and Application

Existential Psychology and Sport: Theory and Application

Existential Psychology and Sport: Theory and Application

Existential Psychology and Sport: Theory and Application

Synopsis

Increasing numbers of professional teams and athletes look for assistance with the psychological factors of their performance, and there exists a growing body of professional sport psychologists ready to provide support. Despite this, it seems at times there remains a significant gap between the real needs of sport performers and what is delivered by traditional sport psychology. The existential approach described by Mark Nesti offers a radical alternative to the cognitive and cognitive-behavioural approaches that have dominated sport psychology, and represents the first systematic attempt to apply existential psychological theory and phenomenological method to sport psychology. This much-needed alternative framework for the discipline of applied sport psychology connects to many of the real and most significant challenges faced by sports performers during their careers and beyond. Existential Psychology and Sport outlines an approach that can be used to add something of depth, substance and academic rigour to sport psychology in applied settings beyond the confines of MST and good listening skills.

Excerpt

This introduction was written on a visit to Copenhagen, Denmark where I was fortunate to present a workshop on existential psychology and sport at the XIth European Congress of Sport Psychology. I prepared an outline for this introduction whilst sitting in the gardens of the Royal Danish Library just around the corner from Soren Kierkegaard Square. This was apt in so many ways not least, as Kierkegaard is accepted by most to be the founder of modern existentialism. So why did I make my notes in the gardens and not in the square itself? The simple but important answer is that the square was austere, rather unattractive and uninviting in comparison to the beautiful library gardens. Was this a deliberate act by the city authorities of Copenhagen to mark out such a sombre memorial space in their otherwise wonderful city? Maybe the city planners were also keen scholars of Kierkegaard! Either way, this experience led me to reflect once again on why Kierkegaard, existential philosophy and psychology have proved to be such a bitter pill for most to swallow. Existential approaches stand accused of over emphasizing the ugly and tragic side of life. With their focus on death, freedom and responsibility, isolation and inauthenticity, it is easy to see how it has been described as an approach for the temperamentally gloomy. Indeed, despite his warm support for much of what existential psychology had to say, Maslow (1968) was much less enthusiastic about what he saw as its overtly pessimistic spirit. He was particularly critical of its failure to acknowledge the joys and positives of life, going so far as to suggest that much of this approach reflected the miserable and painful lives of its founders and none more so than Kierkegaard himself. Which brings us back to the square and the garden!

A major difficulty with existential psychology is that much of the language used in this approach sounds strange to the modern reader. For example, terms such as, 'the-world-as-lived', 'being-in-the-world', angst and inauthenticity, are difficult to explain easily and quickly. Immediately therefore, the person wishing to know more about existentialism and existential psychology becomes aware that this task will demand considerable patience and persistence.

On a more positive note, once they have begun to grasp these unfamiliar terms and strange new words, the sport psychologist (especially those with considerable experience) will encounter some much more recognizable territory. To

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