Importance of social-emotional development

The sporting context can be an excellent training ground for social and emotional skills. Players engage in team work and social interactions, and make use of psychological and emotional skills such as self-awareness, discipline, motivation, the ability to plan, organize and prioritize*. 

Important areas of social emotional development are: moral development (knowing right from wrong), emotion regulation, and identity development.

Examples of social skills are the ability to initiate and maintain meaningful relationships with others, self-awareness in social settings, and a healthy and adaptive way of relating to authority. Emotional skills are, for example, obtaining a genuine sense of self and  identity, moral judgement and moral actions, and the ability to regulate emotions. A study in a Danish football academy** showed that important psychosocial skills for negotiating the transition from junior to senior level included: 

  • self-awareness,
  • goal setting, 
  • motivation, 
  • self organization, 
  • ability to work hard, and 
  • managing performance and process outcomes. 

Goal setting and managing performance and process outcomes were described as the most important for making the transition to professional level**.

There may, however, also be a downside to the intense involvement of players in football in academies. The status of being a selected member in a football academy may hinder the development of mutually respectful relations with peers. A controlling environment in academies can hinder self-regulation of learning. It may lead to extrinsic (instead of intrinsic) motivation of players, or even to "entrapment motivation". The involvement in football academies may, in addition, result in players completing lower levels of education than might be expected on the basis of their intellectual ability. Applied work with several top level professional clubs in England suggests that many youth players do not progress on to professional levels because of psychological challenges that impact negatively on their well-being, mental health, and performance***. 

*Aquilina, D. (2013). A study of the relationship between elite athletes' educational development and sporting performance. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 30, 374-392.

**Larsen, C. H., Alfermann, D., Henriksen, K., & Christensen, M. K. (2013). Successful talent development in soccer: The characteristics of the environment. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 2, 190.

***Nesti, M. (2010). Psychology in football: Working with elite and professional players. Routledge.