A Media Psychology Take on a Sports Psychology Conference

By Feb.16, 2013

In this post Cathy Ure, an MSc Media Psychology postgraduate, reviews the British Psychology Society’s conference held at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester in November 2012.  The conference on ‘Reflections and Implications following the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games’  was organised by the North East of England and North West of England Branches.  


To take advantage of the Olympic and Paralympic year, the NE and NW branches of the BPS held a joint conference on Sports Psychology, which I attended on behalf of the University of Salford.

Arriving at the Etihad Stadium, for the first time since the Commonwealth Games of 2002, I was struck by the vast redevelopment of this part of East Manchester that continues apace with the £100 million redevelopment of land to the South East of the stadium by Manchester City Football Club. How, I wondered, does such investment affect identity locally?

As I entered the conference, I pondered on how Sports Psychology and Media Psychology intersect and about what the emerging discipline of Media Psychology could learn from this other ‘newcomer’ – a field still in its infancy – established as the Division of Sports and Exercise by the BPS in 2005.

The morning sessions focused on mental toughness – defined as ‘ a collection of experientially developed and inherent values, attitudes, emotions and cognitions that influence the way in which an individual approaches, responds to and appraises both negatively and positively construed pressure, challenge and adversity to consistently achieve his or her goals’ (Gucclardi, Gordon & Dimmock, 2009, p. 63).

Whilst this concept has mostly been applied to sports settings, it strikes me as also having applicability to all those appearing in the media particularly those aspiring to live or living the ‘celebrity dream’ and those thrust into the media spotlight by life’s events rather than any particular ambition to be ‘known’.

Clough et al. (2002) state that mental toughness consists of 4 ‘C’s’:

–       Commitment

–       Challenge

–       Confidence – in own abilities and interpersonally

–       Control – emotional and life

Dr. Crust, University of Lincoln, outlined that research from sport has provided provisional evidence that mental toughness can be developed through training programmes (see Crust & Clough, 2011; Gucciardi et al. 2009). Perhaps a future media psychology study could investigate whether interventions to support the development of mental toughness lead to higher levels of emotional wellbeing for individuals who suddenly attain a media presence, whether, for example, that be a sportsperson who achieves a medal at an Olympic Games after years of personal commitment or a fledgling contestant, thrust into the public spotlight on the X-Factor and who inadvertently develops a positive or negative media image/following.

A tour of the Etihad Stadium at lunchtime brought the concept of mental toughness clearly to the fore. Moving from a conference environment on to the concourse running around the outside of the stadium, one tier above pitch level, refocused the mind on what this stadium is designed to produce – entertainment – and on the psychological attributes players need to succeed, including mental toughness. The pitch has been repositioned since my 2002 visit. The north terrace has been added and the pitch has been dug down to below ground level. The result is a spectacularly intimate space for a 46,000 strong audience to concentrate their attention on the gladiatorial combat played out before them. For the players there really is no place to hide.

The visual imagery used in the 2012 room (no one is under any misapprehension as to who won the Premier League in 2012!), the players warm up room, the press room and on the hoardings above the concourse continuously reinforce the power of the Manchester City brand. The personal testimonies paint pictures of historical family allegiances and forge strong identity images even for those of us who do not claim to be football fans. There is no escaping the evidence that fostering deep levels of Club identification is good for business.

On returning to the conference, two poster presentations in particular caught by attention. Helen Brown, Carnegie Faculty, Leeds Metropolitan University reported on her exploratory study regarding the influence of media expectation on the performance of elite athletes using Kelly’s (1955) PCP framework. The findings indicate that media expectations can influence athlete’s cognitions, affects and behaviours. Some athletes are more prone to the detrimental effects of media expectations than others whilst a number of moderating variables may influence the extent to which athletes are more susceptible to such effects. Brown proposed that future research should explore the impact of potential moderating variables on athletes’ wellbeing and performance in order to identify and develop appropriate educational interventions and media expectation coping strategies.

The study by Chater & Marsden, University of Bedfordshire, into the ‘influence of interactive game consoles on physical activity, motivation and mood’ was also interesting. This study was designed to determine whether the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) could predict physical activity intentions and whether these intentions are influenced by mood or past behaviour. An interesting aspect was their investigation as to whether type of console (Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect) enhanced the variables of the TPB, physical activity intentions and mood. Was there any difference between the type of console and the game played?

There was no effect caused by the type of game played or the type of console however there were positive effects from game play, more so than from observing others play. MANCOVA revealed intervention effects, with actual game play enhancing intention, positive affect and control.  Chater & Marsden’s (2012) study indicates that engaging in physical activity through a games console can encourage beliefs in behavioural control and motivations to be physically active.

Dr. Steve Peters gave an entertaining and thought provoking keynote address. Perhaps most renowned for his work with the British Cycling team and the Sky Pro Cycling team, Steve’s unique approach to ‘optimising the performance of the human mind’ depicted the brain as part human, part computer and part monkey. He gave some wonderful examples of the monkey taking over the brain during specific athlete performances, which as you can imagine impacted negatively on overall performance.

Presumably the ‘monkey’ should be controlled by the fourth ‘C’ of ‘control’ but ruminating on the inputs of the day, I contemplated whether in this increasingly media centric 24/7 world, a fifth ‘C’ was required for the major media players of today – the capacity to cope with celebrity.

By Cathy Ure

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