Culture in Sport Psychology:
Whose Culture is it Anyway?
Tatiana V. Ryba
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Just as you cannot fully understand human action without taking account of its biological evolutionary roots and, at the same time, understand how it is construed in the meaning making of the actors involved in it, so you cannot understand it fully without knowing how and where it is situated. For, to paraphrase Clifford Geertz, knowledge and action are always local, always situated in a network of particulars.
In spring 2008, I was shortlisted for a Senior Lecturer post in the European Master’s in Sport and Exercise PsychologyProgramme at the University of Jyväskylä. Thesubsequentstage in the competition was to deliver a 20-minute lecture entitled “Current Issues in Sport and Exercise Psychology.” As I was perusing the latest issues of international journals in the field in an attempt to get a better grasp of “hot” topics, my list of “current issues” was growing. There were plenty of topics I could raisein my lecture.Yet, I was feeling uneasy—contemporary issues seemed but the recurrentold ones. Take for example, present anxieties about growing rates of child obesity and urgency of instigating physically active lifestyle in the developed countries; or models of sport psychology practice and delivery; or using sport as a tool for peace and international collaborations.These issues continuously makenational and international news, peer-reviewed journals, and scientific conferences. Yet they are certainly not new. In the late 19th century, Russian biologist, anatomist and educator Piotr Lesgaft (1901) stressed the importance of physical activity for healthy physical and psychological development of children. The scientifically inspired model of physical education developed by Lesgaft was later incorporated into the school system by the soviet state. At the turn of the 20th century, we see medical doctors and physical educators across Europe and North America pointing to physiological, psychological and social benefits of regular engagement in physical activity (Welch & Lerch, 1981). Recent empirical research provides convincing support to previous theoretical and descriptive essays produced by scholars around the world. Similarly, debates about the best provision of psychological services for athletes and coaches have been ongoing since the late 1960s, if not earlier. In addition, sport as an important sociocultural practice has been historically utilized for social integration, nationbuilding, and peace diplomacy.I began to realize that it is not the issue per se that makes news but the meaning it is given at a particular historical conjuncture. The meaning, of course, is based on what our best explanatory theories can provide.
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