It is time for the second annual special edition of Athletic Insight. The inaugural 2004 special edition overviewed applied practice in relation to professional sport. This year’s installment features submissions under the umbrella of cultural sport psychology. Cultural sport psychology is emerging as a promising line of research and practice. To understand why, consider a few admissions from my personal life, and afterward, a few first-hand observations from elite sport contexts. All the while, remember that the stories that I am about to share are interpretive.
I learned about the relationship of culture to sport behavior slowly. In an earlier career as a coach overseas, I often struggled in communication when working with athletes from Asia. I was considered blunt, overly direct, and insensitive. When I was invited to give clinics in South America, again I was teased, this time because I was reserved. I also appreciated different amounts of physical distance when exchanging ideas in social settings than those I visited. To be clear, outside of my own cultural setting, I often struggled to find my footing. There was more to shared understanding and relationship development than I could fully comprehend at the time. Though I had a strong technical grasp of my own sport, equestrian, my tactics were ill suited for international travel and effective multicultural communication.
I was not alone in the challenges posed by multicultural understanding. On one occasion, I witnessed a national team athlete from a minority background struggling with a national coach who clearly did not appreciate and support culturally sensitive immediate pre-competition techniques. The setting was a major-games competition, and the coach’s lack of cultural familiarity created an irreparable divide between the two. On a second occasion a world-renowned foreign athlete refused to compete because he feared losing in front of his home audience. Within his culture, the importance of community recognition was a group level belief. His support-staff did not fully understand the athlete’s struggles, nor why they consumed that athlete’s attention. Both of these stories echoed and reaffirmed my own lessons about cultural sensitivity and the complexities associated with bridged understanding.
The topic of multicultural understanding is not easy to unravel. Different cultures sometimes hold different values as dear. Some cultures prioritize group level collaboration and esprit de corps over self-esteem and self-determination. Others hold personal goals and objectives as paramount. It is with such cultural level differences that athletes and their supporters are asked to overcome differences and relate effectively in our global sport community and multicultural sport contexts.
You will find in this installment that cultural sport psychology is intriguing. The topic promises controversy as researchers and practitioners struggle to understand [and be understood by] those they are working with. Despite the challenges involved, culturally reflexive approaches promise the possibility of improved rapport, long-standing relationships spanning diverse populations, and a broad array of techniques that are more familiar and better suited for their intended population.
This installment of athletic Insight is meant to spur discussion among sport scientists and sport enthusiasts. Further, from the topic of culture as a starting point, this compilation of invited submissions is meant to add a few more insights to a very interesting general discussion. Welcome to the Autumn 2005 Athletic Insight Special Edition.