Mental Fitness in Elite Sport: The Role of Therapy in Football Academies

  • Oliver Twizell

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Abstract Background: Despite growing media interest into the effects of organised sport on children and young people’s mental health, there remains a dearth of research in this area. The study therefore aimed to explore sport professionals’ views of how football academies support the mental health and wellbeing of academy footballers. Methods: A qualitative design was utilised to generate a rich dataset to gain insights into the views of sport professionals. Eleven individuals who worked at football academies were interviewed for this study. Reflexive thematic analysis was engaged with in order to identify key themes within the interviews. Findings: The analysis led to the creation of three major themes related to the experience of sports professionals in football academes. These were: (i) understanding the uniqueness of the culture and experience; (ii) the therapist’s role; and (iii) integrating the role (finding a place for therapy). Conclusion: The findings support existing literature and government initiatives with a collective agreement of aiming to improve the facility of mental health support within football academies. Reflecting upon the findings and existing literature, a unique approach to integrate therapy within academy football is proposed. This emphasises a need for therapeutic support across the whole academy system. A collective term was coined within this research as ‘The Three Ps’ (the players, their support network (parents), and the professionals). This requires applied psychologists to offer support in ways that do not alienate them from the football academy community. Suggestions and implications are discussed, including the provision of flexible holistic support, tailored athlete-centred therapeutic practice, and counselling acting as a platform to connect the whole academy community. Further research is required to assess bi-directional communication between counselling and psychotherapy and football academies to ensure that therapy is adaptable throughout the environment.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJo Shuttleworth (Supervisor) & Terry Hanley (Supervisor)


  • youth-athletes
  • psychotherapy
  • mental health
  • therapy
  • counselling
  • academy football
  • counselling psychology

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