Psychological and Environmental Factors in Youth Football: How Sport Psychology Can Influence Performance and Development.

One important concept of sport’s psychology relating to motivation, is the coach-athlete relationship model. For example, coaches who demonstrate the autonomy-supportive style can help athletes to increase intrinsic motivation, influencing on athletes’ perceptions of autonomy including competence and relatedness (Mageau & Vallerand, 2003). The idea autonomy-supportive style involves coaches who provide opportunities for choices, provide clear explanation and reasoning for specific rules, recognition of athlete’s feelings as well as perspective, empowering athletes to take initiatives, and avoiding any controlling strategies. According to Balduck and Jowett (2010), the coach-athlete relationship plays a major role influencing athlete’s development including physical, learning new skills, and psychosocial growth such as developing self-esteem, in addition, the coach-athlete relationship is a global experience and as such its content and functions present no cultural boundaries.

Interestingly, Keegan et al. (2014) showed how young athletes perceived their “social agents” coaches, parents, and friends to influence their motivation. For example, the influence of coaches mainly reflected on the coach’s key roles of instruction and evaluation; while parents’ influences related in terms of the way they support participation and learning. Peers demonstrated to influence motivation by being competitive, collaborative, and based on their comments and potential evaluation through social relationship. As significantly important as motivation, Plakona et al. (2014) stated that self-confidence is one of the most important traits for success in sport performance, however, it needs to be high, stable, and resistant to hesitancy. As a result, many young talented athletes seek to enhance their fragile and unstable self-confidence affecting their performance much stronger, more stable, and of course resistant to hesitancy.

Studies have shown when athletes are exposed to appropriate psychological approaches and tools, performance including mental barriers can be improved. For example, the research conducted by Di Corrado et al. (2020) showed, in the sport situation imagery can be a thoughtful recall process where an individual sees an image, or a movement as an image. Based on this context, imagery plays a major role improving performance and motor tasks. Additionally, the use of imagery is an important way for enhancing self-confidence. Self-confidence is the athlete’s belief about his or her ability to be successful in sport. Similarly, Slimani et al. (2016) found that cognitive training strategies such as imagery, self-talk, and goal setting demonstrate positive effects on soccer performance, including motor skills (i.e. passing, dribbling, shooting) and psychological skills development – which can also influence physiological responses during competition controlling anxiety and arousal promoting movement efficiency (Ohuruogu, Jonathan, & Ikechukwu, 2016).

Different factors are involved in athlete development, and the environment where an athlete may be exposed to plays significant role in this process. According to Li, Wang, and Pyun (2014), an athlete’s environment is a dynamic system involving his or her surroundings such as athletic facilities, sport’s culture, sporting policy, social economic status, birthplace, and training. For instance, limited access and or lack of appropriate environmental opportunities can be detrimental to development; as a result, many young athletes may not enhance performance or potentially achieve elite level in sports. Interestingly, Cavichiolli (2011) found that frequently young athletes can be detected as potential talent at early stages. However, those athletes may not demonstrate the same talent at later stages due to inadequate development. As a result, it can negatively affect performance specifically in the transitioning stage into the professional level; which can be related to inadequate environmental factors throughout developmental phases.

One crucial environmental factor to be highlighted is social-economic status. Athletes lacking financial resources can potentially face a distinct qualitatively road in order to accumulate high levels of practice required to enhance performance and potentially to achieve elite level. In addition, research presented that sport expertise is acquired and developed through successful adaptation of several environmental factors and experiences in training and competition. Highlighting that 10 years of training is required to achieve optimal performance, noting that each athlete presents different rate of development and that individuals’ differences are trainable. Therefore, providing appropriate environmental opportunities throughout the developmental phases is imperative for growth (Li, Wang, & Pyun, 2014).

Practical Application

From a practical and scientific standpoint, youth athletes should exercise specific cognitive training in order to improve self-confidence, motor task, and performance including physiological responses (arousal and anxiety). For example, 1. mental imagery: imagining himself/herself in an environment performing a specific task (dribbling, shooting, taking a free kick) using all of his/her senses (sight, hear, feel and smell). The images should have the athlete performing successfully and feeling satisfied with that performance. 2. self-talking: when athletes speak to themselves (I can do this!) as an automatic verbalization or a deliberate form of speech – statements may be said aloud or as a silent voice in one’s mind. 3. Goal setting: technique used to increase an athletes’ commitment towards achieving a personal goal. For example (write it down thoroughly): I will focus on shooting from outside of the 18-yard box. Goal setting should be used beyond an idea of winning or losing matches, instead, as a variable of how much players learned and which skills and knowledge that were accomplished and used in matches and training (Hvid & Engell, 2013).

In conclusion, both psychological and environmental factors are significant aspects and part of youth football. Ideally, youth football players should be exposed and trained accordingly where performance and development can be maximized. With that in mind, through studying and using sport psychology, specific approaches and techniques can be explored and exercised in order to enhance performance supporting youth development as a whole. It is to be noted, cognitive training is an effective way for improving performance and can be implemented and used by football clubs including coaches and players. Regarding environmental factors, specifics such as appropriate training facility and social economic status may be associated with an idea where financial investment as a simple way of put it is necessary. In turn, it will create opportunities such as scholarships and other sponsorships for players who may need financial assistance in order to develop through sports/football.


Balduck, A. ?L., & Jowett, S. (2010). Psychometric properties of the Belgian coach version of the coach–athlete relationship questionnaire (CART-Q). Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20(5), 779–786.

Cavichiolli, F. R., Cheluchinhak, A. B., Capraro, A. M., Marchi Junior, W., & Mezzadri, F. M. (2011). Formation process of indoor and outdoor soccer athletes: an ethnographical analysis. Revista Brasileira De Educação Física E Esporte, (4), 631. doi:10.1590/S1807-55092011000400008

Di Corrado, D., Guarnera, M., Guerrera, C. S., Di Nuovo, S., Castellano, S., Maldonato, N. M., & Coco, M. (2020). Mental imagery skills in competitive young athletes and non-athletes. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi

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Keegan, R. J., Harwood, C. G., Spray, C. M., & Lavallee, D. (2014). A qualitative investigation of the motivational climate in elite sport. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 15(1), 97–107. https://doi

Li, C., Wang, C. K. J., & Pyun, D. Y. (2014). Talent development environmental factors in sport: A review and taxonomic classification. Quest (00336297), 66(4), 433–447.

Mageau, G. A., & Vallerand, R. J. (2003). The coach-athlete relationship: a motivational model. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21(11), 883–904. Retrieved from

Ohuruogu, B., Jonathan, U. I., & Ikechukwu, U. J. (2016). Psychological preparation for peak performance in sports competition. Journal of Education and Practice, 7(12), 47–50. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost- live&scope=site

Plakona, E., Par?ina, I., Ludvig, A., Tuzovi?, A. (2014). Self-confidence in sport. International scientific journal of kinesiology Vol. 7 Issue 1. Retrieved from: of_the_motor_dimensions_in_multivariate_space_with_young_athletes_and_nonathletic _treated_with_eurofit_tests/links/548a12ab0cf225bf669c795d.pdf#page=47

Slimani, M., Bragazzi, N. L., Tod, D., Dellal, A., Hue, O., Cheour, F., Chamari, K. (2016). Do cognitive training strategies improve motor and positive psychological skills development in soccer players? Insights from a systematic review. Journal of Sports Sciences, 34(24), 2338–2349. Retrieved from

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