Leeds Beckett University
UnderstandingYouthTennisPlayersPsychologicalDevelopmentThroughCriticalRealismAndAction Research-DOHME_Redacted.pdf (13.01 MB)

Understanding youth tennis players' psychological development through critical realism and action research

Download (13.01 MB)
posted on 2022-11-22, 13:07 authored by Lea-Cathrin Dohme
Although youth athletes’ psychological development is increasingly understood as an important social phenomenon, it has typically been studied through relatively narrow theoretical lenses. To understand and improve psychological development from a holistic perspective (i.e., one that considers the wide ranging relational systems in which processes are embedded) this thesis draws on the philosophy of critical realism: an approach that facilitates the in-depth exploration of complex social phenomena. After engaging in a two-part systematic review that clarified the psychological terms and frameworks offered in the talent development literature, a four-phased action research study was conducted in one successful English tennis club. A fifteen-month immersion approach was taken that allowed for the development of authentic relationships with eleven youth athletes (aged 8-16 years), fifteen parents, and three coaches. Data was collected through observations, field notes, informal chats, formal interviews, athlete and coach workshops, and athlete-tasks. Findings highlight the key contextual factors that penetrated athletes’ micro- to macro-system (action research phase 1), as well as the underlying causal powers of this system (action research phase 2), that impacted upon athletes’ psychological development. Nine specific mechanisms were identified that triggered athletes’ development of a series of psychological outcomes. Mechanisms were plagued by a reactive common sense nature, which impeded the psychological development of athletes. The behaviour was underpinned by a lack of capability and opportunities that taught, particularly coaches and parents, the knowledge and skills necessary to foster athletes’ psychological development in a systematic and proactive way. After implementing targeted athlete and coach psychological workshops (action research phase 3) and evaluating the effects of my time at the club (action research phase 4), improvements in coaches’ and athletes’ capability to use and develop psychological skills and characteristics more consistently and explicitly were identified. Based on the findings, short- and long-term recommendations that call for the prioritisation of youth athletes’ psychological development were offered for sport psychology practitioners, researchers, and National Governing Bodies. Finally, the thesis outlines the potential of critical realism as a novel and valuable underpinning framework for sport psychology and talent development research and the creation and evaluation of interventions.


Qualification name

  • PhD


Piggott, Dave ; Backhouse, Sue ; Morgan, Gareth

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

Usage metrics

    LBU Theses and Dissertations


    No categories selected



    Ref. manager