Football Coaching _ Performance

PhD student: Alan McKay


PhD Alan McKayAlan McKay is studying an ESF-funded PhD in sport psychology in partnership with the Football Association of Wales Trust (FAWT)

My project is investigating the concept of 'mental toughness' and 'mentally tough behaviours' in youth international footballers. That is, I am interested in identifying the behaviours that help players to cope with making the transition from club-to-international football, and allow them to perform consistently under pressure while playing for their country. 

PhD Alan McKay FAW Players 2.jpgI am currently in the middle of my second study, conducting focus groups with FAWT coaches, staff and parents to identify these specific mentally tough behaviours and how they are developed on and off the pitch. 

Mental toughness is a topic that is still poorly understood in a sporting context, particularly in terms of how it’s developed. Therefore, through my PhD work, I am hoping to create a better understanding of what mental toughness is in the FAWT and to create a framework for how it can be developed, via behaviours. 

The opportunity to study this fascinating area came through the existing research relationship between the Football Association of Wales Trust (FAWT) and USW. Having previously worked as a research assistant at USW, where I developed good working relationships with my supervisors, and with aspirations to pursue an academic career in sport psychology, the decision to study a PhD at USW was an easy one for me. 

My supervisory team of Professor Brendan Cropley and Professor David Shearer are not only two of the leading experts on sport psychology and coaching in the country, they are also extremely supportive of the work I am doing. They are always encouraging me to continue to develop and get the most out of my PhD experience. Through their guidance, I have developed an applicable set of skills for a career in applied research - developing relationships with relevant stakeholders, the ability to work independently and as part of a team, publishing papers. 

PhD Alan McKay FAW Coaching.jpgUSW is also fantastic for giving its PhD students, such as myself, an opportunity to gain teaching experience and help the next generation of students to develop their passion for sport psychology. This is difficult to get in other institutions. 

My project is being dually funded by the Knowledge Economic Skills Scholarship (KESS) scheme and the Football Association of Wales Trust (FAWT). One of the most rewarding aspects of conducting an industry-based piece of work with a company partner such as this is that there is rarely a dull day in the office. 

Throughout the PhD process, I have had the opportunity to attend international training camps and matches (pre-Covid, of course), interview coaches and players, contribute to FAWT coach meetings and seminars, as well as speak at both university and national-level conferences. 

Further, I have been able to feed back my research findings directly to FAWT stakeholders and have a direct impact on how the psychological corner of their coaching syllabus and player development pathway are being shaped. Such applied research opportunities are extremely fulfilling, and I would recommend a KESS-funded project to anyone considering going into the fields of academia or research.