Sport Psychology for Development? Critical Reflections and Constructive Suggestions on Outsiders ‘Building Community’ in the Global South
Abstract In the fast growing world of ‘Sport for Development and Peace’ (SDP) programs coordinated by Global North organizations for Global South communities much of the discourse has a psychological orientation. Programs talk, for example, about using sport to develop life skills, to build self-esteem, to improve motivation, or to change prejudicial attitudes. In this paper I draw on experiences and research with SDP programs in Malawi and Angola, along with experiences teaching about sports and development in an American university, to discuss both the problems and the potential for applying a psychological lens to sports and development programs when working in the Global South. The problems start with questions about whether psychological prescriptions are actually relevant to cross-cultural community development, particularly as those prescriptions often falsely imply psychological deficiency at the individual level. Further, while sport can sometimes change prejudicial attitudes, it can also reify artificial social groups and create community division. As such, the greatest potential for psychology in the world of SDP may lie in helping programs understand the conditions under which sport does and does not relate to community development. Thus, the proposal here is that psychology might be most useful to SDP and communities in the Global South for its research base rather than its applied tools. There is a need, for example, for better assessment within SDP both before and after programming. It could also be helpful for SDP programs to have access to research in areas such as social identity theory and the community psychology of empowerment to inform program design. Overall, the hope here is that the application of psychology in the world of SDP will grow in qualitative rather than quantitative measure.