Andrew M. GuestAug 18, 2022
Soccer in Mind
A Thinking Fan's Guide to the Global Game
Critical Issues in Sport and S 2021
Today we are joined by Andrew Guest, Professor of Psychology and Sociology at the University of Portland, where he also serves as Director of the Core Curriculum. He is also the author of Soccer in Mind: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to the Global Game (Rutgers University Press, 2022). In our conversation we discussed the possibilities of thinking fandom, soccer as a glocal phenomenon, and whether sport builds character and provides a social good.
In Soccer in Mind, Guest uses thematic chapters to address some of the biggest questions in sports studies: why do sports seem so central to many people’s identities, what is the right way to develop player talent, what is the future of sports psychology, and most importantly how can athletes and fans engage in sport in a more critical and socially conscious way?
His careful approach to think about and through soccer mixes different analytical lenses including sociology, psychology, and auto-ethnography. He strives to make the familiar things in soccer strange, and the strange things in soccer more familiar. His work moves comfortably between discussions of fan culture in England, women’s football in Portland, and witchcraft in Malawi to identify the ways that aesthetics, emotion and rationality work together to shape popular engagement with the global game.
He also considers the sport from the top-down and the bottom-up. His interlocutors and interview subjects range from elite women’s footballers in the US, Zanzibari soccer players called the “Women Fighters,” and disabled children in Angola. Many of his chapters are cross comparative. For example, in his chapter on player development, he looks at the influence of the technocratic Dutch model of top player development, the Ghanaian romantic model of grassroots soccer, and what he calls the Icelandic humanistic model that prioritizes broad human and social development through sport over elite access.
Throughout Soccer in Mind, Guest’s work challenges easy assumptions about soccer and sports more generally. While many works challenge the value of mega-events, Guest argues that soccer might only provide a social good when we use the sport to do so attentively and intentionally. His chapter on global development initiatives shows how even well-meaning soccer NGOs can cause negative feedback loops. Participation in sports might not even encourage fair play and sportsmanship unless athletes, coaches, and fans provide a broader social basis for it.
Guest’s very readable work – clearly of interest to people involved in sports studies, sports sociology and sports psychology – also has broad appeal and will prove useful in classrooms and boardrooms.
Keith Rathbone is a Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history.