Sports & Exercise Psychology and Male Psychology: a winning combination

Dr. John Barry, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology, University College London

Dr. Phil Clarke, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Derby

Men commit suicide at over three times the rate that women do, but men are much less likely to seek therapy than women are (Kung et al, 2003). Men can be helped with talking therapies, but research suggests that they are less likely than women to talk about their feelings as a coping strategy (Tamres et al, 2003; Matud, 2004; Russ et al, 2015). Suicide and help-seeking can be seen as ‘male psychology’ issues, because they are aspects of psychology that are a bigger problem for men than women.

What has this got to do with Sports & Exercise Psychology? Potentially quite a lot. For a kick off, more men than women engage in sports (41% Vs 32%, according to Sport England, 2013), so for men who need help but are put off by the idea of talking to a therapist about their feelings, an easy way in to mental health support might be to do something they already feel ok about, like sport and exercise.  Sport and exercise might in itself be enough to help them, or it could be a gateway to other therapies.

Recent initiatives such as walking football, a slow-paced version of football aimed at participants over 50, has improved the mental health of many male participants through the social and physical benefits of partaking. There are now over 950 walking football teams in the UK since its creation in 2011 (Walking Football United, 2017). The mental health benefits of sport has encouraged professional football clubs to take a more active role in helping men battle depression and improve mental health, as seen in The Football Foundation’s collaboration with the Premier league and the Football Association (Football Foundation, 2017).

MIND (2013) have noted that men are twice as likely as women to have no one to rely on for emotional support, and so the allure of sport for men may be due to the emotional support received from playing football with others who are experiencing similar mental health issues. As such, using sports initiatives like the ones mentioned above can be a fantastic way for males to use sport and exercise to cope with daily stressors and improve their mental health.

All of this suggests that there is strong potential for a positive synergy between male psychology and Sports & Exercise Psychology. For example, findings in male psychology regarding sex differences in coping strategies, help-seeking, and preferences for therapy (Liddon et al, 2017) might be useful in designing Sports & Exercise interventions for men who are reluctant to access traditional talking therapies. In this and other ways, Sports & Exercise Psychology and Male Psychology might together do much to help men’s mental health.


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Football Foundation (2017). Benefits of mental wellbeing. Focus, March issue, pp.2-18. Accessed on the internet 28th Sept 2017

Kung, H. C., Pearson, J. L., & Liu, X. (2003). Risk factors for male and female suicide decedents ages 15–64 in the United States. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology38(8), 419-426.

Liddon, L., Kingerlee, R., & Barry, J. A. (2017). Gender differences in preferences for psychological treatment, coping strategies, and triggers to help‐seeking. British Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Matud, M. P. (2004). Gender differences in stress and coping styles. Personality and individual differences37(7), 1401-1415.

MIND (2013). Men are twice as likely as women to have no one to rely on for emotional support. Accessed on the internet 28th Sept 2017

Tamres, L. K., Janicki, D., & Helgeson, V. S. (2002). Sex differences in coping behavior: A meta-analytic review and an examination of relative coping. Personality and social psychology review, 6(1), 2-30.

Sports England (2013). Active People Survey 5-7: Technical Report. Accessed on the internet 12th Oct 2017

Walking Football United (2017). Walking Football continued evolution. Accessed on the internet 28th Sept 2017


Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network.

Dr Philip Clarke is a lecturer in Sport, Exercise and Performance psychology at the University of Derby. Phil has an extensive background in providing psychological support for a number of clients and athletes across the sports performance spectrum with his work with the University of Derby’s Human Performance Unit. His PhD research concentrated on the YIPs phenomena in sport and following this continues to work regularly in performance sport. He once ran the length of Ireland to raise money for charity and uses his expertise of performing under pressure to help coaches and athletes develop skill sets that can positively influence performance.



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