Congratulations Dr Alan McKay

Alan McKay graduation

Congratulations to Dr Alan McKay who graduated last month with a PhD in Sport Psychology

Thesis title: Developing a framework of mental toughness in youth football: Exploring mentally tough behaviours and personality to aid talent development

Supervisory team: Professor Brendan Cropley, Professor David Shearer

We asked Alan a few questions about his experience as a PhD student at USW.

  • How has doing a PhD benefited you – personally and professionally?

Professionally: A PhD is an independent piece of research, conducted across a series of studies with a clear, overarching narrative that makes an original contribution to knowledge. Therefore, through completing a PhD, I have become an independent researcher, learning how to justify my research, write in my own voice, develop relationships with key stakeholders in my industry, and manage my time effectively with competing roles in lecturing and applied practice. This skillset that I have developed during my PhD has provided me with the platform to pursue my dream career of working in sport psychology.

Personally: The PhD journey has many bumps in the road. Learning how to justify my research and become an independent researcher was a challenge that was often accompanied by feelings of fraudulence – am I good enough to successfully complete this PhD? – and several setbacks. Nevertheless, a PhD is as much about the experiences you have along the way and what you learn about yourself as a person through the setbacks and the failures, as it is about the end product. Through completing this PhD, I have learned the value of patience, and the importance of making and learning from my mistakes (and there were lots of mistakes!). The nature of a PhD helps the student become an independent researcher and expert in their research area. However, in my experience, the journey to becoming an independent researcher was a collective one during which I relied on the support of numerous people, including my supervisors, research colleagues, friends and family to navigate the PhD process.

  • Who and how will your research help / positively impact?

I was fortunate enough to conduct my PhD in conjunction with a company partner, the Football Association of Wales Trust (FAWT), meaning my research will have an applied impact on how this organisation designs, plans, and delivers psychological support to international youth football players. Specifically, my research involved creating a bespoke, behaviour-based framework for developing players’ mental toughness (MT), thus allowing players to cope more effectively with the demands of international youth football and to perform more consistently under pressure. I then educated FAWT coaches’ in how to deliver this behaviour-based approach to MT development. As a result, the findings of my PhD have fundamentally changed how the FAWT perceive psychological development of youth international footballers and how they engage players in this psychological development during international camps.

"Conducting a PhD in any context is a challenging experience, which requires patience, dedication, and resilience. That being said, I cannot imagine a better place to conduct a PhD than USW."

  • What was it like doing your PhD at USW?

Conducting a PhD in any context is a challenging experience, which requires patience, dedication, and resilience. That being said, I cannot imagine a better place to conduct a PhD than USW. Throughout my PhD, I received excellent support from my supervisory team, Prof. Brendan Cropley, Prof. David Shearer, and Prof. Sheldon Hanton, who challenged me when my research designs or writing were not quite up to scratch and supported me when I was struggling to stay motivated or recruit participants, particularly during the isolation of COVID-19. Alongside my studies, my supervisors also provided me with opportunities to engage in lecturing and applied work, allowing me to gain a more well-rounded understanding of my subject area. USW is never afraid to give its postgraduate students such opportunities and these experiences have been invaluable in my continued professional development.

  • What are you doing now?

I am now working as a Senior Research Assistant at the Centre for Football Research in Wales, where I have been fortunate enough to continue my research with the FAW, as I seek to continue to enhance their understanding and application of psychological development with youth international football players in both the boys’ and girls’ games.

You can read more about Alan’s research here.