For our next interview, we caught up with Dr. Caren Diehl, who is by profession a sport psychologlist. Caren was originally born in Stuttgart, Germany. She lived in Ghana for 5 and a half years during her youth and then moved to Tanzania for 12 years. She pursued her undergraduate studies in Sport Psychology at the University of Glamorgan in the UK and went on to pursue a Masters degree at Temple University in the US. Caren returned to the UK to pursue her PhD at the University of Wolverhampton. The title was Emotional Intelligence in Diverse Populations: From Theory to Intervention, published in 2011. Here’s what we talked about:
1. What is Sport Psychology and do we need it in East Africa?
Sport psychology deals with helping athletes/individuals improve their performance, by focusing on the mental part of their sport. It refers to understanding how psychological factors can influence performance, but also how participating in sport can affect psychological and physical factors. To help an individual improve their performance I use techniques such as positive thinking, self-talk, goal-setting, imagery, arousal control, and stress management, just to name a few. At the beginning I try to help athletes perform as well during a game as they do during training when there is no pressure. As an important Sport psychologist said if they can’t do it during practice then there is not much chance they can do it during a game when the heat is on. Most of the skills are applicable to other parts of your life. This is also what I tell my athletes that the techniques that I teach them can use in their work life, school life and personal life.
Sport psychology can also be used during rehabilitation, when injured you may not be able to go out there and run your race or kick the ball, but you can use some of the skills such as imagery to run through your skills and fine tune those skills in your head. The more detailed the image is the better as it becomes close to physically training those muscle groups and this helps when you then have to go out there again and do the real thing. Sport psychology can also help athletes deal with career ending injuries or transitioning out of the sport for various reasons. For a more detailed explanation of what exactly sport psychology is please refer to this.
Now that you all know a bit more about sport psychology is it needed in East Africa? In short, yes. Sport psychology currently seems to be mainly used in North America, Australia and Europe; however there is an increase in its use in South Africa and Singapore. It is needed worldwide but the access and knowledge in other parts of the world is small. While I was travelling through India I held a few workshops spreading the knowledge of what sport psychology is. In Dubai not too long ago they had their very first sport psychology conference. There is slowly an increase in awareness of the field and the demand for our services will hopefully increase with the increase of knowledge and understanding of the importance of sport psychology. Yes sport psychology is needed in East Africa however from what I know they don’t know about sport psychology or still don’t see the importance of the field.
2. So what made you write your PhD on emotional intelligence? Where do you think it applies most?
We all know how emotions can sometimes just take over and control our behavior. So I read up about emotional intelligence (EI) which in sport psychology is still a relatively new area. What I read I found interesting but as always I was missing the cross cultural view on EI or moods and emotions in general. At first my study just focused on wheelchair basketball players in the UK but then expanded to include Ghanaian footballers without a disability. I would have loved to have included Ghanaian athletes with a disability but the population doesn’t really exist. Considering both these populations have not been included in any previous studies I had to do a lot of qualitative work to see if the theory of EI which is used in the “norm” was applicable to these populations. I found that to some extent it is but more work is needed and the theory may need to be altered a bit especially when working with Ghanaian athletes.
EI applies to every part of your life, it deals with how you perceived your own emotions, how you perceive other people’s emotions, how you control your emotions, how you manage other people’s emotions so their emotions don’t influence your own emotions, but it also deals with how we can alter another person’s emotion so if someone is sad what can we do to make them feel better. It also deals with how you can use your own emotions. So if you’re angry how you can channel that anger in a productive way. Definitely applies to sport, the business world, daily life, schools.
3. We have begun to learn about the importance of sporting activities on growing children. Does your work apply to social development as well?
Sport psychology is applicable to a variety of areas not just in sport but also in the business world. So yes some of the techniques used can also be used in social development. I did an internship with GTZ (German Technical Cooperation) now known as GIZ (German International Cooperation). I worked with the GTZ helping to develop a networking platform for different organizations that use sports (mainly football) for youth development. The aim was to teach the youth about life skills, saying no to violence, group dynamics, educating them about Aids/HIV. Leadership skills, group dynamics/cohesion, life skills, all these are an essential part of sport psychology.
These are all important skills that can be used in social development and youth development. If one can help enhance a child’s self-confidence then they may say no to violence, they will stand up for themselves, but it also teaches them about having a support network. We like to think that we can do things on our own, that we don’t need anyone but that’s not true. Having family and friends that we can count on is important; it keeps us sane and strong. We just need to learn who to trust and what to share with people; this is also where emotional intelligence comes into play. Knowing when to share your problems with others and when to hold back.
4. You spent some time in Ghana not too long ago. What were you involved with there, and do you think some of your lessons from there could be applied to Eastern Africa?
I did 2 things in Accra, Ghana. One was working with a football team in their premier league. I spent nearly 5 years with the team on and off. At the beginning I spent some time explain the importance of sport psychology and the benefits of it. Being able to control your emotions, your mind in such a way that you can perform at your best level when needed, we have all seen it when emotions take over and things then don’t go the way we want. It pains me to remember the day not too long ago when Ghana missed that crucial penalty kick which could have gotten them into the semi finals. But the pressure was so big, I personally also think that the player may have celebrated a little too early and so didn’t focus properly (but we will never know for sure). But the loss of focus was one of the reasons that ball did not go in and Ghana was forced to have a penalty shout out, having come so close to winning they again were not really able to refocus on the task. This is where sport psychology could have come into play, had players learned re-focusing techniques, dealing with pressure, distraction, who knows what could have happened that day. Even though it is a very important part of sports most of Africa seems to forget this part when it comes to building their teams. All this also applies to East Africa. I have approached a few clubs in Tanzania wanting to work there and teach them these techniques but they weren’t interested, they didn’t see the importance, or didn’t feel they could spend money on this “extra part.” Things that I worked on with the team in Ghana was communication, relaxation, starting to be more critical about their own performance instead of always leaving it in the hands of god, becoming more confident but not over confident, dealing with their dreams, dealing with failure. All these will most probably also apply to Tanzanian football players or any other sport in Tanzania and the rest of East Africa.
The second was the Internship with GTZ, which I discussed above. I know that Right to Play is in Tanzania but I don’t know if there is a platform for all the different organizations to work together. I felt that it was a good idea, as it got the Ghanaians working together and helping each other out more than always relying and depending on help from foreigners.
5. Where would you encourage young entrepreneurs in East Africa to look when it comes to higher education and employment in your field?
Sport Psychology is slowly growing even in Africa. So you do not have to move to Europe, the States or Australia to study sport psychology. Universities in South Africa offer the course, I know there are sport psychologists in Morocco as well and Nigeria (not sure however if they offer the courses at a university there). As the field is going through some changes it may be a better choice to study straight psychology at an undergraduate level and then specialize for your masters and PhD. I did not do this I studied sport psychology from the get go and so I have faced a few hurdles, like I won’t be able to work in Australia as they require you to have a psychology degree. However if you want to work in Africa, it’s still a very new field for now it won’t matter that much, the challenge you will be facing is more raising the awareness and the importance of sport psychology, what it is how it can benefit athletes or even business cooperation’s. So if you are serious in working in this field do your homework before you start your journey, find out what the requirements are in the country you wish to work in.
- Emotional Intelligence in Diverse Populations: Theory to Intervention (Diehl, 2011)
- Working with Ghanaian athletes (Diehl, Hegley, and Lane, 2009)
Thanks for the time and thoughts, Caren! You may contact her at carendiehl (at) aol (dot) com. As usual, the discussion continues below so please do contribute your thoughts and questions.