Clients in sport and exercise psychology contexts are from a diversity of cultural backgrounds. The terms individualism and collectivism have recently been integrated within sport psychology as elements of one criterion by which to understand the client’s cultural standpoint. Individualism has often been associated with mainstream clients who are white and from the Western hemisphere. In contrast, people generally characterized as collective in their approach to self and world have often been depicted as South American or Asian in origin, or as having been born and raised in collective-minded communities such as an Israeli kibbutz or an aboriginal reserve. To assume, however, that every athlete born and raised in a collective community must be group minded, or that every client socialized in an individualist context must be driven by personal objectives would of course be too simplistic.
A person’s inclination to view the self or collective at the center of interpersonal exchanges is a matter of many personal factors and not necessarily the effect of such broad considerations as one’s geographic origin, skin color, or religion. For example, there are white, mainstream, North American athletes who are collectively inclined, just as there are fitness enthusiasts from Latin American or Asian cultures with an individualistic mindset as they approach their physical exercise. Clients must be understood in their own right and not on the basis of stereotypes. However, it should also be observed that some clients are inclined toward the values of individualism, where others are somewhat or fully collective in their approach to performance.
What differentiates someone with an orientation that begins with self from another with a collective inclination? A person who is situated more toward individualism in one or more areas of life would often use language that places one’s self at the center of discussions, such as when the elite athlete is interviewed by the media and attributes personal accomplishments exclusively to personal efforts and personal abilities. Individualism is also typified through the use of theoretically informed objectives, including self-determination, self efficacy, self-concept, and self-esteem, as well as the behaviors that manifest the intentions underpinning each term. Decisions are often informed more by personal objectives than those from within one’s communities of affiliation, whether geographic, peer group, religious, or professional. Personal goals are derived from personal interests, ending in personalized accomplishments.
The collectively inclined person, in contrast, seeks position in relation to one or several groups, with the views and practices of the group(s) informing, and in some instances, determining personal decisions and behaviors. The decision to become an elite athlete might be informed by how that career path contributes to those living in one’s community. Thereafter, the collectively inclined client might opt to return to that community and share experiences and skills with others for the collective’s betterment, such as when a national team athlete or professional athlete returns to the cultural community to become a coach, or when one studies physical education and then returns to one’s locale to work a physical educator. Hence, the person’s decision to act in a certain manner or develop targeted skills will align with the development of the group as a whole and also informed by the community’s stakeholders. The importance of social support, both in its reception and provision, becomes particularly salient for people socialized with a collective mindset.
There are research strategies that illustrate inclinations toward individual and collective values. Consider qualitative strategies that reflect an emphasis on the individual, including personal interviews and single-subject case studies. Practices that are individualist are best used with participants holding like-minded cultural norms. When working with people who are more collectively inclined, one might consider group interviews to encourage group exchange and the convergence of ideas. Within research, the objective would be either to conceive of strategies that match where participants reside on the aforementioned continuum or at least to approach research studies with an awareness that orthodox research practices for individualist participants might cause discomfort among collectively inclined participants, and vice versa.
There are strategies that could be employed to better understand where the client resides in terms of self in relation to the collective. Perhaps the most basic suggestion is to listen with care to the client in terms of how the client describes, and therefore positions, himor herself in relation to others. When motives seem to be informed by a community perspective, the sport or exercise psychologist can seek further clarification about where the client is from, what the values are within the community of origin, and whether these values are held dear by the client. Conversely, also through listening, when the client’s description of self centralizes personal accomplishments, again, the practitioner might follow up with questions that clarify the client’s origins and socialization.
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