Dr John Mills

John is a Lecturer in Sport Psychology and Coaching within the School of Sport, Rehabilitation, and Exercise Sciences at the University of Essex. John is internationally renowned for his research examining how attitudes, self-concept, and stereotypes (i.e., implicit social cognition) affect moral behaviour in sport. Most notably, his recent research has focused on three strands: (1) ethical coaching and character development, (2) doping in performance environments, and (3)  discrimination in football.


John is a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society (BPS), a member of the Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology (DSEP), and an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). He is also the Founder of SportRχiv: The world’s first open access repository for sport and exercise related research. He has published in a range of tier 1 journals in sport and exercise psychology, and his research has been funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), The British Academy/Leverhulme, Make Happen, and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

Should you wish to discuss John’s research, he is happy to be contacted via email, phone or Twitter.


    • Ongoing2017


      University of Essex

    • 20172015

      Senior Lecturer

      University of Chichester

    • 20132012

      Teaching Fellow

      Aberystwyth University

    • 20122011

      Associate Lecturer

      Aberystwyth University


    • Ph.D. 2015

      Ph.D. Sport Psychology

      University of Birmingham

    • B.Sc. Hons 2011

      B.Sc. (Hons) Psychology and Childhood Studies

      University of Suffolk

    • Diploma 2004

      Diploma in Sports Coaching

      Colchester Institute

      Ongoing projects

      • The effects of permitted forms of performance enhancement on determinants of doping in UK student-athletes.

        Use of permitted forms of performance enhancement (e.g., nutritional supplements, medicines, performance enhancing technology) may facilitate athletes’ progression towards use of performance enhancing drugs (often referred to as doping). However, research testing this process – termed the gateway hypothesis of doping in sport – has only looked at this issue at a single point in time. As such, the effects of permitted performance enhancement techniques on doping over time are yet to be tested. One way of addressing this limitation in knowledge would be to investigate whether use of permitted forms of performance enhancement leads to changes in known determinants of doping over time. Three likely indicators of doping in sport are explicit doping attitudes (i.e., athletes’ positive evaluation of engagement in doping), automatic doping preferences (i.e., a collection of self-relevant thoughts regarding doping instinctively retrieved from memory) and doping moral disengagement (use of any of six psychological techniques that help athletes to justify and rationalize doping). Also of importance is that mid-to-late adolescence is thought to represent a key transitional life stage during which athletes may be particularly susceptible to gateway influences on doping, as attitudes towards doping are likely to be still forming at this stage. Given their life-stage, university-student-athletes may therefore be particularly susceptible to gateway influences of doping in sport. As such, the current project will investigate whether use of nutritional supplements, medicines, or performance enhancing technology leads to positive changes in university-student-athletes’ explicit doping attitudes, automatic doping preferences, and doping moral disengagement over time. Interestingly, although permitted forms of performance enhancement are thought to be potential gateways to doping, if presented correctly they could act as protective factors against it. More specifically, a recent model of doping behaviour (i.e., The Incremental Model of Doping Behavior) suggests availability of performance enhancement alternatives can weaken positive doping attitudes. However, there is a lack of research investigating how permitted forms of performance enhancement can be effectively presented as alternatives to doping. Therefore, to address this deficit in knowledge, the current project will also investigate which permitted forms of performance enhancement are commonly used by student athletes, and how they can be presented most effectively as alternatives to doping.

      • It is not black and white: a comparison of skin tone by playing position across European football

        Myself and colleagues are working with Sports Interactive, the manufacturers of Football Manager, to examine the influence of skin tone on a range of outcomes in world football.

        Within our first manuscript (available here), we explored the role of skin tone on playing position within English football’s top four professional leagues. Player data (N = 4,515) was collected across five seasons (2010-2015). Results indicate that in general, the darker the tone of skin, the more likely a player is to operate within peripheral rather than central positions. Further, using both one and two-way ANOVAs, results suggest significant differences between skin tone and individual playing positions. Between league differences were, however, non-significant. Although darker skin toned players are still more likely to occupy peripheral positions, the situation is more nuanced than first thought. Instead of segregating players by central versus peripheral roles, it appears that darker skin toned players occupy positions associated with athleticism. In contrast, lighter skin toned players appear to fulfil roles requiring organization and communication skills.

        This project is ongoing and we hope to compare these initial findings with other leagues across Europe and beyond. Further, we aim to examine the cause of these effects and develop interventions that reduce the influence of colourism in coaches.

      Featured Publications

      Empathic and Self-Regulatory Processes Governing Doping Behavior

      Journal article
      Boardley Ian D., Smith Alan L., Mills John P., Grix Jonathan, Wynne Ceri (2017). Empathic and Self-Regulatory Processes Governing Doping Behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, 8,1495. 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01495
      Publication year: 2017

      Development of Moral Disengagement and Self-Regulatory Efficacy Assessments Relevant to Doping in Sport and Exercise

      Journal article
      Boardley, I., Smith, A. L., Mills, J. P., Grix, J., Wynne, C., & Wilkins, L. (2018). Development of Moral Disengagement and Self-Regulatory Efficacy Assessments Relevant to Doping in Sport and Exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 36, 57-70
      Publication year: 2018

      Advancing leadership in sport: Time to 'actually' take the blinkers off.

      Journal article
      Mills, J. P., & Boardley, I. D.
      Sports Medicine, 47(3), 565–570. Doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0661-3
      Publication year: 2017

      Development and initial validation of an indirect measure of transformational leadership integrity.

      Journal article
      Mills, J. P., & Boardley, I. D.
      Psychology of Sport and Exercise.
      Publication year: 2017


      John completed his first degree in Psychology and Childhood Studies from the University of Suffolk in 2011. From there, he achieved a PhD in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise from the University of Birmingham in 2015 under the supervision of Dr Ian Boardley.

      Before entering academia, John gained extensive coaching experience in professional youth football in both the UK and the United States. During this 10 year period,  John worked for a range of clubs, schools, and organisations. These included Ipswich Town F.C., Colchester United F.C., Fulham F. C., Chelmsford City F.C., Hebron Soccer Association, Penrhyncoch F.C., and Witham Town F.C., among others. He continues to work in football in an advisory capacity to football clubs and organisations and has been working with the computer games studio, Sports Interactive—makers of Football Manager, since February 2016.

      PhD Supervision

      John is happy to discuss PhD supervision with those who share similar interests to his own. Typically, candidates have some interest in: leadership, character and moral development, performance enhancing drug use, discrimination, fair play, or coaching.

      Current PhD candidates include:

      Ali Simmons (University of Birmingham).

      Alexandria Olton  (University of Birmingham).

      Catherine Lutz (University of Essex).

      Students interested in applying for a PhD under my supervision should:
      a) Send me a copy of their CV.
      b) Briefly indicate the research area they are interested in.
      c) Explain how they are planning to fund their studies.

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