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Posted 07/02/2021 in Category 1 by George Mitchell

What is sport psychology?

What is sport psychology?

What is Sport Psychology?

This is a question I get asked a lot, and my answers to this question can be very short and simple and at other times I can go into lots of detail (depending on who I am having a conversation with). 

In short, it can simply be “to teach mental skills to enhance performance.” Then with a little more detail, providing information about improving confidence, focus, coping with pressure, intensity, composure and mindset. 

However, a more profound response to ‘what is sport psychology?’ could include discussing the range of clients the SPC can meet, for example, not just the individual but coaches, parents, organisations whilst at times working within a multidisciplinary team.

Sport Psychology also can apply to areas outside of sport for example working with the army, performing on stage and within businesses as well, as the interventions used are based on scientific research that is applied and can be individualised to the performer, team and organisation to have a positive impact.  

One former professor of mine answered the question of “what is sport psychology?” by describing it as ‘sport psychology is just psychology applied to sports.’ Theoretical principles of Psychology form the scientific groundwork by which a Sport Psychologist practices.

The needs of client are met through a range of individualised interventions created by the creativity, experience and imagination of the SPC, highlighting the competencies that an SPC will have in terms of research, academia and application.

The ability for a SPC to understand the needs of the client (human before athlete) and prioritising them is also vitally important as this will play a role in the success of work. 

There is a great diversity of professionals that work in sport psychology coming from other psychology backgrounds such as education, clinical, counselling, social, motivational and health that all have a common sporting interest.

There is a wide range of approaches that can be seen in sport psychology and this is partly thanks to the variety of backgrounds of the SPC’s. Psychological Skills Training (PST) is the most common approach to sport psychology which looks to support the development of specific mental skills with an athlete by aiming to reduce the inconsistency of performance because of psychological aspects, e.g. anxiety. A majority of interventions would consist of psychological skills such as goal setting, pre-performance routines, arousal and relaxation, concentration, positive self-talk and imagery. Many of these psychological skills have copious amounts of evidence-based practice which shows a great strength to PST. 

In the UK, The British Association of Sport and Exercise Science (BASES) provide a pathway to be an accredited Sport Psychologist through their supervised experience and SEPAR route. The British Psychological Society (BPS) is another route into becoming an accredited Sport Psychologist. BASES describe three roles of the psychology division: 

- Performance Excellence – focused on those topics, processes and populations that relate to human performance enhancement; 

- Engagement and Development – focused on those factors, processes and stakeholders that relate to athlete development, and lifelong sport and exercise participation; 

- Mental Health – focused on those factors, interventions and processes that relate to the mental health spectrum in sport and exercise settings (extracted from BASES website, see resources).

An Exercise Psychologist would put their focus into making people more active more regularly. The main focus with this isn’t performance related but to improve health and well-being.

It is well documented that there is a connection between physical activity and health and the problems behind an inactive lifestyle. Additionally, it is well documented that there are many psychological benefits for physical activity/exercise and there are evidence-based interventions for some psychological disorders. 

In summary, a Sport Psychology Consultant, accredited in the UK from BPS or BASES and specifically trained, will aim to try and improve psychological readiness and well-being and provide mental skills (or psychological skills) to set the foundations to enhance opportunities, experiences and consistencies at a level of optimal performances built on the needs of the client. 


BPS: https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologists/society-qualifications/qualification-sport-and-exercise-psychology-stage-2

BASES:  https://www.bases.org.uk/spage-divisions-psychology.html

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