What is Sport Psychology?

Many people are fascinated in the psychology of sport. But what is sport psychology and why the fascination? Often this fascination comes from personal experience. For example, trying to understand how performance can fluctuate from training to competition, or why simple skills performed easily, without thought, hundreds of times before, can suddenly breakdown under pressure, to wondering why some coaches, and teams bring out the best, in you, while others seem to impair performance. Observing the careers of great athletes is another source of fascination. Why do some physically talented athletes fail to achieve their potential? Why is a coach successful with one team unable to replicate the success in another team? What are the psychological qualities need to return to competition after a career threatening injury? These questions, and many more, are often the subject of conversations, among fans, coaches, and indeed athletes themselves! Given the complexity of human behaviour it is no wonder that many people are fascinated by what is sport psychology.


Defining Sport Psychology

Psychology is the scientific study of human behaviour. The word psychology comes from the Greek words; psyche (mind, life, soul) and logia (the study of). In understanding human behaviour psychology addresses our thoughts (cognitions), motivations and emotions. A sport psychology definition is therefore the scientific study of human behaviour in sport settings. Many sport psychologists also study behaviour in exercise settings given the close link between sport and exercise, and physical activity more broadly, and sport and exercise psychology is often the subject that is studied at Universities. 


A Brief History of Sport Psychology

Sport psychology is a fascinating topic and has a long history, with the first study often being credited to Triplett (1898). In his work, Triplett conducted an archival study of professional cycling races based on the official records from the Racing Board of the League of American Wheelmen. He found that times were faster for individuals when they raced against others. He then decided to see if he could replicate these effects. He conducted a follow-up study involving an experiment in which children wound fishing reels, either working alone or alongside a co-actor performing the identical task. In line with his cycling data the children performed significantly faster when in co-acting pairs than when alone. Triplett concluded that this was due to an increase of energy (which he termed ‘dynamogism’) that occurs when in the presence of others. This research was important as it showed that psychology of a person could affect how they perform in sport. 



Image by Jo Wiggijo from Pixabay 

 


Following this pioneering research many individuals have explored the application of sport psychology with consultants applying principles to improve sport performance and well-being. One of the first documented examples of this also took place in America where Coleman Griffith went to work as a sport psychologist with the Chicago Cubs in 1938. Since these beginnings we have seen a massive growth and development in the field of sport psychology with sports psychologists and other sport psychology related professionals working across all levels of sport and across all sports. 


Image by Tess Wendorf from Pixabay 

 

Applied Sport Psychology

In addition to the research that is undertaken in sport psychology, exploring sport-specific psychological factors, many people now work as sport psychology consultants, typically (but not exclusively) focused on performance enhancement. This focus on applied sport psychology means that professional bodies now regulate consultancy work in sport psychology in many countries. Examples include the British Psychological Society in the UK, the American Psychological Association in the United States. You can find details on what it takes to become a sport psychologist in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia on our site. Examples of the types of work down by applied sport psychologists include team building, helping professional athletes maintain performance levels, advising sports coaches psychological factors.


Sport Psychology Research

As well as working with athletes some sport psychologist engage in research. Examples of some of the top journals in sport and exercise psychology include:


Examples of research topics covered in sport psychology include understanding enjoyment in youth sports, how to perform under pressure, are the differences in biomarkers (e.g., cortisol) between recreational and elite athletes, and how confidence enhances performance. But there are of course many more areas of research in this diverse and fascinating area. 


Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay 

 About Sporting Bounce

We hope you have found this overview of what sport is sport psychology helpful. We are a global online directory of sport psychology consultants and our aim is to connect athletes, coaches and parents with qualified consultants. If you would like to work with a sport psychology consultant to improve your psychological approach to competition why not search our directory of Applied Sport Psychologists