Sport Psychology
eBook - ePub

Sport Psychology

The Basics

David Tod

  1. 212 Seiten
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Sport Psychology

The Basics

David Tod

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Über dieses Buch

Sport Psychology: The Basics provides an accessible introduction to the fundamental ideas at the heart of Sport Psychology today. This new revised and updated second edition examines the links between sport participants' behaviours, their personality, and their environment to identify the factors which affect performance. Exploring theory and practice, it uses case studies to illustrate how key areas of theory are applied within a sport psychologist's practice, answering such questions as:

‱ What is sport psychology and what do sport psychologists do?

‱ What factors affect sporting performance?

‱ How can sport psychologists help parents and sport organizations?

‱ Which psychological characteristics are associated with achievement in sport?

‱ How can sport psychologists help with athlete's mental health?

With a glossary of key terms, suggestions for further study, and ideas for improving performance, Sport Psychology: The Basics is an ideal introduction for students of sport and coaches who would like to know more about how sport psychologists address questions about human behaviour in sport.

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DOI: 10.4324/9781003141815-1


  1. Define sport psychology
  2. Distinguish sport psychology from exercise psychology
  3. Describe sport psychology as an academic field and as an applied profession
  4. Illustrate the scientific basis of sport psychology
  5. Show how anyone can use sport psychology knowledge
  6. Explain how to become a sport psychology practitioner
Buffy plays for Sunnydale High School’s female basketball team. She is about to step up to the free throw line during the final seconds of a close game against a rival school. Her two points, if she puts both free throw attempts through the hoop, will win the game. Unfortunately Buffy has had a terrible year so far after returning from a knee injury that ended her previous season early. She had started the previous season strongly; feeling like the hoop was so large she could have scored with a beach ball. This year, however, Buffy has been hesitant in all parts of the game and has had self-doubts. Giles, her coach, calls a time out to help Buffy relax, but he does not know what to say. Think about what you would say to Buffy if you were the team’s sport psychology practitioner.
Buffy’s situation illustrates topics falling within the scope of sport psychology. Most people would give Buffy advice that had a psychological bent, such as telling her to think positively, to focus on the task, or to take a deep breath and relax. These opinions show that most people are familiar with psychological ideas. This familiarity is one reason why sport psychology is a fascinating subject: most athletes, coaches, and sports fans are able to have a conversation on the topic. As you read the following chapters, you will also probably understand the topics in this book, although you may not use the same scientific jargon as sport psychology practitioners. As well as using technical jargon, practitioners explore sport psychology topics scientifically to help separate valid ideas from those without any evidence. Studying sport scientifically allows sport psychology practitioners to discover the knowledge and strategies that help athletes improve their performance, enhance their wellbeing, and gain satisfaction from playing sport. In this chapter I will (a) define sport psychology, (b) show how it is different from related topics (e.g., exercise psychology), (c) describe why it is both an academic subject and an applied discipline, (d) explain how it is underpinned by science, (e) show how all people can use sport psychology knowledge, and (f) discuss how a person can become a sport psychology practitioner.


Sport psychology is the study of behaviour in sport. It is a science that examines how our thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and environment interact during sport. More specifically, sport psychology practitioners try to describe, explain, predict, and maybe even change people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviour so they can have more fun, play better, or accrue other benefits from sport, such as reduced stress or increased wellbeing. When helping Buffy, for example, a sport psychology practitioner may start by describing the situation. What thoughts does Buffy have at the free throw line? What does she feel? How does she act? What things and people affect her? After describing the situation, a practitioner may try to explain why Buffy behaves, thinks, feels, and performs the way she does. Perhaps her injury has lowered her confidence and increased her anxiety. Buffy’s anxiety might have stopped her making decisions automatically and hindered her from moving in a fluid fashion. Her hesitancy and loss of form may be the reasons for her poor free throw performance. The sport psychology practitioner will then test the explanation to find out if anxiety predicts Buffy’s performance. If anxiety does predict performance, then the practitioner can create strategies to help Buffy control her worries and fears, build her confidence, and improve her performance. If Buffy’s performance gets better, the practitioner has evidence that the strategies work. The practitioner may then be able to use the strategies to help other athletes control anxiety and play well.
Based on the sport psychology definition above, the discipline has two broad questions (Williams & Straub, 2021):
  1. How do psychological factors influence thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and performance in sport?
  2. How does playing sport influence a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviour?
Examples of the first question include:
  • Will relaxation training help Buffy focus on the free throw and perform better?
  • Do individuals with negative body image find it difficult to socialize with teammates and will they avoid sports with revealing team uniforms?
  • Do sprinters’ self-confidence levels influence their race times?
Answers to these questions assist sport psychology practitioners to find ways to help athletes achieve goals and gain happiness from playing sport.
Examples of the second question include:
  • How will Buffy’s free throw success or failure influence her self-esteem?
  • Can playing team sports teach people leadership and teamwork skills?
  • Does sport build character?
Answers to these questions assist sport psychology practitioners, and others, when discussing the value of sport for people and their communities. A common reason for spending public money on sport is the belief that people and communities will attain psychological and social benefits from playing and hosting sporting events. Sport psychology practitioners can examine if these claims about the social value of sport are plausible.
Sport psychology has been influenced by several other scientific fields, principally psychology and sport and exercise science (which was often labelled Physical Education or Kinesiology when sport psychology grew in earnest during the 1960s and 1970s). Both psychology and sport and exercise science contain sub-disciplines (see Table 1.1). Well-trained sport psychology practitioners understand the basic principles of the sub-disciplines in Table 1.1. Sport psychology professionals need to understand the basics of these other subjects because psychological factors interact with variables from the other disciplines to influence thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and performance. For example, psychological factors like self-talk (the words people say to themselves) influence athletes’ skill levels and abilities, which then affect performance. To illustrate, sport psychology researchers have found that self-talk, such as “I can jump high”, influences athletes’ jumping technique and increases their jump height (Edwards et al., 2008). Understanding how psychological and other factors interact with each other gives sport psychology practitioners a greater understanding of sporting behaviour than if they studied these factors separately.
Table 1.1 Example psychology and sport and exercise science sub-disciplines
Psychology Sport and exercise science

Counselling psychology Biomechanics
Clinical psychology Exercise physiology
Developmental psychology Motor learning
Health psychology Sports medicine
Organisational psychology Sport sociology
Abnormal psychology Sport pedagogy
Forensic psychology Coaching science


Whereas sport psychology addresses thoughts, feelings, and behaviour in competitive sport, exercise psychology embraces physical activity, exercise, and health contexts. For many years sport psychology practitioners considered sport and exercise psychology to be a single field of study. More recently, practitioners have been able to specialize, studying topics and offering academic courses on either sport or exercise. Since the 1980s, the amount of research produced each year in both areas has increased a lot, and sport psychology practitioners find it difficult to stay on top of the knowledge associated with both sport and exercise.
The split is not complete. In many universities sport and exercise psychology is taught under one title. Professional organizations across several countries require sport psychology practitioners to have knowledge and skills in both areas (e.g., Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the USA). The separation of sport psychology and exercise psychology is most visible in places where practitioners focus on specific groups of people (e.g., in universities, sporting institutes, medical centres, pain clinics). In other places where practitioners have less freedom to specialize, the differences are less noticeable (e.g., practitioners working in private practice).


Sport psychology academics focus on creating and teaching sport psychology knowledge and are normally employed in universities. When undertaking research or creating knowledge, practitioners apply scientific methods to examine psychological factors in sport. They develop and test theories that explain athletes’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in sporting environments. For example, practitioners have examined imagery (also called visualization) and have found that it can help athletes improve their sporting skills (Toth et al., 2020).
Once academics have answered their research questions, they then disseminate the new knowledge to other people. Practitioners may inform other people about their research by writing articles in scientific journals. There are several sport psychology scientific journals, including The Sport Psychologist, International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, and Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. Practitioners may also tell other people about their new knowledge at sport psychology conferences held by professional groups, including the International Society of Sport Psychology, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, and the Fédération Européenne de Psychologie des Sports et des Activités Corporelles (FEPSAC, European Federation of Sport Psychology). Academics may also teach sport psychology knowledge to students enrolled on university degrees in psychology or sport and exercise science. In some countries sport psychology also appears in high school physical education or psychology classes.


Applied sport psychology practitioners use sport psychology knowledge to assist athletes and coaches in achieving their goals, enhancing their performance, and dealing with their issues or problems (e.g., feeling depressed). For example, practitioners may use goal setting to help athletes plan and achieve their sporting dreams. As another example, practitioners might help athletes and coaches who are having communication problems with each other. In recent years, sport psychology professional organizations in some countries have established registration, accreditation, or licensing schemes so that practitioners can show potential clients they have the knowledge and skills needed to help people. In the USA, for example, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology qualifies people as Certified Mental Performance Consultants. In the UK, the Health Care and Professions Council registers people as Sport and Exercise Psychologists.
When the popular media mentions sport psychology it is usually related to high-level professional sport, and many people believe sport psychology practitioners work only with elite athletes, and only when they are in a crisis or performing badly. Such media coverage contributes to the myth that practitioners offer quick fixes or band aid psychology. Elite athletes do benefit from sport psychology, but they do not need to be in crisis or to be performing poorly to be helped. They can work with sport psychology practitioners at any time, such as when they are playing well and want to get even better. Other groups of athletes also benefit from sport psychology, including youth, senior, non-elite, disabled, nondisabled, female, and male athletes. Sport psychology practitioners can help these individuals prepare for performance and cope with difficult situations. Athletes also have challenges outside of sport, such as relationship problems, mental health issues, and substance abuse, and they can get help from sport psychology practitioners for these concerns just as much as with their sporting issues (if the consultant has knowledge about these issues).
People have been researching and applying sport psychology ideas since the late 1800s, and over that time the discipline has changed greatly (Kornspan, 2012). For example, in recent years practitioners have increasingly become mindful that great diversity exists among athletes and coaches in terms of culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. To do a good job, sport psychology practitioners need to be competent and comfortable in working with people who are different to them, such as a female practitioner working in a male-dominated sport (Hanrahan & Lee, 2020). Practitioners also need to be accepting of athletes who have different religious beliefs, sexual preferences, cultural backgrounds, etc.
Another exciting development in sport psychology is the greater attention researchers and practitioners are giving to athletes’ mental health and wellbeing. Traditionally, applied sport psychology has focused on performance enhancement, with much less attention given to athletes’ psychological health. Athletes and coaches, however, face the same challenges as all people, and in some cases they are at greater risk of mental health issues. For example, eating disorders are more prevalent among athletes than the general population (de Bruin, 2017). Sport psychology practitioners are able to help more athletes, with more issues, if they are not limited to assisting only with performance enhancement, although they need to have the necessary skills and knowledge relevant to the athletes’ problems.
As a third trend in the profession, sport psychology practitioners are helping people outside of sport more and more, such...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Series
  4. Title
  5. Copyright
  6. Contents
  7. List of figures
  8. List of tables
  9. List of boxes
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. 1 Introduction
  12. 2 Personality
  13. 3 Motivation
  14. 4 Self-confidence
  15. 5 Arousal, stress, anxiety, and performance
  16. 6 Competition and audience effects
  17. 7 Group processes
  18. 8 Psychological skills training
  19. 9 Physical skill acquisition and behaviour modification
  20. Glossary
  21. Subject Index