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What is Sport Psychology?

What is Sport Psychology?

Sport psychology has a relatively short past, and in recent years is it becoming far more accepted and utilized as a valuable competitive edge among athletes and coaches.

In 1897, an Indiana University psychologist, Dr. Norman Triplett, wrote what was considered the first scientific paper on sport psychology, on the social facilitation behavior of bicyclists.

In the early 1920’s, the first sport psychology laboratory was created in Berlin, Germany, by Dr. Carl Diem. Soon after, sport psychology arrived in America when Dr. Coleman R. Griffith created the first sport psychology laboratory in the U.S., in the state of Illinois. Dr. Griffith also created and taught the first university level courses in sport psychology at the University of Illinois, in 1923. In addition, Dr. Griffith was the first sport psychologist ever hired by a professional sports team, the Chicago Cubs baseball team. For his pioneering efforts, he is considered the father of the science of sport psychology in the United States.

We can define psychology as the study of the human mind, emotions and behavior. Psychology is an academic and applied field. The American Psychological Association (APA) states that sport psychology is the “scientific study of the psychological factors that are associated with participation and performance in sport, exercise, and other types of physical activity.” The most important certifying body in sport psychology, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), states that they “promote the ethical practice, science, and advocacy of sport and exercise psychology”.

Virtually every college, national, professional and Olympic sports team has a sports psychologist on staff, and countless individual college, Olympic and professional athletes work closely with sports psychology consultants. Look at a few of the big names in pro golf who have used sports psychology consultants. It’s estimated that well over 300 of the pro game’s players regularly use sports psychologists:

Steve Elkington
Denis Watson
Kirk Triplett
Dave Stockton
Lee Janzen
Cameron Beckman
Brandie Burton
Stephen Ames
Chip Beck
Davis Love III
Nick Price
Brad Faxon
John Daly
Brian Barnes
Christian Cevaer
Hollis Stacy
Beth Daniel
Woody Austin
Retief Goosen
Padraig Harrington
Michael Campbell
Frank Lickliter II
Fred Funk
E.J. Pfister
Stewart Cink
Scott McCarron
Payne Stewart
Corey Pavin
Ben Crenshaw
Bob Estes
Donna Andrews
Justin Leonard
Hank Kuehne
Michelle McCann
Brandi Burton
Mark McCumber
Rachael Teske
Ju-Yun Kim
Nancy Scranton
Bill Glasson
Brian Gay
Charles Howell III
Ty Tryon
Luke Donald
Jim Carter
Frank Nobilo
David Morland IV
John Cook
David Frost
Mike Grob
David Ogrin
Matt Weibring
Gary Nicklaus
Billy Andrade

Do these 55 golf professionals convince you that sport psychology is a must to get the mental edge? They play golf for a living and want every edge possible. They are already strong mentally, but want to continue to improve and so seek the services of a sport psychologist. You can benefit too.

Let’s take a look at the field of sport psychology and discover how it can help you as an athlete, parent of an athlete, or as a coach. Here are ten areas that sport psychology studies, and how it applies this knowledge to sport learning and performance.

  1. Sport Psychology Helps You Understand Yourself As An Athlete. You need to have mental strategies for learning, practice and performance factors. Sport psychology gives you the methods and approaches to become aware of what you need so you and your coach can craft custom interventions.
  2. Sport Psychology Helps You Work Better With Your Parents. Your parents should be part of your success team, at least at some level. It does not necessarily mean they should coach you, but it would be nice to have a solid relationship with them, and excellent communication skills so they can assist you in your career.
  3. Sport Psychology Helps You Work Better With Your Coaches. Your coach is perhaps the most important person on your team. You need a great working relationship with this person. Sport psychology can help you create this relationship, and nurture it.
  4. Sport Psychology Helps You Navigate Your Sport Career. There are many blind alleys, pitfalls and false paths in a sport career. Sport psychology helps you create a vision for success, and goals and objectives, so you can execute that master plan.
  5. Sport Psychology Helps You Prepare Your Mind. It is critical that you know how to prepare mentally and emotionally for lessons, practices and performances. Sport psychology helps you devise a customized mental readiness process that helps you transition from your normal work, school or social worlds into the special world of competition.
  6. Sport Psychology Helps You Concentrate So You Can Enter The Zone. Attentional control is psychologist-speak for concentration or focus. Sport psychology helps you create strong control over where and how you place your attention so you can concentrate on the proper attentional cues, and you are able to block out unwanted, distracting cues.
  7. Sport Psychology Helps You Bounce Back From Set-Backs. It is critical that you become resilient to the inevitable problems and set-backs that competitive sport brings. You need solid mental toughness that helps you refocus, reset and re-energize for what is to come.
  8. Sport Psychology Helps You Increase Motivation And Drive. Successful athletes who have long careers fuel them with exciting goals, a vision for the legacy they want to leave, and dreams of how they want to play. Sport psychology helps you craft engaging goals that create positive energy within you, so you have huge amounts of drive and determination to achieve your potential.
  9. Sport Psychology Helps You Handle Stress and Pressure. One of the major ways sport psychology helps you is through stress reduction in learning and performance. While some stress is inevitable and natural, levels of stress that are excessive damage performance. Sport psychology helps you manage stress and turn it into success.
  10. Sport Psychology Helps You Handle The Paradox Of Success. An issue that every athlete faces at some time is the paradox of success. As you become more successful, there are more pressures and more distractions pulling at you. Sport psychology helps you address these, stay focused, and helps you continue to sustain your best performances.

Now that this article has provided you with the big picture about sport psychology, you can gain more information and perspective from these helpful links in the psychology of sport:

Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP)

The International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP)

The European Federation of Sport Psychology (FEPSAC)

The North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity

International Society for Sports Psychiatry (ISSP)

Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport Psychology

Whether you are interested in sport psychology from a coaching, athlete or parent perspective, I suggest you investigate this fascinating field more in depth. Sport psychology can help in so many ways, and it makes sense to get every advantage you can get.

About the author:

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports.


  1. hello could you please tell me some relif technique to me for relax mind.

    • Try to focus in the present moment rather then on previous performances or end results.
      Focus on your mental preparation (what you need to do before a competition to perform successfully)
      Keep your expectations in check by applying process goals (see articles on the formula for success and process goals)
      Listen to music and establish a routine that helps you relax your mind before games.
      During games let go of the last play and stay focused on what you need to do in the present moment to perform successfully.
      Try positive self-talk and positive affirmations.
      Eliminate irrelevant thoughts (things that will not help you perform) such as doubts, play your game!

  2. Breath in for six seconds, hold for two seconds, breath our for 7 seconds..repeat this to slow heartrate and accept the fact that your choking when you are. and fix it.

  3. Hello, i find myself i always recognized a person stopped at my web site therefore i arrived at gain this desire? . I am trying to find what you should develop my site! I guess its ample to utilize a number of ones principles!

  4. Sport Psychology helps for more then just sports it, I have used that to get my self ready for big events in my life.

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