Bookmark and Share

Sport psychology

what is sport psychology  

A brief history

Sport psychology is the study of how mental factors affect the performance of people engaged in sporting activities. Carl Diem founded the world’s first sport psychology laboratory in Berlin in 1920. The first sport psychology lab in the USA was established by Coleman Griffith at the University of Illinois in 1925.

Academic journals were established in the 1970s to help advance the exchange of knowledge and sport psychology became the subject of rigorous scientific research. Researchers explored the range of psychological factors that influenced athletic performance and how mental skills training could help athletes improve performance.


Sport psychology interventions

Sport psychology professionals today work with athletes in the following types of area.

Anxiety management. Athletes learn to use breathing exercises, progressive relaxation techniques, meditation, imagery/visualization, and cognitive techniques such as thought stopping.

Attention and focusing. Skills training can cover attention control training and techniques to expand awareness—for example, attending to performance cues and bodily sensations.

Communication. Skills training can cover learning active listening and assertiveness training helping to foster a positive and open climate.

Goal setting. Goal setting programs help athletes to focus on skill development rather than outcomes, identify SMART objectives and regularly evaluate progress.

Imagery/visualization. Athletes learn how to use their senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, hearing, kinesthetic/muscular feel) to create experiences in the mind to help prepare for performance, manage anxiety and build self-confidence.

Self-talk. Athletes learn how to identify and challenge negative or irrelevant thoughts and replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Team building. Team building strategies are used to improve communication, build trust and help team members understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Watch this video

To help develop your understanding of how sport psychology can help improve athletic performance, watch this video by Martin Hagger discussing the mental approach of elite athletes.


For more information about sport psychology, go to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP).