Sports Psychology: Definition, History, Areas And Techniques.

Athletes and coaches generally focus on physical training and discipline to master sports skills, yet mental and emotional skills training can be so important to success in sports and in life beyond sports, The goal of sports psychology is to address the mental and emotional needs of athletes, this improves their general well-being and increases their sports performance to the highest possible level.

Everyone experiences stress , but many athletes experience a unique internal and external pressure to excel both on and off the field of play, sports psychologists work with athletes to help manage these stressors, improve their athletic performance, and develop balance. emotional.

Today, mental skills training has become as much a part of athletic success as strength, power, and endurance training, thanks to the attention movement and popularity of meditation, yoga, and exercise. visualization practice in conventional media. Research on the benefits of mindfulness meditation on resilience and stress management has moved into the field of sports psychology and many athletes continue to benefit from adding mental skills training to their fitness training routine.

What is sports psychology?

It is the study of how psychology influences sports, athletic performance, exercise, and physical activity. Some sports psychologists work with professional athletes and coaches to improve performance and increase motivation , other professionals use exercise and sports to improve people’s lives and well-being throughout life.

Professional sports psychologists help athletes cope with the intense pressure that comes from competition and overcome problems with concentration and motivation, they also work to improve performance and recover from injuries. But sports psychologists not only work with professional and elite athletes, they also help ordinary people learn to enjoy sports and learn to follow an exercise program.

Another definition is that sport psychology is an interdisciplinary science that draws on knowledge from many related fields, such as biomechanics, physiology, kinesiology, and psychology, which involves the study of how psychological factors affect performance and how participation in sport and exercise affect psychological and physical factors. In addition to psychological skills instruction and training for performance improvement, applied sports psychology may include working with athletes, coaches, and parents regarding injuries, rehabilitation, communication, team building, and career transitions.

History of sport psychology

It is a relatively young discipline within psychology, in 1920 Carl Diem founded the world’s first sports psychology laboratory at the Deutsche Sporthochschule in Berlin, Germany. In 1925, two more sports psychology laboratories were established, one by AZ Puni at the Institute of Physical Culture in Leningrad and the other by Coleman Griffith at the University of Illinois.

Griffith began offering the first sport psychology course in 1923, and later published the first book on the subject titled The Psychology of Coaching (1926). Unfortunately, Griffith’s lab was closed in 1932 due to a lack of funds, after it was closed, there was very little research on sports psychology until the subject experienced a resurgence of interest during the 1960s.

Ferruccio Antonelli established the International Society for Sport Psychology in 1965 and in the 1970s sport psychology was introduced to university course offerings throughout North America. The first academic journal, the International Journal of Sport Psychology, was introduced in 1970, which was followed by the establishment of the Journal of Sport Psychology in 1979.

Sports psychology today

Contemporary sports psychology is a diverse field, while finding ways to help athletes is certainly an important part of sports psychology, applying exercise and physical activity to improve the lives of non-athletes is also an important focus.

Common areas of study in sport psychology

Listed below are broad areas of research in the field, this is not a comprehensive list of all topics, but rather an overview of the types of problems and concepts that sports psychologists study.


An important topic within sports psychology is the study of motivation, among which we find extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivators are external rewards, such as trophies, money, medals, or social recognition. Intrinsic motivators arise from within, such as a personal desire to win or the sense of pride that comes from performing a skill. Read more information about: « Motivation «.


A common area of ​​study within sport psychology is the relationship between personality and performance, this research focuses on specific personality characteristics and how they relate to performance or other psychological variables.

Mental toughness is a psychological advantage that helps one perform at a high level consistently. Mentally tough athletes exhibit four characteristics: strong self-confidence (confidence) in their ability to perform well, an internal motivation to succeed, the ability to focus one’s thoughts and feelings without distraction, and composure under pressure. Self-efficacy is the belief that one can successfully perform a specific task, in sport, self-efficacy has been conceptualized as sports confidence, however, efficacy beliefs are specific to a certain task (for example, I think I can do both successful free throws), while confidence is a more general feeling (for example, I think I’ll have a good game today).

Arousal refers to one’s physiological and cognitive arousal, although many researchers have explored the relationship between arousal and performance, a unifying theory has not yet been developed, research suggests that the perception of arousal (that is, as good or bad) is related to performance.

Attentional focus

It involves the ability to tune out distractions, such as crowds of screaming fans, and focus on the task at hand.

Youth sport

Refers to sports programs organized for children under 18 years of age. Researchers in this area focus on the benefits or drawbacks of youth sports participation and how parents impact their children’s sports experiences.

Life skills refer to mental, emotional, behavioral, and social skills and resources developed through sports participation. Research in this area focuses on how life skills are developed and transferred from sports to other areas of life (eg tennis to school) and on the development and implementation of the program. In the 1980s, sports psychology became the subject of a more rigorous scientific approach as researchers began to explore how psychology can be used to improve sports performance and how exercise could be used to improve mental well-being. and reduce stress levels .


Sports psychologists work primarily with athletes and focus their research on improving athletic performance, coaches are another population in which intervention can be carried out and in this area they focus on the kinds of things that coaches can say or do to improve your training technique and the performance of your athletes.

The motivational climate refers to the situational and environmental factors that influence the goals of individuals. The two main types of motivational climates that coaches can create are task-oriented and ego-oriented. Winning is the overarching goal of sports competitions regardless of motivational climate, a task orientation emphasizes skill building, improvement, total effort, and task mastery (i.e. self-referential goals), while a selfish orientation emphasizes demonstrating superior ability, competence, and does not promote individual effort or improvement (ie, goals that refer to others). Effective coaching practices explore the best ways that coaches can lead and teach their athletes. For instance,

Common techniques within sports psychology

The field of sport psychology continues to grow as research accumulates, but there are some common areas of focus employed by most professionals, these areas tend to address three core aspects of mental and emotional training in athletes:

Performance improvement

Visualization and mental rehearsal have long been the cornerstone of sports psychology research and training. Its main objective is to help improve an athlete’s performance, such practice allows an athlete to mentally prepare for the perfect scenario and develop a mental “map” of a given result. The science of visualization which indicates that an imagined experience is interpreted in a similar way to a real event and, therefore, leads to greater confidence and competence in an athlete.

Some studies even indicate that visualization can lead to strength gains in athletes, similar to visualization, speaking for yourself and cultivating a positive attitude can be a fundamental feature of regular mental skills training. If an athlete needs to work on attention, focus and focus, or reduce and control anxiety during stressful situations, all of these techniques aim to reduce distractions to improve athletic performance. Some experts point to the real impact of the so-called placebo effect produced by beliefs, as highlighted by the many superstitions and rituals that some athletes swear by.

Resilience and Injury Recovery

Another area where a sports psychologist can have an impact on an athlete is by helping them develop mental and emotional resilience, particularly after a major setback, loss, or injury. This skill is essential for injured athletes who may succumb to the emotional stress of injury by becoming depressed, isolating, or withdrawing. Learning how to use specific mental skills to cope with an injury and use the power of the mind to facilitate physical healing may sound like a stretch, but sports psychologists and athletes have found real benefits in practicing these mental skills.

Motivation and emotional stress

Any athlete can feel tired or simply unmotivated to train day after day but sometimes it indicates a deeper problem. Motivation and lack of it is another area in which a qualified sports psychologist can step in to help athletes discover the root of their problems, perhaps they are physically or mentally fatigued, overtrained or even faced with other emotional stresses.

Motivation is not always a matter of finding the right music playlist or reading a motivational quote. Sometimes the real problem with lack of motivation is psychological, physical or social stress, a qualified sports psychologist can uncover the central theme and help the athlete devise a strategy and set the right goals to rekindle the desire to play.

Goal setting

It is the process of systematically planning ways to achieve specific accomplishments within a certain amount of time. Research suggests that goals should be specific, measurable, difficult but achievable, based on time. Each long-term goal should also have a series of short-term goals that progress in difficulty, for example, short-term goals should move from those that are easy to reach to those that are more difficult, short-term challenging goals. Term will eliminate the repetitiveness of easy goals and give you a head start when striving to achieve your long-term goals.

Motor Images

They can be defined as the use of multiple senses to create or recreate experiences in the mind, the more vivid the images, the more likely it is that the brain interprets them as identical to the real event, which increases the effectiveness of mental practice with images . Good images, therefore, attempt to create one as real as possible through the use of multiple senses (e.g. sight, smell, kinesthetic), timing, perspective, and accurate representation of the task, both evidence anecdotal from athletes as research findings suggest that imagery is an effective tool for enhancing performance and performance-relevant psychological states (e.g. confidence), this is a concept commonly used by coaches and athletes the day before of an event.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.