What is Sports Psychology?

Sports psychology is the study of the interaction between a person’s psychology and their participation in sport. Singer (1978) defined it as “the science of psychology applied to sport”. Whilst the field of psychology is relatively young, sports psychology is even younger. The field of sports psychology has much to offer, carrying out useful research that can be made available to athletes and coaches.

In professional or competitive sport, this study is important because:

  • A person’s psychology or state of mind can have a significant effect upon their sporting performance.

  • The selection of competitors for elite sport is influenced by an assessment of their individual psychology, as well as other factors such as recent performance and fitness.

Sports psychologists provide two major types of services –

  • Counselling – in areas that affect the athlete.

  • Strategies that enhance performance.

In order to promote greater participation in sport, it is valuable to understand the psychology of the broader community; and in this way, determine those things that will motivate greater sporting participation.

Performance Psychology

This is concerned with getting a better performance by applying psychological principles.

  • It may involve selecting players who have psychological characteristics that are more likely to bring success.

  • It may involve attempting to change a player’s psychology/outlook, in order to increase the chances of a better performance.

By studying the psychology of athletes in a sporting situation, it has been possible to determine psychological characteristics that are most commonly present in successful sporting situations (e.g. teams where all the members are on friendly terms with each other statistically will win more often, than teams where there is conflict between members).


Is the study of the physiological (somatic) responses associated with cognition (i.e. thinking, emotion etc). Example: Heightened anxiety or stress can change the heart rate, cause blood vessels to contract (hence blood flow slows), etc. …and that can inhibit responses/performance.

Exercise Psychology

Is the study of cognitive, psycho-physiological and situational factors that influence exercise behaviour. Example: How physical exercise affects a person’s psychological behaviour …they exercise, blood flows, adrenalin may increase, waste products/toxins are removed more from the body …the mind becomes more alert.

This can involve studying the effects of such things as:

  • Reasons for participating in exercise.

  • Reasons for not participating in exercise.

  • Addiction to exercise (positive & negative aspects).

  • Factors affecting a person’s perception of the exercise they undertake.

  • Applying cognitive techniques to exercise (psych yourself up; exercising to music).

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