Sport Psychologists and the History of
sport and exercise psychology are probably more popular then at any previous
time, their development dates back to about the turn of the 20th century. Some
(Weinberg & Gould, 1999) have considered the first North American sports
psychologist to be a psychologist from Indiana University named Norman Triplett.
Triplett was the first researcher to confirm that bicyclists sometimes rode
faster when they raced in groups or pairs than when they rode alone.
The field of sport psychology has come a long way
since the early days of
Norman Triplett. Modern-day sports psychologists may
engage in several different roles including conducting research, teaching, and
consulting with athletes and exercisers. Not all sports psychologists are
trained in the same way.
"Clinical sport and exercise psychologists are
trained specifically in psychology to treat athletes and exercisers with severe
emotional disorders, such as substance abuse or anorexia. Educational sport
psychology specialists receive training in exercise and sport science and
related fields and serve as mental coaches, educating athletes and exercisers
about psychological skills and their development. They're not trained to assist
people with severe emotional disorders" (Weinberg & Gould, 1999, p.
Sports psychologists may utilize various approaches
(Silva & Weinberg, 1984) to working with athletes, coaches and other
interested parties in athletic situations and with patients in clinical
settings. The approaches used in working in sport and exercise psychology
include social-psychological, psychophysiological, and cognitive-behavior
orientations. "Social-psychological sport psychologists focus on how
complex interactions between the social environment and personal makeup of the
athlete or exerciser influence behavior. Psychophysiological sport psychologists
study the physiological processes of the brain and their influence on physical
activity, whereas cognitive-behavioral sport psychologists examine how
individual thoughts determine behavior" (Weinberg & Gould, 1999, p.
In addition to assisting athletes and coaches in
coping with various emotional concerns which may inhibit their opportunities to
perform athletic functions including symptoms of depression, anxiety management
and substance abuse, of particular interest to many are the various techniques
and methods which sports psychologists have developed to assist in promoting the
optimum performance of those in the athletic arena. Major areas of interest
(Silva & Weinberg, 1984) which help in the accomplishment of these athletic
goals include issues related to anxiety, arousal and performance, motivation,
aggression in sports, group dynamics and exercise and psychological well-being.
The issue of anxiety is an important aspect of
athletic performance. Sports psychologists may consider how to optimize the
level of arousal and how feelings of stress and anxiety may influence the
performance of the competitor. Both situational and individual trait anxiety are
considered in developing mental preparation strategies to enhance performance.
Relaxation techniques and mental imagery are classic techniques utilized to
achieve these goals.
Motivation is also a key factor in successful
athletic competition. Both external rewards and internal motivation are
important considerations in achieving athletic goals. Realistic goal setting in
itself, may be an important motivational factor.
Sports psychologists also continue to try to
understand issues related to aggression in sports and group dynamics. Factors
related to the acquisition and exhibition of aggressive behavior may be
considered as well as how aggression correlates with performance in sports.
Group dynamics may consider how the audience effects the competition from both
the perspective of competitor and viewer.
Sport and exercise psychologists have began to
research and provide information in the ways that psychological well-being and
vigorous physical activity are related. Also, sport psychologists are beginning
to consider exercise to be a therapeutic adjunct to healthy mental adjustment.
In summary, sport psychologists are really beginning
to be recognized for the valuable contributions they make to assisting athletes
and coaches in optimizing performance in competitive situations, as well as
understanding how physical exercise may contribute to the psychological
well-being of the everyday man or woman.
By Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist
Silva, J.M. & Weinberg, R.S. (1984).
Psychological foundations of sport. Champaign, Illinois : Human Kinetics
Weinberg, R.S. & Gould, D. (1999). Foundations
of sport and exercise psychology. (2nd. ed.). Champaign, Illinois :
Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.
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