What is Sports Psychology?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2018
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Sports psychology is a developing field that specializes in the relationship between the psyche and sports. There are several ways in which this works. First, sports psychology evaluates what effect the psyche (mental well being) has on participating in sports and how changes to the psyche may improve performance. Second, the field is now increasingly looking at how sports changes the psyche, and in what contexts participation in sports might be used to dramatically change the way people think and feel.

The field of sports psychology got its start in the 1920s, and in the US, the early hero of this profession was Cloman Griffith, who wrote the first two books about this new profession. These are the The Psychology of Coaching and The Psychology of Athletes. Griffith’s career as a sport psychologist, and the research lab he had created at University of Illinois were sadly doomed, due to the Great Depression. Griffith’s lab was closed in 1932, and the profession, which was so new, underwent a “Dark Age” period of sort before reemerging in the 1960s. Now there are many institutions with an interest in sports psychology, though few colleges offer a degree specifically in this field.


There may be different paths toward becoming a sports psychologist. Some people study in traditional areas of psychology in master’s or doctorate programs, and might jointly study in physical education or sports. Others may take training through physical education programs. The trouble is, sports psychologists must be licensed by the state in which they practice, and, though training may exist through physical education departments, it usually can’t result in licensing. There is potential hope that ultimately universities will offer specific training in this area, but for now, any licensed psychologist or therapist could potentially become a sports psychologist, though people hiring these professionals generally want to know what training exists in sporting and sports psychology.

A number of things exist that the sports psychologist can do. These can include teaching others sports psychology and doing research. Many of these professionals also work with coaches and physical education teachers to help them find constructive ways to influence psyche of their athletes so best performance is reached. These psychologists may work with athletes, teaching them various skills that can help improve performance and shift team dynamics.

Other jobs for these professionals can include helping design programs for students so that they and most inclusive and have the most beneficial psychological effect on all participants, at any level of proficiency. Increasingly, sports psychologists are involved in using sports as a therapeutic method to increase psychological well-being. Another common job for someone in this field is to counsel individuals and teach them skills that can help improve performance while eliminating factors that may have adverse effect on performance.



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