What is Sports Psychology and how does it relate to mental health?

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What is Sports Psychology?

Sports Psychology is a relatively new discipline of psychology and is the study of “how psychological factors influence sports, athletic performance, exercise, and physical activity. Sports psychologists investigate how participating in sports can improve health and wellbeing. They also help athletes utilize psychology to improve their sports performance and mental well-being.” [4] They don’t just work with professional and elite athletes they also work with coaches, admin, parents from various levels of competition and age (recreational youth participants to pro & Olympic athletes, to master’s level performers). They also help people use athletics and exercise to enhance their lives and well-being. Sports psychology also uses psychological knowledge and skills to address optimal performance, developmental and social aspects of sports participation, as well as systemic issues within sport settings and organizations.[6] 

Sports psychology is a very broad discipline of psychology. There is Applied sports psychology which focuses on skills to enhance athletic performance (goal setting and imagery). Clinical sports psychology is mental training strategies with psychotherapy to help clients who experience mental health problems including eating disorders and depression. Academic sports psychologists who teach at colleges and universities, they also conduct research.[3] 

How do Sport Psychologists support athletes?

Sport psychologists have specialized training and knowledge in social, historical, cultural, and developmental sports psychology. They help athletes work through issues and develop techniques and mental skills to enhance performance and participation. They also provide clinical and counseling services. Sports psychologists direct their focus towards attentional focus, visualization and goal setting, motivation and team building, anxiety, and rehabilitation. [4]

“While coaches typically focus on the physical side of sport, sport psychologists focus on athletes’ minds. Sport psychologists can help athletes—professionals and amateurs alike—achieve their goals.” [5]

The Three Main Skills and Procedures Sports Psychologists use

Sports psychologists mainly use three different types of skills. [6] The first one being cognitive and behavioral skills for training and performance enhancement. The aspects they focus on in this category is as follows:

  • Goal setting
  • Imagery and performance planning
  • Concentration and attention control
  • Developing self-confidence
  • Self-esteem and competence in sports
  • Cognitive-behavioral self-regulation techniques
  • Emotion management
  • Sportsmanship and leadership skills

There’s also counseling and clinical interventions which the focus is on:

  • Motivation
  • Eating disorders and weight management 
  • Substance abuse
  • Grief, loss and depression
  • Suicide
  • Overtraining or burnouts
  • Sexual identity issues
  • Aggression and violence
  • Injury and rehabilitation
  • Career transitions and identity issues

Lastly there’s consultation and training with the focus on:

  • Team building
  • Sports organization
  • Systems interventions with parents and families involved with youth participation
  • Education of coaches regarding motivation, interpersonal and leadership skills, talent development, educating coaches and administration about early identification and prevention of psychological difficulties

Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Boyer

Additional Resources:

10 Comments

10 comments

  1. This is such an interesting topic! I personally hadn’t really thought about sports psychology before. I knew it existed, but I hadn’t thought about how essential and useful it is for athletes. I think this is a side to sports and psychology that more people should hear about. I’ve also heard before that if you visualize yourself doing something that it can help you actually do that thing and I feel like that’s a big part of sports psychology. I also really liked the layout of your project. I think the interview at the end was also a nice touch and very informative.

    1. Thank you Keila, you’re feedback is much appreciated! Visualization is such a helpful and useful technique that also goes beyond sports. A lot of the aspects of sports psychology are also seen in office workspaces to help build teamwork, something I didn’t know about until I did this project.

  2. Hi Shylynn! I had no clue sports psychology even existed so I’m glad you made your project about it! At first, I was a little closed-minded about this topic but after reading your whole page I now think sports psychologists should be everywhere. Something I was thinking about is that people often say working out can release anxiety, but what can people do if they are professional athletes and they still have anxiety? It makes sense that there would be specialized professionals who could answer these kinds of questions. I was also interested that sports psychologists can help with rehabilitation and injury as I think, for a committed athlete, that can be one of the most challenging things both mentally and physically. I think it’s really cool you found a topic that blends two of your interests, your website looks great too!

    1. Thanks Anna! I’m glad you learned a lot from my project and agree that sports psychology should be more well known and everywhere!

  3. Hi Shylynn! During this pandemic, I feel I have gotten lazy, especially with online school. So when things with COVID started calming down, I began my softball season. I noticed that as the season went on I did gain more mental focus and was able to get my school work done much faster! I also don’t feel as tired or worn down as I used to feel. I personally never even knew sports psychology was a thing until now, so thank you for educating me on this!

    1. Hi Sydney! It’s great to hear that getting back into sports have helped your productivity!

  4. Hey Shylynn! I didn’t realize sports psychology was a way of helping people. I knew sports was a way for people to cope with things going on in their lives, but I never knew it was a form of psychology. I found your project extremely fascinating, and extremely relevant during this time with COVID becoming easier to deal with. I know athletes, including myself, have been having issues getting back into sports ever since the start of lockdowns and COVID back in March, and I think this can help them find the motivation to get back into things.

  5. Hi Shylynn. As an athlete I haven’t even heard of sports psychology before so this page as been super helpful and it is definitely a subject that should be recognized. I thought the infographic of the 5 branches was especially helpful.

  6. This is a super interesting topic! As an athlete myself, I have never considered the mental aspect of sport before. One thing I’m left wondering is if there is a difference n the mental benefits from solo and team sports. Overall I think that the info graphic you included was great.

  7. This topic really stood out to me, and something I had never thought of and very shocked this exists – but makes sense. You have great detail, and as someone who loves sports too, it lets me become more sports-intelligent and aware of others. Great job!

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