Sports psychology describes the relationship between sports or exercise and a person’s well-being. It pertains to how certain psychological factors impact an athlete’s performance and any physical activity by an individual. But what is sports psychology in detail? Read on as we tell you the history, definition, job responsibilities of a sports psychologist, and benefits of sports psychology. 

What is Sports Psychology (Definition + History)

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Sports psychology doesn’t only involve elite athletes or sports enthusiasts. However, sports psychology also studies ordinary individuals or health buffs who exercise regularly. In a nutshell, it determines the psychological elements that influence any physical activity, such as sports or exercise. 

A sports psychologist typically administers this. Most of their job responsibilities would dwell on improving your health and well-being through sports participation. One of the primary goals of sports psychology is to enhance athletic performance and mental wellness

History of Sports Psychology

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Sports psychology is progressing into a widely-accepted field in sports due to its longstanding history and other disciplines. 

Sports psychology may have the same concepts and beliefs. However, socio-cultural trends have influenced and shaped the sports psychology of today. For instance, the increasing participation of women in sports, the commercialization of sports, and how significant events, such as the Olympics, drive people to participate. 

The first known research on sports psychology was evident in the 19th century. It was when psychologist Normal Triplett discovered that cyclists performed better when they cycled in groups. This is due to the competitiveness when riding with others compared to riding alone. 

Many other psychologists then meddled with sports psychology until psychologist Coleman Griffith built the first sports psychology lab in America at the University of Illinois. Unfortunately, not many people were interested in the research, which resulted in the lab being cut short. 

Although Griffith continued to study this discipline, other psychology students also showed interest in this field. 

Stanford University psychology student B.C. Graves, football coach Glenn Warner, and Ph.D. professor Walter Miles experimented on the fastest offense for an orchestrated move in unison. The team recorded the players’ reactions through a durable chronoscope. 

The group measured the quickness of seven linemen who participated in the experiment. By releasing a golf ball into a drum covered with paper over a wire mesh, the team could monitor every lineman’s agility and speed. The team was interested in other ways to speed up the linemen’s movement. 

Until today, many are still working on understanding how sports or movement impacts a person’s mental wellness. However, many are too focused on its impact without considering the individual differences that play a massive role in how people do sports. 

Furthermore, psychologists claim this study is vital because sports or any rigorous activity or exercise involves 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical. This is why many athletes and exercisers integrate meditation and other mental practices before embarking on their activities.

What Does a Sports Psychologist Do?

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Athletes seek professional help from sports psychologists to improve athletic performance. However, this discipline is about helping athletes and individuals through a holistic approach that touches on their mental, emotional, and physical performance

For instance, an athlete or individual may lose their cool on the football field, which affects other players. Or players may have difficulty in communicating with their teammates, which is detrimental to their overall game performance. On top of that, athletes may lose their motivation and would need the help of a professional sports psychologist to keep at it.

If you’re wondering what a sports psychologist does, here are some of the typical job responsibilities:

  • Implements relaxation techniques and mental tactics to help athletes improve their performance
  • Practices stress management techniques to help athletes deal with the pressures of competition, especially from their coaches, parents, and individual expectations.
  • It helps athletes recover from injuries by motivating them to adhere to their PT regimens 
  • Push health buffs who aim to exercise regularly and reach a goal to stick to their routine by increasing their motivation
  • Encourage kids and adults to participate in sports or any regular movement that boosts their confidence and self-esteem.

8 Benefits of Sports Psychology

illustration of sports psychologist

Sports psychology goes beyond the physical performance of a person. It’s a holistic approach that encourages people to embrace an active and healthy lifestyle for better mental and physical wellness. 

Here are eight benefits of sports psychology:

1. Lets you enhance your focus to ensure you have outstanding performance in every game, which means eliminating distractions that slow down your results

2. Boosts your confidence that helps you free yourself from doubts and hesitations that are affecting your focus and performance

3. Helps you get the right mental state and intensity to prepare you for the next big game or rigorous activity. You must be in the proper balanced state, enough to get you charged for the next activity but not overly charged.

4. Lets you cope with failures, losses, mistakes, and setbacks in your active life, so you remain confident in your abilities.

5. Encourages sports teams to find that synergy to maximize their full potential in every game. It also prioritizes team communication, so they have a better outcome when working as a unit. 

6. Find the right motivation that is tailored to each individual and keep this motivation on the right track for long-term impact

7. Keeps athletes “in the zone,” especially before a big event or activity. Some people find it hard to enter and stay “in the zone” due to personal and professional factors.

8. Helps you instill a healthy belief system that sets the appropriate attitude whenever you’re prepping for a game or exercise. 

The Bottom Line

Not every athlete or active person may need the help of a sports psychologist. However, sports psychology isn’t only beneficial to elite athletes and helps regular active people stay focused on their physical goals by keeping their mental wellness healthy. Through visualization, mental exercises, and motivation, sports psychology could immensely improve your relationship with sports and yourself.