A sprinter crouches and senses the familiar feelings of butterflies in her stomach. She closes her eyes, takes a long, deep breath, and repeats to herself the words "fast, strong, smooth." She looks up, hears the gun, and BLASTS out of the blocks.
A high school cross country coach is conducting a preseason team meeting. At this meeting, he encourages each runner to think about what he wants to accomplish both during practice and during competition this season. His athletes leave the meeting with a feeling of purpose and excitement about working toward and accomplishing their goals.
A college soccer team is having a difficult season. The team has lost its last three games, and team members feel as if their conference championship title may be at risk. The athletes feel they are not communicating well on the field and lack motivation during practice. A sport psychology consultant intervenes to assess and create ways to enhance their communication skills and feelings of motivation.
All of these scenarios are examples of issues that athletes, coaches, and teams face. Stress and arousal, goal setting, and group cohesion are just a few of the topics the field of sport psychology has been designed to address. Sport psychology focuses on the psychological and emotional processes athletes and exercisers experience while pursuing both competitive sport and lifetime fitness activities. This article will introduce you to the field of sport psychology by focusing on the history of sport psychology in North America, professional organizations in the field of sport psychology, professional preparation opportunities for sport psychology professionals, and ways to learn more about sport psychology.The History of Sport Psychology in North America
It is essential to know the historical background of an academic discipline in order to understand its current goals, purposes, and endeavors. Sport psychology in North America has a rich history that was born in the late 19th century. This section will introduce you to some of the pioneering educators and practitioners in the early days of sport psychology.
Pioneers in the field of sport psychology.
The first documented pioneer in the field of sport psychology investigated the effect of social facilitation on athletes. Dr. Norman Triplett, a psychology professor at Indiana University in the late 1800s, conducted research on how the presence of others impacted the performance of cyclists. Triplett's study supported his hypothesis that cyclists often performed better when riding in pairs or groups than when riding alone (Anshel, 2003; Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Triplett's research titled "Dynamogenic Factors in Pacemaking and Competition" was published in 1898 in the American Journal of Psychology and provided the field with the first documented research discussing how and why group dynamics impact athletic performance (for a more detailed account of Dr. Triplett's work, see Davis, Huss, & Becker, 1995).
While Triplett's work provided a foundation for sport psychology research, much of his work was conducted in the laboratory with no emphasis on the real-life application of his findings. In the 1920s, another burgeoning sport psychologist from the University of Illinois, Coleman Griffith, began developing the first sport psychology laboratory where the findings of research conducted in laboratory settings could be applied to the real-life performance of athletes (Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Griffith worked directly with both the Chicago Cubs and with Knute Rockne and the University of Notre Dame (IN) football team to enhance the performance of athletes who played on these teams (for a more detailed account of Dr. Griffith's work, see Gould & Pick, 1995).
The life work and research of other sport and psychology professionals led to the further advancement of sport psychology as an academic discipline in the mid 1960s. Professionals such as Franklin Henry (University of California, Berkley) set the stage for sport psychology to be taught and researched in academic settings (Weinberg & Gould, 2003). As sport psychology began to advance as an academic discipline, the applied aspects of sport psychology began to take root as well. Academicians such as Bruce Ogilvie (San Jose State University, CA) and Dorothy Harris (Pennsylvania State University) helped advance the praxis-oriented discipline that sport psychology is today.Professional Organizations in Sport Psychology
The increase in the academic pursuits of sport psychology researchers and practitioners led to the need for professional organizations to support continuing education in this discipline. Currently, the following three major professional organizations help promote and advance knowledge in the field of sport psychology: (a) the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), (b) the North American Society for Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA), and (c) Division 47– Exercise and Sport Psychology—of the American Psychological Association (APA).AASP.
AASP, formerly known as the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (AAASP), was started in 1986. AASP focuses on providing theoretical and applied information to sport psychologists, coaches, athletes, and students to increase athletic performance. AASP concentrates on three specific areas related to this goal: (a) health psychology, (b) performance enhancement/ intervention, and (c) social psychology. Every year, AASP hosts a national conference that spotlights the major research that has been conducted that year and provides continuing education opportunities for academics, scientists, and students in the field. AASP also publishes a scholarly journal in the field of sport psychology: The Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. To find out more information about AASP visit www.aaasponline.orgNASPSPA.
The purpose of NASPSPA is to help promote and improve the quality of both teaching and research in the field of sport psychology. NASPSPA is specifically devoted to the disciplines of sport psychology, motor behavior and development, and motor learning and control. NASPSPA hosts a national conference every year and also publishes two scholarly journals in the field of sport psychology: The Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology and Motor Control. To find out more information about NASPSPA visit www.naspspa.orgAPA Division 47.
In 1987, the APA developed Division 47 which is devoted specifically to the study of exercise and sport psychology. The mission of Division 47 is to advance knowledge and disseminate information related to teaching, research, and service opportunities to students and professionals in the field of sport and exercise psychology. Furthermore, Division 47 publishes a triyearly newsletter devoted to the field of exercise and sport psychology. To find out more information about APA's Division 47 visit www.apa.orgProfessional Preparation in the Field of Sport Psychology
Sport psychologists engage in many activities including, but not limited to, teaching students about the theoretical orientations and applied aspects of sport psychology, conducting research that examines the psychological parameters of participation in sport and exercise, and working directly with athletes to improve their athletic performance or enjoyment in sport (Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Professional preparation at the undergraduate and graduate level is a necessary prerequisite for any of these activities.Undergraduate preparation.
As an undergraduate student, a background in psychology or physical education is preferable. At this point in your academic career, it would be beneficial to study topics such as personality, social psychology, psychology of learning, and other core psychological subjects. If you choose to enter the field of physical education, classes such as motor development, psychological aspects of sport and exercise, adapted physical education, kinesiology, and biomechanics will introduce you to various curricular components of sport psychology. It would also be very valuable for you to engage in collaborative research with a faculty member during your undergraduate tenure. Helping with various aspects of a research project will facilitate your understanding of the research process and make you a strong candidate for graduate work.
Master’s-level graduate preparation. The next step in becoming a sport psychologist is to investigate master's programs in the field of sport psychology. At the master's level, you will take courses in the psychology, sociology, and philosophy of sport that will strengthen your understanding of the various factors that impact the performance of athletes. AASP offers provisional certification for professionals at the master's level that will enable you to coach or work with athletes on performance enhancement at a basic level. Certification at this level requires 300 hours of supervised work with athletes or teams as well as educational preparation in various areas related to sport and exercise psychology. For more information on this certification process visit www.aaasponline.orgDoctoral-level graduate preparation.
The final step in becoming a sport psychologist is to receive an advanced degree (PhD or EdD) in sport psychology or counseling. There are a number of educational institutions which provide a degree specifically in sport psychology. At the doctoral level, you will take courses and engage in research activities that will prepare you to develop an even stronger grasp of the complex environment of sport and exercise settings. You may also have the opportunity to work directly with athletes under the supervision of an academic mentor or advisor. At the completion of your doctoral work, you may be eligible to become an AASP Certified Consultant. This certification would allow you to work with athletes at a number of different performance levels. Certification at this level requires 400 hours of consulting work as well as educational preparation in various areas related to sport and exercise psychology. For more information on this certification process visit www.aaapsonline.orgLearning More About Sport Psychology
Today, the field of sport psychology has developed into a discipline that investigates numerous psychological aspects that impact sport and exercise participation. These aspects include, but are not limited to, confidence, body image, gender issues, anxiety and stress, goal setting, social facilitation, the impact of youth sport, the psychology of injury, burnout, and addictive behaviors in sport and exercise settings. An excellent way to find out more about the field of sport psychology is to take an introductory course in sport and exercise psychology at your college or university. This class will likely introduce you to the major areas of research and applied topics in the field and will also give you a better understanding of the techniques that sport psychologists may use with athletes.
Another excellent resource to read if you are interested in the practical application of sport psychology is Dr. Brent Rushall's article in Eye on Psi Chi titled "Some Psychological Factors for Promoting Exceptional Athletic Performance" (2000). In this article, Dr. Rushall described the complex setting of competitive sports and explains the performance enhancing power of strategies such as performance segmenting, concentration, and positive self-talk.
Sport psychology is an exciting field for anyone interested in the mental aspects of sport. Being a sport psychology professional allows you to teach, research, and apply the psychological concepts you may be learning right now to the complex and exhilarating field of sport. If you would like to help athletes sharpen their mental game, teach students how to apply psychological concepts in their coaching, or research aspects of performance enhancement, I highly recommend that you investigate the field of sport psychology.References
Anshel, M. H. (2003). Sport psychology: From theory to practice
(4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Benjamin Cummings.
Davis, S. F., Huss, M. T., & Becker, A. H. (1995). Norman Triplett and the dawning of sport psychology. The Sport Psychologist,
Gould, D., & Pick, S. (1995). Sport psychology: The Griffith era, 1920- 1940. The Sport Psychologist,
Rushall, B. S., (2000, Winter). Some psychological factors for promoting exceptional athletic performance. Eye on Psi Chi,
4 (2), 14-18, 55.
Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2003). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology
(3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Karen Appleby, PhD,
received her BA in English from Hanover College (ID) in 1998. After graduating from Hanover, she attended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where she earned her master’s degree in sport management (1999) and sport psychology (2000), and her PhD in sport psychology (2004). Currently, she is an assistant professor in the Sport Science and Physical Education Department at Idaho State University. Presently, she is conducting and has published research in the areas of mentoring in higher education, women’s experiences in sport, and life quality issues in the master’s athlete population. She is currently a reviewer for the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (JOPERD), and the Electronic Journal for the Integration of Technology in Education (EJITE) and is also the co-head of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology’s (AASP) Diversity Committee. She serves as a sport psychology consultant for several athletic teams at Idaho State University as well as other sport clubs in the community of Pocatello, ID. In her spare time, she loves to run with her husband and dogs in the Idaho mountains and also races her road bike.
Fall 2007 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 12, No. 1, p. 22), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2007, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.