This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Sport Psychology

Sport psychology is our third frontier area in this chapter, this time on the boundary of psychology and athletics. Modern sport psychology is also closely allied with the fields of exercise psychology and exercise physiology. (The American Psychological Association's Division 47 is devoted to "Exercise and Sports.") Researchers are not just interested in champion athletes; they study people of all ages engaged in exercise for recreation and physical fitness. Some good sources for up-to-date research on sport psychology are these journals:

With what other disciplines is modern sport psychology closely allied?

Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology

Sport Psychologist

Journal of Applied Sport Psychology

Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise

What phenomenon did Triplett observe among bicycle racers?

Although sport psychology boomed in recent decades, its beginnings can be traced back to the 1890s. One of the first sport psychologists was Norman Triplett, a psychologist at Indiana University. Triplett was a big fan of bicycle racing, and he noticed that bicyclists who rode in groups often posted faster times than bicyclists who road alone. Triplett gathered data from races, which verified his hypothesis. He published an article about his findings in 1898. He also reported the same phenomenon in other situations. For example, children asked to reel in fishing line as quickly as possible performed better (faster) if other children were present (Triplett, 1898).

What is social facilitation?

Triplett had discovered social facilitation. This label did not come into use until years after Triplett's research, but the phenomenon of social facilitation has been documented in many different species performing many different behaviors. It refers to the fact that animals perform a behavior more intensely or for a longer period of time if others are present. For example, a pet cat will spend longer at a food bowl if watched attentively. Social facilitation occurs in sport psychology when athletes perform better in a group situation rather than singly, or when they perform better in front of an audience.

What did Coleman Griffith do?

The first sport psychology laboratories were founded by Carl Diem in Germany in 1920. In 1925, Coleman Griffith of the University of Illinois developed the first laboratory devoted to sport psychology. He is sometimes called the father of American sport psychology. Griffith also wrote two influential books: Psychology of Athletics (1928) and Psychology of Coaching (1926). Griffith studied famous athletes such as Dizzy Dean (of the nearby Chicago Cubs) and Red Grange (a famous football player at the University of Illinois). He corresponded with Knute Rockne, the legendary football coach at Notre Dame.

When did sport psychology receive a new burst of attention?

Sport psychology developed rapidly in the late 20th Century. The International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP) was formed in Europe in 1965 and held its first World Congress that year, launching the modern era of sport psychology. In the United States, a national association was founded in 1967: the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity or NASPSPA. The International Journal of Sport Psychology was established in 1970. Dorothy V. Harris developed one of the first graduate programs in Sport Psychology at Penn State and organized the first research conference on women in sport in 1972. The Journal of Sport Psychology was born in 1979. By 1984 sport psychologists were working with international teams at the Olympic games, and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) hired its first full-time sport psychologist in 1985.

By the 1996 Summer Olympics, more than 20 American sport psychologists were working with athletes. New journals and professional organizations were formed, textbooks and popular guides were published, and private consulting firms were set up. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) started a permanent sport psychology center in Colorado Springs. Today, the two largest sport psychology organizations in the United States (the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology and the American Psychological Association Division 47) have about 3,000 members combined.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) sport psychology center web site lists the following services offered by sport psychologists:

What are some of the services offered by sport psychologists?

Some sport psychology consultants say they spend about half their time talking with an athlete about relationships, family and other non-sport issues. These are obviously relevant to an athlete's state of mind and ability to respond to competition with peak performance. Many of the issues discussed earlier in this chapter under the heading of stress reduction are relevant to sport psychology. For example, sport psychologists use cognitive restructuring or reframing to modify self-talk that occurs before and during competition, to prevent "catastrophizing" when something bad occurs, and to focus on realistic and adaptive responses to challenging situations.

What belief is common among successful athletes, regarding the "mental" side of sports?

Many successful athletes emphasize the psychological side of sports. Swimmer Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals at the Olympics, was quoted as saying, "At this level of physical skill, the difference between winning and losing is 99 percent psychological." Jack Nicklaus, the famous golfer, asserted that "golf is 90 percent mental." (Williams, 1986). The percentage values are not meant to be taken literally, of course, any more than when an athlete talks about giving 150%. The point is that world-class athletes view psychological factors as very important.

Psychological influences come into play in dealing with problems (such as tension or sudden inability to perform at the player's usual level of skill) and also in dealing with peak performance.


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