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

Summary: Sport Psychology

Sport psychology can be traced back to the 1890s, but there was a big revival of interest in it in the late 20th Century. Top athletes emphasize the mental side of the game, both for solving problems and for cultivating states of peak performance. Athletes can identify psychological problems by looking for performance difficulties that tend to increase in pressure situations but not in practice. Some problems involve panicky feelings. An extreme example is "choking" during a game (suddenly losing one's ability to concentrate and perform). The solutions offered to athletes, to enhance performance and prevent problems, typically include relaxation training as well as techniques for concentrating and focusing attention, including visualization and rehearsal. Top athletes also emphasize the motivation to engage in hard work and endless hours of practice.

Michael Csikszentmihalyi studied flow states, moments of peak performance during which a person feels totally in control without thinking about it. Athletes report a consistent pattern to such states, including feelings of being relaxed, confident, energized, and totally absorbed in the activity.

Sport psychologists also study the psychology of coaching. The most effective coaches are informative and methodical instructors. They are good mentors and motivators, positive in orientation, willing to acknowledge and reinforce improvements in their athletes. College coaches were generally well aware of their coaching styles, as seen by others; coaches working with younger athletes often were not.

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