What Is Sports Psychology?


Successful performance in sports is just as related to mental fitness as it is to physical fitness. Athletes who are psychologically prepared for competition consistently outperform unprepared athletes. It was for this reason that the discipline of sports psychology was developed. Although sports psychology can benefit you as a competitive athlete, it can also benefit you if you simply seek to achieve personal fitness goals.


The American Psychological Association defines sports psychology as “the scientific study of the psychological factors that are associated with participation and performance in sport, exercise and other types of physical activity.” It is further subdivided into two main areas–enhancing athletic performance and using sports psychology to enhance overall psychological well-being throughout life. Each of these two areas has both research and applied branches.


Psychologist Norman Triplett has been credited with pioneering the discipline of sports psychology around the beginning of the 20th century, when he confirmed that bicyclists ride faster when traveling in groups or pairs. As evidence in favor of the utility of sports psychology gradually mounted, the number of people involved in the discipline increased. Sports psychologists have become involved in research, teaching and consulting. Many of these professionals are also trained in exercise physiology.

Areas of Focus

Sports psychology focuses on eight major areas–anxiety control, concentration, confidence, goal setting, communication and intra-team dynamics, creative visualization, internal dialogue and time management. Although each of these is an independent area of research, they often overlap in practice–controlling your anxiety will help you concentrate, for example. Specific techniques have been devised for helping athletes improve in each of these areas.

Professional Practice

Several different professions make use of sports psychology. Athletic trainers use sports psychology to prevent and treat sports-related injuries and to design rehabilitation programs. Physical therapists design and execute rehabilitation programs for injured athletes. Coaches use sports psychology to motivate their players and maintain team cohesion. Performance enhancement consultants are unlicensed sports psychologists who train athletes for enhanced performance.


Sports psychology can enhance individual performance and can help a group of individual athletes gel into a team. It can also motivate injured athletes to maximize the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs. You can use sports psychology to help you stick to an exercise program by learning psychological skills, such as realistic goal-setting, to increase your ability to enjoy exercise. The increased concentration, focus and self-confidence can help you in many areas of your life that are seemingly unrelated to sports, such as work productivity and interpersonal relationship management.

About this Author

David Carnes has been a full-time writer since 1998 and has published two full-length novels. He spends much of his time in various Asian countries and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Kentucky College of Law.