The Science of Sports Psychology

Sports psychology is the application of psychology to sports, specifically athletic performance, sport-related psychology, training, and team dynamics. Some sports psychologists work solely with coaches and professional athletes to enhance motivation and improve performance. Other sports psychologists counsel athletes on performance-enhancing techniques and psychological aspects of the game. Others conduct research into the physiological, mental, and emotional factors that influence performance. Still others do both of these things. All of these professionals are in the business of helping athletes maximize their performance, minimize their risks of injury, and maintain or enhance their skills and abilities.


One branch of sports psychology deals with the assessment, treatment, and prevention of athletic injuries. Athletic trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, and athletic training instructors are all included in this discipline. The scope of athletic psychology can also extend to the realm of rehabilitation after an athletic injury. Among its areas of focus are rehabilitation of injury, the neuro-physiology of sporting activity, and injury prevention and education. In this area, sports psychologists develop special curriculums to address these four specific areas.

Among the most popular subdisciplines of sports psychology are those which deal with health and safety. Many participants in contact sports are often not aware that the strength of their muscles and ligaments may be affected by the types of shoes and other equipment they wear, particularly during vigorous activities such as running. This can lead to strains, sprains, and even tears. Safety is a major concern for sports professionals because injuries can seriously disrupt and even end the season. As such, sports health and safety encompasses a wide range of issues, from knowing proper footwear and equipment to the best types of warm-up and stretching exercises and how to protect the body against injury during vigorous activity.

Another area of sports psychology that is gaining attention in recent years is the field of performance training and sports medicine. Performance techniques are used not only to enhance an individual’s current performance but also to help them achieve their maximum potential in sports or other activities. These techniques include improving the body’s endurance and speed, learning how to perform better in certain sports or in combination with others, learning new strategies for competition, and enhancing an athlete’s skills so that he or she performs to his or her highest potential. Although it is usually applied to professional athletes, many non-professional athletes have begun to incorporate performance techniques into their own sports activities in an effort to improve their own performance. For example, baseball players are increasingly studying various techniques for minimizing on-field injuries and learning how to recover from strenuous exercise sessions.

Aside from sports psychology, there are other disciplines related to sports and sport management which also contribute to the development of an athlete. These include rules and regulations about the body and mind of sport, marketing of the sport through advertising, educational and leadership programs, and public relations towards the athlete and the sport. Sport organizations and governing bodies can also help athletes improve their performance through research and education. They can create guidelines as to how a particular athlete should conduct himself or herself on the field. In addition, they can set standards for the types of equipment and supplies that must be worn during competitions.

Some disciplines also combine psychological and physical aspects of sports psychology. One such discipline is performance analysis. Researchers examine athletes’ psychological well-being and mental attitude toward sports and competition. They develop diagnostic tools such as questionnaires to identify specific areas of concerns and to determine if any patterns can be identified. This helps them design programs for psychological and emotional wellbeing as well as for the development of healthy behaviors and attitudes towards physical activity and sport.