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What is Sport Psychology?


General Overview

In sport, we often hear phrases like “he had more drive," and “they didn’t have their heads in the game,” and “she needs to just focus on the game and tune out the crowd”, or “he had the mental edge."  These are all great examples of the ‘mental side’ of sport, or Sport Psychology.  Sport psychology is comprised of many psychological or mental skills which refer to the psychological qualities or attributes that an athlete can learn and develop.  Psychological skills can be used to target athletes’ thoughts (e.g., imagery), or bodies (e.g., breathing), depending on the target performance factor the athlete wishes to improve. Similar to physical skills, in order to maximize the benefits of psychological skills, athletes must deliberately practice them.

What are the Benefits of Using Sport Psychology Skills

  • Behavioral gains (e.g., improved performance and persistence, reduced burnout)

  • Emotional gains (e.g., increased self-esteem and enjoyment, decreased anxiety)

  • Cognitive gains (e.g., greater concentration and focus, fewer meltdowns)

  • Athletes who use psychological skills report greater gains in shorter amounts of time

  • Gives athletes the competitive advantage over physically similar opponents

  • Useful for athletes of all ages, competitive levels, or sports.


We can imagine ourselves performing in our sport by seeing or feeling specific movements in our mind. Including as many of the senses as possible helps to make our images more vivid and realistic. Athletes or coaches may imagine specific sport skills, strategies, emotions, goals, and confidence. The potential BENEFITS of mental imagery include improved focus, skill acquisition and execution, strategy acquisition and execution, anxiety management, increased arousal, boost confidence, increase mental toughness, goal attainment, increase motivation, and injury recovery.




Goal Setting

Goals are valued targets athletes and coaches strive to accomplish that serve as an incentive toward behavior change. The potential BENEFITS of goal setting include improved focus, performance gains, increased effort and intensity, persistence to overcome obstacles or bounce back from failure; promotes self-reflection and problem-solving strategies.


Self Talk

Self-talk – What we say to ourselves can be instructional or motivational. Self-talk is directed to oneself; it is what an athlete or coach says to themselves. Instructions can include keywords that remind athletes how to perform a skill. Motivational self-talk can help athletes get pumped up, relax, and increase effort.


Performance Routines

A set sequence of actions and thoughts carried out before executing a skill. Routines can be pre-event (used during the time leading up to a competition), or pre-performance (used immediately before performing a skill). Performance routines may BENEFIT performance by improving an athlete’s ability to: perform consistently, focus, cope with distractions and negative thoughts, and perform skills automatically.



Anxiety Regulation

Anxiety regulation encompasses a number of psychological skills that can be easily incorporated into an athletes’ routine in order to decrease both the physiological and mental symptoms of anxiety. The potential BENEFITS of anxiety regulation include: Reduced physiological symptoms of anxiety, decreased anxiety/nervousness, reduced negative thoughts, increased self- confidence, improved sleep, performance gains, goal attainment, and persistence in the sport.



Interpersonal Styles

Interpersonal styles can alternatively be viewed as the manner in which individuals (e.g., coaches and parents) interact with other individuals who could be viewed as their subordinates (e.g., athletes and children). This concept of interpersonal styles is important in the coach-athlete relationship because when coaches optimize these interpersonal styles, their athletes experience a host of benefits including enhanced MOTIVATION. The potential BENEFITS of interpersonal styles include Motivation, autonomy, competence, relatedness, well-being, satisfaction, performance, commitment, persistence, enjoyment.



Coping with Adversity

Focus/Concentration – Concentration or focus involves paying attention to what is relevant and ignoring things that are beside the point. This skill helps athletes and coaches pick out the cues that are most important.


The regulation of confidence and self-efficacy incorporates numerous psychological skills that can be integrated into an athletes’ routine in order to increase this important psychological aspect of the athlete.

The potential BENEFITS of confidence and self-efficacy regulation include increased effort exerted, the likelihood of pursuing challenging goals, persistence, performance, perseverance when facing obstacles, ability to cope with pain, mood, and enjoyment.



Group Cohesion and Team Building

Group cohesion reflects the tendency for athletes within a group to be on the same page with respect to their goals and values. Cohesion is associated with team performance and is one of the qualities that coaches often try to improve among their teams. Some of the potential BENEFITS of cohesion include increased effort exerted, improved attendance and punctuality for practices, less dropout, increased athlete satisfaction, increased collective efficacy, decreased state anxiety, and improved performance.



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