Psychology of Sports

Millions of people throughout the world are highly involved in sports as athletes, coaches or spectators. From a young age, people are introduced to sports through a wide variety of physical activities. According to R.B. Alderman in the book Psychological Behavior in Sport (1974), sports are organised games that have become institutionalized, following a set of rules and procedures applicable wherever they are played. Psychology of sports addresses the behavioral factors that influence and are influenced by participation in sport, performance, care and wellbeing, and the connection between physical and psychological functioning.

Research into psychology of sports covers a variety of topics such as anxiety, injury, behaviors, participation, stress, recovery and mental health, and embodies many topics within social science, including sporting activity, social structure, attitudes and values, individual differences, attribution for success and failure, social motivation, social learning and influences, aesthetics and mass media effects.

Within this field of psychology there are a variety of viewpoints and approaches, methodological and conceptual, which are represented within sport. Developmental psychology makes a connection with sport and make-believe play. A person's first instance of imaginative play is during childhood. A second instance appears during adult games and sports, where activities such as board games involve imaginative components to bring the game to life. The third instance shows a close relationship between visual imagery and motor performance. This demonstrates that imaginary transformations of pretend play have clear adaptive implications for sports and athletic activities. Richardson (1969) showed that gymnasts who engaged in this mental practice performed better than athletes who occupied their minds with other activities.

There are a variety of factors that may motivate a sportsperson to succeed in their chosen field, a combination of their own self-motivation and the desire for the external recognition of their achievement by others. Sports have the necessary components to be intrinsically motivating for people, directly or vicariously. The activities themselves are subjectively interesting and exciting. A sport introduces challenge and mastery on part of the participating players. Extrinsic motivators include a prize for becoming an outstanding player, such as trophies, awards and cash prizes. Social pressure is another motivator, where it is considered the social norm to be involved in athletic competitions. Mass media coverage of sport also plays a part in this, along with emphasising fortune and fame accrued to those who stand out. Intrinsic motivators are based on the human need to be competent and self-determining in relation to one's external environment. Sports tend to involve intrinsically interesting activities with the added pursuit of extrinsic incentives.

Existential psychology is concerned with investigating moods and emotions experienced by people in their lives. Fischer (1970) suggests anxiety is a central factor in most psychological approaches. Freudians and other psychologists lean towards anxiety as a negative emotional state. Contrasting to this, Fromm (1994) and Schneider and May (1995) agree with the general view that anxiety features throughout the lives of individuals irrespective of their psychological condition or health. Studies of sports performance and competitive sport consistently reveal that athletes often get more nervous the closer to their competitive event. These anxiety levels reduce the more experienced the athlete or if they hold a higher level of confidence. Increasing and maintaining confidence, handling training and competition stress, having consistent focus, attention and concentration and increasing and maintaining motivation are areas in which sports counsellors concentrate on with sports professionals.

Psychology of sport also encompasses the motives of sports fans. Across the globe, enthusiasts watch on television and attend sporting events, in some cases spending a considerable portion of their income in being a spectator. Beisser (1967) suggested that urban dwellers would attach themselves most strongly to sports and particular teams in order to satisfy needs for belonging and identity. Enjoyment of sports spectatorship among communities is apparent. Lawther (1951) wrote "the common people are wrapped up in sport enthusiasms. They have their favorite baseball team, their favorite basketball team and their favorite football team… The community tends to become united in its sports enthusiasms and its endorsements of local teams." Blumer (1946) classified collective behavior at sporting events as a "conventionalized crowd," meaning it is more or less predictable. Observers have indicated fans' lifestyle behavior surrounding sport is significant. When not watching sport, they remember previous games or plan for upcoming games.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Existential Psychology and Sport: Theory and Application
Mark Nesti.
Routledge, 2004
Physical Activity and Psychological Well-Being
Stuart J. H. Biddle; Kenneth R. Fox; Stephen H. Boutcher.
Routledge, 2000
Sports, Games, and Play: Social and Psychological Viewpoints
Jeffrey H. Goldstein.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989 (2nd edition)
The Effects of Sports Participation on Young Adolescents' Emotional Well-Being
Donaldson, Sarah J.; Ronan, Kevin R.
Adolescence, Vol. 41, No. 162, Summer 2006
Characteristics of an Effective Sport Psychology Consultant: Perspectives from Athletes and Consultants
Lubker, John R.; Visek, Amanda J.; Geer, John R.; Watson, Jack C., II.
Journal of Sport Behavior, Vol. 31, No. 2, June 2008
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Early Sport Specialization: A Psychological Perspective: Early Specialization Does Not Guarantee Later Sport Success
Gould, Daniel.
JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, Vol. 81, No. 8, October 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Rethinking Aggression and Violence in Sport
John H. Kerr.
Routledge, 2005
Testing the Sport Commitment Model in the Context of Exercise and Fitness Participation
Alexandris, Konstantinos; Zahariadis, Panagiotis; Tsorbatzoudis, Charalambos; Grouios, George.
Journal of Sport Behavior, Vol. 25, No. 3, September 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Sport Superstition: Mediation of Psychological Tension on Non-Professional Sportsmen's Superstitious Rituals
Brevers, Damien; Dan, Bernard; Noel, Xavier; Nils, Frederic.
Journal of Sport Behavior, Vol. 34, No. 1, March 2011
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Promoting Sportsmanship in Youth Sports: Perspectives from Sport Psychology; Sport Psychology Provides Crucial Insights for Improving Behavior in Sport
Goldstein, Jay D.; Iso-Ahola, Seppo E.
JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, Vol. 77, No. 7, September 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Counselling Athletes: Applying Reversal Theory
John H. Kerr.
Routledge, 2001
Biofeedback: A Practitioner's Guide
Mark S. Schwartz; Frank Andrasik.
Guilford Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 25 "Sports Psychology Applications of Biofeedback and Neurofeedback"
Adherence Issues in Sport and Exercise
Stephen J. Bull.
Wiley, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Adherence to Psychological Preparation in Sport"
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