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.

Psychology of Sports: Selected full-text books and articles

Physical Activity and Psychological Well-Being By Stuart J. H. Biddle; Kenneth R. Fox; Stephen H. Boutcher Routledge, 2000
Sports, Games, and Play: Social and Psychological Viewpoints By Jeffrey H. Goldstein Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989 (2nd edition)
The Effects of Sports Participation on Young Adolescents' Emotional Well-Being By 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 By 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 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).
Testing the Sport Commitment Model in the Context of Exercise and Fitness Participation By Alexandris, Konstantinos; Zahariadis, Panagiotis; Tsorbatzoudis, Charalambos; Grouios, George Journal of Sport Behavior, Vol. 25, No. 3, September 2002
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 By Brevers, Damien; Dan, Bernard; Noel, Xavier; Nils, Frederic Journal of Sport Behavior, Vol. 34, No. 1, March 2011
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).
Biofeedback: A Practitioner's Guide By 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 By Stephen J. Bull Wiley, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "Adherence to Psychological Preparation in Sport"
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