Psi man mascot

Summary: Sport Psychology

Sport psychology can be traced back to the 1890s, but there was a big revival of interest in the late 20th Century. Top athletes started emphasizing the mental side of the game, both for solving problems and for cultivating states of peak performance.

Athletes have the same problems as other people, with school, family, romantic, and mood issues. Sport psychologists say they divide their time between counseling activities and coaching activities, so it is good to have expertise in both areas.

Athletes can identify psychological problems by looking for perform­ance difficulties that occur in pressure situations but not in practice. An extreme example is "choking" during a game (suddenly losing one's ability to concentrate and perform).

Solutions typically include analyzing bad performances to identify technical issues that can be addressed, as well as relaxation training and techniques for concentrating and focusing attention. Approaches resembling cognitive behavior therapy can be helpful while analyzing videos of poor performances, to make them educational rather than emotionally devastating.

Michael Csikszentmihalyi studied flow states, moments of peak performance during which a person feels totally in control without thinking about it. Athletes report a consistent pattern to such states, including feelings of being relaxed, confident, energized, and totally absorbed in the activity.

Sport psychologists also study the psychology of coaching. The most effective coaches are informative and methodical instructors. They are good mentors and motivators, positive in orientation, willing to acknowledge and reinforce improvements in their athletes.

The most highly regarded high school and college coaches were interesting not only in athletic performance but in the whole person, emphasizing character building, not just athletic skills. College coaches were generally well aware of their coaching styles, as seen by others; coaches working with younger athletes often were not.

Write to Dr. Dewey at

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.