A precursory explanation of the practice of sports psychology is, sports psychology studies the effect of a person’s psychological state on their athletic performance. When you ask, ‘What is sports psychology,’ you are, in effect, asking about the way psychology professionals define the best theoretical models for enhancing athletic performance.
The primary responsibilities of professionals working in the field of sports psychology include research into the psychological factors affecting athlete’s performance and translating the knowledge gained from research into practical applications that help athletes improve their athletic performance.
The history of sports psychology goes as far back as the nineteenth century when Normal Triplett first revealed that cyclists who competed against or raced alongside a competitor or pacemaker had better race times. The challenge to ‘keep up’ pushes cyclists to work harder. This is one of the reasons why teamwork in the Tour de France is a common practice. Cyclists, whose teammates set a strong pace, give the cyclist more incentive to push forward. The best racers in the world usually sit back as the second or third person behind the leader, waiting until the end before they make their move.
Another example of sports psychology in practice is commonly demonstrated in the NBA. When NBA announcers talk about ‘momentum shifts,’ they are talking about one psychological theory that tries to account for what occurs during basketball games. A moment shift is essentially an emotional high, giving players an energy boost that makes them more focused and precise, eventuating in higher percentage shots and more active defense. The same types of psychological factors occur in all sports or physical activities, each relative to the sport.
The first and most obvious step is earning a bachelor’s sports psychology degree or a related field. After that, you will likely want to consider a earning a master’s or Ph.D. in sports psychology. Throughout the course of your studies it may be wise to focus your academic and research efforts specifically to the field of sports psychology and athletic performance. In addition to your academic endeavors you might want to participate in a clinical internship or work as a research assistant so that you can hone your knowledge and gain some tangible experience in the field. At the conclusion of your studies you may be required to take to the EPPP (Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology), in order to qualify for many job opportunities within the field.
Sports psychology is a dynamic field with a lot of interesting practical and theoretical avenues. If you are someone interested in sports and psychology, and you have the motivation to succeed in school, sports psychology might be a perfect fit.