Applied Sport Psychology for Coaches and Athletes

What is Applied Sport Psychology?

Applied sport psychology is the study of mental factors that influence participation in sport, exercise and physical activity. Coaches and athletes can use principles from this field knowledge to improve competitive performance. For me, studying the mental side of training in graduate school while I was still competing gave me more effective ways to achieve peak performance.

Sport scientists and coaches alike consider the mental side of performance to be just as important as physical training. An athlete who is mentally ready is a tough competitor to beat. 

Mental training consists of instructing athletes, coaches, teams, exercisers, parents, fitness professionals, groups, and other performers on the psychological aspects of participation. The goal is to optimize performance and enjoyment.


Ways Mental Training Can Help

If you are an athlete, you have probably felt the pressure to win or experienced the fear of being beaten by your competitors.  Mental training can help athletes achieve their goals by:

  • Enhancing performance by using various mental strategies, such as visualization, self-talk and relaxation techniques, to help athletes overcome obstacles and achieve their full potential.
  • Coping with the pressures of competition, dealing with pressure from parents, coaches, or even their own expectations.
  • Recovering from injuries, adhering to their physical therapy regimens, or adjusting to being sidelined.
  • Keeping up with training regimens by increasing motivation and tackling any related concerns.

Examples of specific issues for athletes and coaches that mental training can address include:

  • Boosting self confidence,
  • Staying motivated and committed,
  • Maintaining emotional control during competition,
  • Reducing competitive stress and anxiety,
  • Performing "in the zone", 
  • Improving communication between the athlete and coach, and
  • Reducing the fear of failure or success.

Watch this informative video to learn more about improving your mental skills.

Professional Resources

One of the keys to success is separating the facts from myths and misconceptions. The most reliable resources in any field are rooted in sound research and successfully used in practice. Perhaps you are interested in learning more about the field, or are even considering a career.  Two professional organizations that promote the field and publish peer-reviewed journal articles on current topics include:

The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) is a professional organization that promotes the development of science and ethical practice in the field of sport psychology. It also offers certifications for consultants.

The North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA) is a multi-disciplinary organization that develops and advances the scientific study of human behavior when individuals are engaged in sport and physical activity.  The association also strives to improve the quality of research and teaching in the psychology of sport, motor development, and motor learning and control.

Topics addressed here include:

Athlete Motivation

Competitive Anxiety and How to Control It

Setting Goals


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