Sport and Exercise Psychology

by Dr Dev Roychowdhury

Definition of Sport and Exercise Psychology

Sport and Exercise Psychology involves the scientific study of psychological factors that are associated with participation and performance in sport, exercise, and other forms of physical activity.

Dev Roychowdhury

It is usually believed that sport psychology is primarily concerned with helping athletes use psychological techniques to achieve optimal mental health and consequently enhance performance in competitive contexts, whereas exercise psychology is concerned with helping individuals understand how participation in physical activity may improve their health and well-being throughout the lifespan.

And to a large extent this is true!

But, although I broadly agree that it is important to delineate boundaries in any field, I must emphasize that boundaries should not be impermeable because there are always topics that cross them.

For instance, sport psychology professional may need to consider psychophysiological variables (e.g., heart rate, respiration, and galvanic skin response) when studying anxiety and arousal. Similarly, exercise psychology professionals may need to take into account extrinsic factors (e.g., performance demands from sponsors or coaches, and financial constraints) that affect individuals‘ motivation to engage in physical activity.

And so, sport and exercise psychology may be considered as a discipline focused on the development and application of psychological principles and techniques for the understanding and modification or enhancement of human behaviour in sport and physical exercise environments that ultimately lead to improved performance and well-being.

The fundamentals principles of this domain may be applied to sport, exercise, business, and and performing arts.

What do Sport and Exercise Psychology professionals do?

Sport and exercise psychology professionals study, identify, and apply psychological theories and techniques within sport and exercise contexts to enhance the performance and well-being of athletes, coaches, teams, staff, and physical activity participants.

Sport and exercise psychology professionals undertake a wide range of tasks in a variety of settings including consultancy, research, lecturing, and health promotion and policy development.

Apart from core training in sport and exercise domains, sport and exercise psychology professionals also synthesize knowledge and skills from clinical, counseling, organizational, developmental, educational, and health psychology, as well as other cognate fields, such as physical education and kinesiology, to help individuals enhance performance and maximize satisfaction in their chosen endeavours.

For instance, a sport psychology professional may consult with a sporting club, work one-on-one with athletes, help the coaches and support staff to better manage psychological and performance issues, among others. Similarly, an exercise psychology professional may be employed as a lecturer in a University, work at the local leisure centre to promote physical activity participation, and work with local council or other government agencies to design health promotion interventions and campaigns. Sport and exercise psychology professionals come from diverse backgrounds and work in a variety of settings and contexts.

I hope this article has provided clarity on what is sport and exercise psychology and what the professionals in this field do. Nevertheless, there are still some misconceptions that plague the field. Here are some:

Common Misconceptions about Sport and Exercise Psychology

  • Sport psychology professionals only work with elite athletes
  • Sport psychology professionals only work for the club/team
  • Sport psychology is simply wishy-washy talk
  • Sport psychology professionals can provide quick fixes
  • Exercise psychology professionals and physical trainers in the gym have the same qualification and do similar work
  • Sport and exercise psychology professionals are ‘mental gurus or coaches with magical powers’

If you have any questions about this article or want to discuss any (or all) of the misconceptions, I’d be happy to chat. Just leave me a message here and I will be happy to help!

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