Sport Psychology

Sport Psychology: How it Helps Athletes

In our society today it seems like sports rule the land. Everywhere we look, there is some kind of sporting event going on or being televised. Almost everyone could be considered a fan of at least one sport. Some people follow sports like a religion. With such an increased focus on sports, the athlete’s performances are put under a microscope. This puts more pressure on athletes to give a winning performance. No longer do athletes play for fun, they play to win. This isn’t happening just on the professional level; it is happening on all levels of sport. From little league to backyard football, the goal is to win at all cost. With this increase pressure, athletes are looking for more and more ways to better their performance. One such way, which is now gaining popularity, is Sports Psychology. Though this isn’t a new field, its popularity is just beginning to take off. There is still a lot of skepticism about the validity or worth while of the practices used. The following is a review of a number of articles that outline different studies done that show how athletes can improve their performances. The articles were found using a database search of PsychInfo. Keywords such as increased performance, psychological practices, and sports were used to narrow the search.
What is Sport Psychology?
Over the years there have been many different definitions offered as to what Sport Psychology is. One of the best ways to look at it is to ask what does a psychologist do? A psychologist does a variety of things. They provide psychological assessment, crisis intervention, and psychological service. Just to name a few broad areas. All of these are areas that can also be useful to an athlete. A lot of the tools used by a sport psychologist are adapted directly from clinical psychology. Concepts such as Freud’s Psychodynamics, Caltel’s Personality Test, and The Piagetial Cognitive Theory are widely used. (Sloubanov, 1999) All of these are critical tools used by a sport psychologist to assist an athlete with his or her problem. Sport psychology involves preparing the mind of an athlete, just as one prepares the body. Sport psychology is an emerging field in the worlds of psychology and athletics.

What Methods are Used?
The problem that an athlete is facing will dictate what type of approach a sport psychologist takes. Issues such as motivation, self-efficacy, and depression are common in the athletic arena. (Miserandino, 1998, p. 287) Athletes can also suffer greatly from anxiety and stress. (Holm, Beckwith, Ehde, Tinius, 1995, p. 463) Any of these conditions can be detrimental to ones competitive ability. Techniques such as mental imagery training and relaxation techniques can be used to attack problems in these areas. (McKenzie, Howe, 1997, p. 196) Marianne Miserandino’s research was focused on failure, and why athletes believe that they don’t accomplish their goals. She learned that starting at young age, athletes are told that failure comes from their lack of ability. This is called learned helplessness. (Miserandino, 1998, p. 287) In her study she approached this problem by splitting her subject into two groups. One group received feedback about their shooting techniques and were told that lack of effort was the reason for missed shots, not lack of ability. The other group received only feedback on their techniques. After her 4-week study was done, the group that received the positive reinforcement showed more mastery of the skills and greater improvement than their counterparts. (Miserandino, 1998 p. 286)
Another study also used basketball free throws as the basis for its study. Craig Wrisberg and Mark Anshel did this study. It looks at the effectiveness of applying cognitive techniques to improve performance of shooting free throws. (Wrisberg, Anshel, 1989, p. 95) Participants in the study were asked to shoot a number of free throws to provide a baseline for the study. Over the next three days, the athletes were giving instruction in between shooting sessions. They were introduced to mental imagery as a way to help with their shooting. The results showed a significant improvement in shot percentages of the players. (Wrisberg, Anshel, 1989, p. 99)
The Holm, Beckwith, Ehde, and Tinius study also looked at the use of cognitive approaches to athletic performance. They we interested