What is Sports Psychology?

Sport participation and performance involves a balance of technical, tactical, psychological, and physical elements:

• How much time do you spend on each of these areas as an athlete?

• As a coach how much training time do your athletes spend on each of these areas?

• How much time does your child spend on each of these areas?

In the same way that you spend time working on the technical, tactical, and physical elements of your sport, you need to spend time on the psychological elements too.


If we take a step back from Sport Psychology, the British Psychological Society defines Psychology as the scientific study of the mind and how it dictates and influences our behaviour, from communication and memory to thought and emotion. It's about understanding what makes people tick.

In short, Psychology is the study of what goes on ‘from the neck up’. It’s a science that links what people think and feel with their actions and behaviour and can be applied in a wide variety of contexts (e.g., sport, education, business).

Sport (and Exercise) Psychology

According to the American Psychological Association, Sport Psychology is “a proficiency that uses psychological knowledge and skills to address optimal performance and well-being of athletes, developmental and social aspects of sports participation and systemic issues associated with sports settings and organisations.”

According to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), the goal of sport psychology is to “facilitate optimal involvement, performance, and enjoyment in sport and exercise.”

Karageorghis and Terry (2011) have suggested that Sport Psychology is a “science and an art.”

• The key theoretical principles of sport psychology form the scientific foundations by which to practice as a Sport Psychologist.

• The art is the ability of the Sport Psychologist to apply the right mix of interventions using imagination and creativity to best suit the clients’ personal needs.

 As well as Sport Psychology it is also important to be aware of Exercise Psychology, which (according to the British Psychological Society) is primarily concerned with the application of Psychology to increase exercise participation and motivational levels in the general public.

What does a sport psychologist do?

Can you recall a time when your confidence has been knocked, you have struggled to perform under pressure, or when nerves and anxiety have clouded your judgement? A Sport Psychologist will help you manage the mental demands of your sport and sporting environment. This can be done through the following approaches:

• Provision of self-help techniques – e.g., developing articles and infographics for organisations to share with members.

• 1:1 consultations

• Team /group workshops

• Embedding in the environment (to observe and work closely with staff and athletes apply Sport Psychology techniques in context)

Sport Psychologists can work with an individual on practical techniques and coping mechanisms such as: imagery, goal setting, relaxation techniques, and positive self-talk. We can also empower clients to adopt an effective mindset to enhance performance and well-being by exploring their goals, aspirations, and beliefs.

If you are seeking the support of a Sport Psychologist, then it is worth thinking about which of these options best reflects your reason for doing so:

• Proactive – taking action by causing change and not only reacting to change when it happens.

• Reactive – seeking support for a specific issue that they would like to address.

 Who do Sport Psychologists work with?

Sport Psychology is open to everyone that works, performs, or has links to a sporting context. We don't just work with elite and professional athletes, we work with:

• Athletes

• Coaches

• Parents and Carers

• Support Staff

• Officials

Sport Psychology can benefit individuals and groups from grassroots to international level.

 A final note…

Sport and Exercise Psychologist is a protected title, and only individuals who meet the HCPC's criteria in terms of knowledge, expertise and experience are allowed access to the register. Usually, HCPC registered psychologists will also be Chartered members of the British Psychological Society.

This is important to know if you are looking to work with a Sport and Exercise Psychologist in the UK. You can check the register here.

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