An understanding of sport & exercise psychology & appropriate application
of this knowledge can have enormous cognitive, affective & behavioural
benefits for people involved in sports & exercise. Based upon appropriate
academic literature, discuss this statement in reference to, a) a semi
professional adult athlete in a sport of your choice, b) a full time youth coach
in a sport of your choice, and c) an exercise class leader / fitness instructor.
� What issues and areas in sport & exercise psychology might have a useful
application for EACH of the individuals identified? What are the potential
cognitive (mental), affective (emotional) & behavioural (performance) benefits
that stem from the appropriate application of knowledge derived from
studying sport & exercise psychology? How can these potential benefits be
maximised? Are there any potential costs or negatives that could result from
inadequate understanding or misapplication of knowledge of sport & exercise
psychology for EACH of the individuals identified? Ensure you draw
reference to ALL three individuals identified above.
Sport and Exercise Psychology
What issues and areas in sport & exercise psychology might have a useful application for
EACH of the individuals identified?
Sport and exercise psychology refers to the scientific study of people and their behaviors in the
contexts of exercise and sport and the practical application of that knowledge (Weinberg &
Goud, 2010). This study is intended to provide guidelines and principles which professionals can
apply in helping children and adults participate and benefit from sport and exercise activities.
This study is important for semi professional adult athletes, youth coaches and fitness instructors.
These people study sport and exercise psychology with two objectives in mind. The first
objective is to understand how psychological factors affect the physical performance of an
individual. The second objective is to know the effects of participation in sport and exercise to an
individual’s psychological development, well-being and health (Weinberg & Goud, 2006).
There are different areas of sports and exercise psychology: health psychology, rehabilitation
psychology, exercise psychology and sports psychology. Sports psychology will be useful to a
semi professional adult basketball player and a youth coach in soccer, while exercise psychology
will be useful to a fitness instructor. It is important to note that the content in each of the areas is
connected to the discipline of psychology. In addition, the study of relevant issues involves the
application of various techniques and models from a wide range of psychological aspects such as
SPORT AND EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY 2
personality, social, experimental, psychophysiology and clinical. The four areas of exercise and
sports psychology are different but significantly interrelate with each other. Exercise psychology
deals with athletic personality, the relationship between anxiety and performance, the effect of
attention on performance, psychological predictors of athletic injury, the role of relaxation in
improving sports performance, the importance of self-confidence in predicting sports
performance, and the optimal balance between the level of mental practice and the amount of
physical practice required to produce best performance. Jim Gavin, a professor of applied human
sciences at Concordia University has been involved in health promotion for over 35 years. He
points out that a fitness instructor must be able to pay attention to the experiences of the
participants in order to understand the best technique that can be applied on each of them
depending on their individual personalities (Gavin, 2005).
There are various important aspects of sport psychology for a coach. The first aspect relates to
the relationship of the coach with his athletes. The 2009 study by the Canadian Olympic
Committee indicated that a strong coach-athlete relationship was the key contributor to a medal
winning performance or a personal best performance at the Beijing Olympics. Jose Mourinho,
Chelsea’s football coach points out that his methodology coaching methodology involves
tailoring communication to each individual (Haugstad, 2012). Another issue that the coach is
supposed to understand is the behavioural patterns and individual personality of an athlete. Such
knowledge about athletes enables a coach to develop constructive communication and build an
effective environment for them. Jose Mourinho admits that in order to balance motivational act
with 22 to 23 players twice a week, a coach must be a masterful communicator, with deep
knowledge about the emotions and personal goals of every player, what drives them and what
gets them going.The coach will also be in a position to help athletes understand themselves better
which enables them to self-assess and monitor their performance. Another issue that a coach will
be interested in is with regard to helping athletes in mental visualization, goal setting, feedback
and self-talk. Jose Mourinho admits that being a psychologist is not an easy task because it
requires stimulation of all players, from fragile personalities to near-divine self images. It is also
continually challenging to ensure to ensure that the mood of each player is judged from game to
game. He says that, “A coach must be everything: a tactician, motivator, leader, methodologist,
Jerry Reynolds was coached by Ron Hoffman after his freshman year of varsity basketball
(Weinberg & Goud, 2006). Jerry had been a very successful basketball player while in high
school. On his full scholarship program at Southeastern, Jerry worked very hard and improved
his skills that Coach Johnson decided to him into the game. Jerry became nervous as he moved to
the scorer’s table. The nervousness grew more, with his heart pounding and “he could not shut
off the chatter in his mind”. His performance was disastrous. After the game Jerry’s teammates
and coaches encouraged him that it was just nerves and he needed to relax. However, Jerry failed
to relax and a series of high anxiety and deteriorating performance followed. When Jerry visited
a sport psychologist, he found that it was normal to have anxiety while transitioning from high
school to college ball. During off-season, Jerry practiced psychological techniques extensively
and refined them during early-season scrimmages and practices. He quickly resumed playing to
his full potential and became very helpful to the team with his solid performance (Weinberg &
SPORT AND EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY 3
What are the potential cognitive (mental), affective (emotional) & behavioural
(performance) benefits that stem from the appropriate application of knowledge derived
from studying sport & exercise psychology?
Cognitive (Mental) Benefits
Physical exercise is growing in acknowledgement as a means of maintaining and enhancing good
mental health. Generally, research findings show that exercise is greatly associated with
improvements in health including self-esteem and mood state, though a causal connection has
not been established (Raglin, 1990). Research on acute exercise shows that 20 to 40 minutes of
aerobic exercise leads to improvements in mood, and state anxiety which persist for several
hours. These transitory changes in mood are evident in both people with elevated or normal
levels of anxiety, although they tend to be limited to aerobic forms of exercise. Research found
that “aerobic exercise programs lasting at least a few months seem best for reducing reports of
chronic stress”. The mechanism by which this positive effect occurs tends to be short-term
disruption from distasteful thoughts and enhanced feelings of commitment or control which
buffers the effect (Weinberg & Goud, 2006).
According to Raglin (1990), exercise may play a significant role in managing mild to moderate
health diseases, particularly anxiety and depression. Aerobic exercise is beneficial to individuals
with different anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.
Though depressed individuals are often less physically active than non-depressed individuals,
increased strength training or aerobic exercise has proved to be beneficial in significantly
reducing depressive symptoms. Symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder also improve with
regular exercise, and beneficial changes occur to equal meditation or relaxation. The benefits of
exercise on state anxiety are attributable to factors such as increased social support, improved
self-concept, heightened sense of competence and achievement or distraction from symptoms or
sources of anxiety.
With regard to long-term exercise programmes, enhancements in the mental health of “normal”
individuals may not be noticeable or they may be modest in magnitude. The changes for
individuals with elevated depression or anxiety are more conspicuous. Research involving
clinical samples found that the psychological benefits connected to exercise are relative to gains
obtained from standard forms of psychotherapy. Thus in the case of healthy individuals, the
major psychological benefit of exercise may be in terms of prevention, while for those suffering
from mild to moderate emotional illnesses, exercise may benefit the individual by functioning as
a means of treatment (Raglin, 1990).
Another benefit of physical activity and exercise is that it increases self-confidence, cognitive
function and self-esteem. As with regard to athletes, it is believed that the performance in sport is
75%-90% mental. This clearly indicates that athletes who are better prepared mentally have
higher chances of succeeding. A coach will be assured of the success of his team if he has helped
each team member develop superior confidence, have a fearless approach, a razor focus and
ability to access inner resources of strength and power. Jerry was able to benefit from sport
psychology because his performance improved to his full potential.
Affective (Emotional) Benefits
SPORT AND EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY 4
There is evidence that exercise is beneficial in improving and enhancing positive psychological
states. One of the highly reported befits of exercise of even mild intensities is the increase in
feelings of energy. Another aspect of mental health which is increasingly gaining attention is the
concept of psychological well-being. In simple terms, psychological well being refers to the
predominance of positive emotions over negative emotions besides favorable thoughts, including
satisfaction with life. Improved psychological well-being is brought about by the fact that
exercise reduces negative emotions such as depression and anxiety and enhances positive
emotions such as vigor and energy (Weinberg & Goud, 2006).
The distraction hypothesis is the most often used psychological explanation for affective changes
that occur with exercise. The basic premise for this hypothesis is that improved emotional profile
after exercise is attributable to the fact the act of exercising distracts the normal worries and
cares which often result into negative emotions and stress. Essentially, “exercise provides a time-
out from such these concerns; a chance to leave them behind for some time” (Brown, 2001).
According to the endorphin hypothesis, the reason why exercise makes people feel better is that
the body produces its own natural painkillers during the exercise. Exercise is a stressor to the
body, and as a result, the body produces more endorphins in response, even if the exercise is of
mild intensities. After the exercise, the elevated endorphins remain for some time. Since it is the
same time that individuals report feeling better, with less depression and anxiety, it has become a
popular claim that the endorphins produced in the course of the exercise are the result of the
improved mood (Weinberg & Goud, 2006).
Behavioural (Performance) Benefits
Attention is associated with consciousness, concentration and focalization. It refers to
withdrawal from some things in order to effectively deal with others. An athlete with the ability
to focus on specific environmental stimuli while disregarding immaterial stimuli is in a better
position to perform better than an athlete with the inability to focus appropriately. Through the
use of self- hypnosis, positive suggestions, visualization and techniques for building mental
toughness, an athlete can use the power of mind to take his or her performance in sport to
another level. Jerry Reynolds was able to realize his full potential and reach his best performance
because of the sport psychology. Mental health can also affect the performance of an athlete
Sport psychology can help an athlete to explore and assess the beliefs and thoughts that are
creating the current experiences. Sport psychology also helps in reversing and releasing negative
thoughts that may block an athlete from achieving best performance. The coach helps the athlete
to be psyched-up and engage in positive self-talk that is motivational and promotes performance.
Accordingly, sport psychology helps the athlete in programming effective auto-suggestions for
improving optimal states. It also enables the athlete to anchor positive states for easy future
access (Anshel, 2007).
How can these potential benefits be maximised? Are there any potential costs or negatives
that could result from inadequate understanding or misapplication of knowledge of sport
& exercise psychology for EACH of the individuals identified?
The potential benefits of exercise can be maximized through the maintenance of the exercise
habit. It is contented that maintaining the habit of exercise is very difficult. However, there are
SPORT AND EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY 5
major guidelines for encouraging individuals who have started exercising to maintain their
exercise habit. The fitness instructor needs to address the psychological dispositions of the
exerciser which may prompt dropping out, such as fear of failure, intrinsic motivation, need
achievement, perfectionism, self-consciousness, depression or chronic anxiety, and even clinical
concerns like eating and mood disorders. Secondly, fitness instructors should promote a feeling
of need through quantitative data and initial testing which provides a sense of urgency about the
need to exercise as well as the consequences of remaining sedentary. Thirdly, it is important to
foster the perceptions of optimism, perceived competence and enhancement in both setting and
meeting realistic goals that are exercise-related. The fourth strategy of maximizing benefits is
providing instruction and both constructive and positive feedback which improves techniques
and skills, thus improving performance and reducing unpleasant manifestations of intense
physical exertion. Sixth, the fitness instructors should provide social support either through
personal coaching or making the individual exercise with a friend. It is also essential to provide
relevant resources related to appropriate exercise techniques, exercise benefits and improved
nutrition. Lastly, it is necessary to work with the exercising individual in establishing and
maintaining a healthy lifestyle related to reduced stress, nutrition and other desirable habits
According to Raglin, exercise can cause either beneficial or detrimental effects on mental health
depending on the “dosage” employed (1990). The potential negative that could result from
exercise psychology is that the exercise can lead to detrimental effects in mental health. This is
due to the fact that some people can become overly addicted to the physical exercise to an
excessive level. Such abuse of exercise may lead to worsened physical health and disturbances in
mood. With regard to athletes, excessive training can lead to increased mood disturbances. This
concept is called exercise addiction or dependence. Though there are debates by psychologists
and researchers on whether addiction can be positive, most of them are of the view that
addictions generally seem to be undesirable and unhealthy (Anshel, 2007). It is said that
addictions are a manifestation of behaviors which are beyond the control of an individual, such
as the need for social isolation, low physique self-esteem or an eating disorder. For instance, the
motivation for weight training or running may be driven by the need to improve body image.
Though it is normal to improve one’s physical features, the huge amount of time invested in the
exercise at the expense of other routine activities and social interactions may result into
dysfunctional or abnormal behavior. People who allow exercise to control their lives are
negatively addicted because they feel compelled to exercise at the expense of their health and life
satisfaction (Anshel, 2007).
Research has found that excessive training changes the psychological state of the athlete. In
essence, the athlete encounters increased depression and tension and decreased feelings of
energy and vigor (Brown, 2001). Extreme training can lead to the staleness syndrome; a
condition which results in deteriorating performance and behavioural disturbances such as
clinical depression (Raglin, 1990). Where the athlete goes into clinical depression, the only
solution to such a situation is for the athlete to stop training completely since reducing the load
of training does not help at this point (Brown, 2001). Raglin (1990) contends that more
systematic investigation is needed to help in understanding the programmatic aspects of exercise,
that is, setting, intensity, frequency, duration and mode, on changes in mental health. Brown
(2001) suggests that there should be psychological monitoring of the athletes in the course of
their season to help in preventing situations of more severe psychological disturbances.
SPORT AND EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY 6
In respect of performance benefits, both scientists and coaches are of the view that excessive
self-talk and thinking distract performance. The most appropriate mind-set for maximum
performance is one which is free of self-conscious and analysis concerns with details of the skill.
Cognitive strategies involve the mental process aimed at improving a certain behavioural
outcome. Behavioral strategies refer to any activity which favorably affects the quality of
performance or a thought process (Anshel, 2007). These strategies are used in sport psychology
by athletes and coaches to maximize the benefits of exercise. Cognitive strategies include:
visualization, positive self-talk, psyching up and attribution training. Visualization involves
thoughts which form mental manifestations of physical performance. Visualization is a common
and effective technique used in improving performance by helping the athlete reduce tension and
anxiety, learn new exercise routines and gain confidence. Positive self-talk involves avoidance of
negative self-talk. The coach engages the athlete in positive self-talk to uplift and motivate the
athlete (Anshel, 2007). This will lead to increased effort and intensity, improved concentration
and greater enjoyment of the training. Another cognitive strategy is psyching-up. This involves
thinking about the task ahead and developing thoughts which make one feel excited, engaged,
connected, challenged. Physically, psyching-up involves engagement in tasks which require
increased somatic responses such as physical readiness, respiration rate and heart rate. Mentally,
a person may engage in thoughts which increase mental processes such as concentration,
motivation and confidence. Examples of thoughts that promote psyching-up include “I’m ready”,
“let’s do it” (Anshel, 2007).
Behavioural strategies include ways in which environmental influences may help in maximizing
performance. They include proper equipment and environment, educational materials, rewards,
social contacts and interactions, goal-setting and scheduling. According to Anshel (2007), human
beings are creatures of routines to get them through the day. The chances of training or
exercising are higher if the task is planned in advance. The more specific the plan, the higher
chance it will occur. It is important to choose the time of day that an exercise or coaching session
is most available and it feels best. The second behavioural strategy is goal-setting. Athletes or
exercisers should be helped to set realistic expectations about the outcomes of the coaching or
the fitness exercise. Anshel (2007) suggests short-term, performance-based goals which are
minimally challenging as they help in lifting confidence and encouraging an individual to adhere
to the program.
SPORT AND EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY 7
Anshel, M. (2007). Conceptualizing Applied Exercise Psychology. The Journal of the American
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Brown, P, (2001). Introduction to Exercise Science. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
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Gavin, J. 2005. Lifestyle Fitness Coaching. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
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