Some coaches believe that teams win games with an outstanding defense, other coaches believe that teams win through a wide-open offensive system, and still, others believe that wins come through a structured and controlled game plan. Like coaches, sport psychologists differ in how they view successful interventions.
Contemporary sport and exercise psychologists may choose from many orientations to the field, three of the most prevalent being psychophysiological, social–psychological, and cognitive–behavioral approaches.
Sport and exercise psychologists with a psychophysiological orientation believe that the best way to study behavior during sport and exercise is to examine the physiological processes of the brain and their influences on physical activity. These psychologists typically assess heart rate, brain wave activity, and muscle action potentials, determining relationships between these psychophysiological measures and sport and exercise behavior.
For example, in a classic study, biofeedback techniques were used to train elite marksmen to fire between heartbeats to improve accuracy. A number of researchers are examining the effects of physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, on brain functioning using electroencephalograms and neuroimaging measures. Results are exciting because they show that physical activity has a number of positive effects on brain functioning.
Additionally, with the advent of mobile technology, an area of sport neuroscience is emerging that examines brain-behavior links such as differences in brain wave activity between expert and novice performers, brain wave patterns associated with athlete pre-shot routines in sports like golf, and effectiveness of neurofeedback on athletic performance.
Using a social–psychological orientation, sport and exercise psychologists assume that behavior is determined by a complex interaction between the environment (especially the social environment) and the personal makeup of the athlete or exerciser.
Those taking the social–psychological approach often examine how an individual’s social environment influences her behavior and how the behavior influences the social–psychological environment. For example, sport psychologists with a social–psychological orientation might examine how a leader’s style and strategies foster group cohesion and influence participation in an exercise program.
Psychologists adopting a cognitive–behavioral orientation emphasize the athlete’s or exerciser’s cognitions or thoughts and behaviors and believe that thought is central in determining behavior.
Cognitive–behavioral sport psychologists might, for instance, develop self-report measures to assess self-confidence, anxiety, goal orientations, imagery, and intrinsic motivation.
The psychologists then would see how these assessments are linked to changes in an athlete’s or an exerciser’s behavior. For example, groups of junior tennis players who were either burned out or not burned out were surveyed using a battery of psychological assessments. Burned-out tennis players, compared with non-burned-out players, were found to have less motivation.
They also reported being more withdrawn, had more perfectionist personality tendencies, and used different strategies for coping with stress. Thus, links between the athletes’ thoughts and behaviors and the athletes’ burnout status were examined.
Your Sport Psychology Career
Sport Psychology Coaches have endless opportunities to work with athletes ranging from beginning to professional and all points in between. Some coaches build businesses working with youth athletes. Others specialize in sports such as triathlon. Other coaches work with teams in the college and pro ranks. There are no limits to what is possible for your career.
Spencer Institute certification programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.
That’s it for now.