I have a confession to make – I’m not an elite sportsman and I probably never will be. Maybe you are the same. After all, ‘elite’ status is reserved for the select few by definition. So what does this mean for us when it comes to sport psychology? Is it pointless for us to learn about sport psychology unless our only aim is to work with professional sports players and teach them the techniques we have learned?
Fortunately, this is not the case. Sport psychology is a sub-field of the wider discipline of performance psychology. The majority of the research in this area has been conducted in sport because the sporting environment is a domain which tends to provide immediate feedback, and thus makes experimental research relatively easy. If you’re winning then you are probably doing something right, if you’re losing then there is probably something you need to change. It’s easy to see how a change affects your performance – are you doing better or worse than before? However, many of the techniques which are used to improve performance in sport can also help people in other performance domains.
In many ways, everyday life is not as different from sport as it might first appear. Professor Peter Terry argues that performance psychology ‘could be applied legitimately across the complete spectrum of human endeavour from the most mundane elements of daily functioning and interpersonal relationships to the most dramatic of awe-inspiring challenges’ (Terry, 2008). Everyone has goals that they would like to achieve. Everyone faces situations where their performance is assessed. Everyone experiences stress and failure at some point. Lessons from sport psychology can help you to develop the right mindset for success, consistently perform at your highest level by maintaining focus in spite of stressors, and bounce back from setbacks in the most positive manner.
Of course, there are some areas where the differences between sport and life become more apparent. Sport has clear rules and boundaries, whereas everyday life can often be more chaotic. Sport offers ample opportunity for training where mistakes are relatively harmless, but more often than not we don’t have this luxury in life and mistakes can be more costly. Goal setting in sport is relatively straightforward, but in life it can be much more complex and dependent on factors that are out of your control. It is important to keep these differences in mind, but the fact remains that applying to sport psychology principles to your life will help to put you in the best possible place to be successful and happy.
So should you learn about sport psychology? Answer these questions to find out. Do you work in a stressful environment, and want to cope more effectively? Are you struggling to motivate yourself to work towards your goals? Are you simply looking to become more successful at work or at a particular activity, and enjoy yourself more when doing it? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then sport psychology is for you!
Terry, P. (2008). Performance psychology: Being the best, the best you can be, or just a little bit better? InPsych. Retrieved November 29, 2015, from http://www.psychology.org.au/inpsych/performance/ .
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About Michael Roskams
Sports enthusiast, recreational player, and current MSc student of Sport & Exercise Psychology at Loughborough University.