Sports psychology is a growing area of science with many strong advocates of its importance, both for the purposes of improving the quality of life of the ordinary person and for improving the performance of professional athletes by the minute amounts needed to turn defeat into victory.
The sports psychologist has to combine several related sciences in order to optimize the performance of the individual, and this performance should continue to improve over time. This is now a highly evolved science with many professional practitioners.
If you are wondering exactly what is sports psychology, the best step you can take is to go back to the beginning and to the grass roots of how the science was first developed. One of the key principles behind this branch of psychology is that there is a direct correlation between exercise and mental health and ability. This relationship works both ways, in that exercise simulates mental health while at the same time control of the mind can have a profound effect on athletic performance. There is thus a potential for improvement to not only continue, but to gather speed as both aspects reinforce each other.
Psychology in sports
The discipline of psychology in sports is obviously related to psychology on general, and one aspect which is being used increasingly often is exercise in mental therapy. People who are depressed or in a state of mental anguish due to circumstances beyond their control can often benefit from including exercise in their treatment program. There are physical benefits in that the body is stimulated to produce endorphins which in turn lift mood and morale, and there is also a great benefit to the mind because the patient is actually taking a positive action to try to change their circumstances.
The greatest growth in the use of sports psychology has come in the field of professional sports, where the slightest difference in performance can make the difference between winning a coveted trophy and failing completely. Psychology in sports can help in many different ways, depending on the exact nature of the discipline and the skills required. It has been proven that mental processes can assist greatly with improving coordination in ball games, whether the ball is stationary as in golf or moving as in baseball. In track athletics, it can improve your starting performance, and this will always have a profound effect on the end result in sprint races.
One of the most controversial areas of this science was always mental imagery and the effect this could have on performance in sports. This first came to public attention due to an experiment carried out with basketball players, where three groups of players used different techniques to try to improve their shooting ability. The control group took in action whatsoever, while the other two groups engaged in physical and mental practice. The mental practice group carried no physical exercises, and simply imagined making shots in their mind.
This aspect of sports psychology was proven to be effective. When it was time for the three groups to demonstrate their improvement, the group which had carried out the physical practice performed best of all. The group who had just practiced mentally within their heads were only a very short distance behind them, while the group which had done nothing lagged way behind. This is highly suggestive of the fact that mental imagery and practice is of great value, and that if there are no facilities for actual practice mental practice should be used instead. Since that time, further tests have been carried out into the possibility of combining physical and mental practice, with highly positive results.