Diane L Gill. Handbook of Sports Studies. Editor: Jay Coakley & Eric Dunning. 2000. Sage Publishing.
Orientation to a Psychology Perspective
Sport psychology, as discussed in this chapter, is a branch of exercise and sport science that focuses on individual behavior in sport and exercise. Before expanding on this definition, let us consider the psychology perspective on sport and society. Like the other cross-disciplinary perspectives in this section, psychology overlaps and has much in common with the sociological perspectives of most sport and society scholars.
First, many specific topics typically included within sport psychology are issues for sport and society. For example, most sport psychology texts and courses include information on aggression, gender and diversity, social influence and group dynamics. As well as sharing some topics, psychology and sociology share some traditions and current issues. In North America both the psychology of sport and the sociology of sport emerged as academic areas in the late 1960s as traditional physical education developed more specialized scholarly sub-areas. In the historical review of sport psychology in this chapter, you will notice scholars that we identify as sociologists.
As sport psychology and sociology developed their respective disciplines, they also experienced similar tensions associated with specialization and fragmentation. As sport psychology has continued to expand, it has developed subspecialties with accompanying divergent views and professional debates. Also, as sport psychology has gained recognition, we have attracted scholars and students from the ‘parent’ psychology discipline. This development had led to further divergence and tensions between sport psychologists who identify as sport science scholars and those who identify as psychologists. The sociology of sport has experienced parallel growing strains. Although most of the other cross-disciplines are younger and less expansive, readers may well find that some of the issues and trends in this psychology chapter parallel those of other related perspectives.
Although we share some topics and professional issues, psychology is not sociology, and psychology offers a different perspective on sport and society. The classic difference, as recited in most sport psychology texts and courses, is that psychology focuses on the individual, whereas sociology focuses on society. Like most dichotomies, especially those recited at the beginning of texts and courses, this one is false. As noted in the preceding section, psychology and sociology overlap in content and issues. My own perspective on psychology clearly is social, and psychologists who attempt to understand individual behavior without recognizing the critical influence of society cannot truly understand behavior. Similarly, sociologists who forget that society consists of individuals and considerable individual variation, miss a great deal. This chapter may remind readers of the individual variation, and contribute to the understanding of sport and society.
As well as the focus on the individual, sport psychology has some other features that differ from other perspectives. Of the cross-disciplinary areas included in this section, psychology is the most developed and also the closest to the ‘hard’ sciences. Although some sport psychology scholars take more social approaches, others take particularly ‘hard’ line approaches and emphasize controlled research, physiological mechanisms and traditional scientific methods.
Finally, one of the key features of sport psychology today is the emphasis on application. As described in later sections of this chapter, North American sport psychology has shifted from its social psychology, research-oriented origins to an emphasis on direct application. That shift is evident in the number of sport psychologists and students interested in consulting with athletes, in the public recognition of applied sport psychology, and even in the research and scholarship. It should be noted that European sport psychology was much more applied and focused on competitive athletics before North Americans made the shift. In fact, as discussed in later sections, European sport psychology has now shifted from the overly applied focus to more diverse sport and exercise research issues with diverse participants, so that most international sport psychology now shares a similar research-application balance.
The Discipline of Sport Psychology
As a branch of exercise and sport science, sport psychology is part of a multidisciplinary field that draws upon varied disciplines, and in my view, exercise and sport science is an applied field. That is, we try to integrate information from the varied sciences to understand sport and exercise from a biopsychosocial perspective.
The sub-areas within exercise and sport science incorporate information from related disciplines (for example, physics, sociology), but they draw from the disciplines selectively. Not all information in physiology and anatomy is equally applicable to exercise. And, not all aspects of psychology are equally applicable to sport. Exercise and sport scientists apply selected theories, concepts and methods from the basic disciplines to sport and exercise.
Borrowing theories and information does not constitute a scholarly field of study. As a multidisciplinary field, we integrate information and develop our own theories, concepts and methods to create unique knowledge. Many sport psychology scholars advocate sport-specific theoretical models and methods to address the unique aspects of sport and exercise. Rainer Martens’s work on competitive anxiety (to be discussed later) illustrated the value of sport-specific approaches, and other sport psychologists have developed other sport-specific constructs and measures that provide insights about sport behavior that cannot be gleaned from more general psychology research. Sport psychology, then, borrows selected, relevant information from its associated discipline of psychology, and also develops theoretical models and approaches that are unique to sport and exercise.
Although the term sport psychology implies that the field includes all aspects of psychology, that is not the case. The North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA), one of the main professional organizations for sport psychology, includes three areas:
- Motor learning/motor control, which focuses on cognitive and perceptual processes involved in learning and performing motor skills.
- Motor development, which focuses on developmental psychology issues related to sport and motor performance.
- Sport psychology. Sport psychology, as commonly interpreted and as used in this chapter, emphasizes certain sub-areas of psychology, particularly personality and social psychology. Like social psychology, sport psychology focuses on meaningful social behavior rather than portions of behavior. Psychophysiology, cognition and psychology areas that focus on portions of behavior contribute to our understanding of sport and exercise, but these issues are typically addressed within motor behavior.
The three areas within NASPSPA reflect the typical division in North America; we separate sport psychology from the related psychological areas within exercise and sport science. Notably, European sport psychology, and most sport psychology around the world, includes cognition, perception and other motor behavior topics within sport psychology, and psychological work on these topics at the international level is more applied and directly related to sport than in North America. However, Biddle (1995), citing data from the Directory of European Sport Psychologists (1993, FEPSAC), reported that motor behavior topics are relatively infrequent, and major research topics (for example, anxiety/stress, exercise and health, motivation, mental training) are similar to those of North America.
Sport and Exercise Psychology: A Definition
In a book published in 1986, I defined sport psychology as the scientific study of human behavior in sport and exercise (Gill, 1986). Today, that definition seems limited in several ways. First, most current sources refer to the field as sport and exercise psychology to ensure that the exercise component is not overlooked, and to counter the perception that sport = athletics. Many sport and exercise psychologists focus on health-oriented exercise, with individuals devoting research programs to such topics as psycho-physiological aspects of exercise and stress or exercise motivation.
Secondly, ‘scientific study’ seems to exclude many applied and professional concerns that most sport and exercise psychologists consider part of the field. Applied sport psychology has mushroomed into the most visible aspect of the field and researchers are expanding the applied knowledge base. Thus, the definition of the field should be altered to include both the science and practice of sport and exercise psychology. Moreover, science is interpreted broadly to include alternative methods and sources of knowledge.
Finally, although I consider sport and exercise psychology a branch of exercise and sport science, that is not the only perspective today. A large number of sport psychologists have psychology backgrounds, consider sport psychology a branch of psychology, have no background in exercise science or physical education, and do not relate to the overall field of exercise and sport science.
These extensions and qualifications in defining sport psychology are not unique to me or to North America. Recently, the European Federation of Sport Psychology (FEPSAC) published a position statement, ‘Definition of Sport Psychology’ (1996). FEPSAC specifically noted a focus on human behavior, including affective, cognitive, motivational and sensorimotor dimensions of psychology, and defined sport as physical activity in competitive, educational, recreational, preventive and rehabilitative settings, including health-oriented exercise. The statement continued by noting that sport psychology draws upon: (a) sport practice, (b) psychology and (c) other sport sciences, and that sport psychologists have three interrelated tasks: research, education and application.
So, for this chapter, sport and exercise psychology is defined as:
Sport and exercise psychology is that branch of exercise and sport science that involves the scientific study of human behavior in sport and exercise, and the practical application of that knowledge in sport and exercise settings.
The Complexity of Sport and Exercise Behavior
In sport and exercise psychology we try to understand meaningful behavior, rather than portions of behavior, and take a ‘holistic’ approach. We want to understand sport and exercise behavior as it occurs in the real world and apply that knowledge in sport and exercise practice. This is no easy task. Human behavior in sport and exercise, like human behavior everywhere, is complex. We cannot find one clear source or ‘cause’ of behavior. And, even when we think we understand a behavior (for example, why an athlete ‘choked’ in the big game, or how to help a student learn a skill), we may find that our explanation does not hold up a week later.
In trying to understand sport and exercise behavior, sport psychologists typically keep in mind one theme: both individual characteristics and the social situation affect behavior. This premise reflects a basic tenet of social psychology set forth in a formal but simple way by Kurt Lewin (1935) as:
That is, behavior is a function of the person and the environment. As Lewin stated in his early work, individual and environmental factors do not operate independently; they interact. Personal characteristics influence behavior in some situations and not others; situational factors (for example, spectators, teachers’ comments) affect different people in different ways; and the person affects the situation just as the situation affects the person. Thus, relationships among person (P), environment (E) and behavior (B) are dynamic and change over time. For example, a 10-year-old baseball player makes a costly error. If the child is anxious about competition (P) and then hears critical comments from the coach (E), the child likely will become even more anxious and make more errors, changing the situation for everyone. If the child is confident, receives constructive suggestions from the coach and encouragement from team mates, that child may be more alert the next time, and develop skills and confidence to carry into future games. We could list possible scenarios indefinitely. Any particular behavior takes place within the context of many interacting personal and environmental factors, and all those factors and relationships change over time. The dynamic complexity of sport and exercise behavior makes precise prediction nearly impossible. But, with greater understanding of individual and social processes and their relationships with behavior, we can make informed choices and enhance the sport experience for all participants.
Historical Review of Sport Psychology
Interest in sport psychology is not new. Participants, the public and the occasional scholar have been intrigued by the mental side of physical activities for some time. Still, the ‘disciplined’ study of sport and exercise psychology did not emerge in North America until the late 1960s, when, like the scholars in the other subdisciplines, sport psychologists turned away from the traditional practice-oriented physical education, and looked to scientific psychology as a model. Although the specific historical events, trends and emphases differ, European sport psychology developed its disciplinary organization over a similar time frame. Within 20 years, academic sport psychologists built a knowledge base and developed an identifiable subdiscipline with professional organizations, journals and specialized graduate programs.
Since the mid-1980s North American sport psychologists have regained their interest in practice, and applied sport psychology has captured the interest of many sport psychologists and the general public. Moreover, in North America, Europe and around the world, both the art and science have moved beyond competitive sport to include the psychological parameters of health-oriented exercise and recreational sport activities.
In 1984, Wiggins noted, ‘It is apparent that the growth of sport psychology in both Canada and the United States has been the result of sustained efforts by physical educators’ (p. 10). Today, his statement is questionable. Several of today’s sport psychologists were trained in general psychology, and lack specific training in either sport and exercise psychology or physical education. For years, most sport psychologists were trained and located in physical education or exercise and sport science departments. They borrowed theories and methods from general psychology while psychologists ignored sport. Now, many psychologists and psychology students look to sport as a setting for both research and practice.
Today, most sport and exercise psychology scholars identify with the larger discipline of exercise and sport science and share an understanding of the field. With more people entering the field from psychology, counseling or other backgrounds, and with increasing specialization within sport and exercise psychology (for example, psycho-physiological, social, applied), the common ground is elusive. These pressures present challenges and opportunities as today’s sport and exercise psychologists continue to advance the study of the art and science of human behavior in sport and exercise.
Early North American Foundations
Although sport and exercise psychology as a discipline is relatively young, scholarly interest in sport psychology extends further into the past. As long as sport and exercise activities have been around, psychology has played a role. Throughout the history of psychology as a science, a few psychologists have applied their theories to sport and exercise, and, as long as scholars have studied physical activity or exercise and sport science, some of those efforts have involved psychological issues.
The most recognized early psychology research with implications for sport psychology is Norman Triplett’s (1898) lab study of social influence and performance, widely cited as the first social psychology experiment. Triplett’s study is a benchmark for sport and exercise psychology because he used a physical task (winding fishing-reels), and even more because he was inspired by observations of sport. Specifically, Triplett, a cycling enthusiast, observed that social influence (pacing machine, competition) seemed to motivate cyclists to better performance, and designed his experiment to test those observations.
Other researchers from both psychology and physical education (often aligned with physical training and medical schools) espoused psychological benefits of physical education and conducted isolated studies of sport psychology issues. George W. Fitz (1895) of Harvard, operating from what may be the first physical education research lab in North America, conducted experiments on the speed and accuracy of motor responses. Wiggins (1984) also cites turn-of-the-century work by William G. Anderson on mental practice, Walter Wells Davis’s studies of transfer of training, Robert A. Cummins’s investigation of the effects of basketball practice on motor reaction, attention and suggestibility, and E.W. Scripture’s study of character development and sport.
Clearly, the first person to conduct systematic sport psychology research and practice was Coleman R. Griffith. As a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Griffith studied psychological factors in basketball and football, and caught the attention of George Huff, Director of Physical Welfare for Men at Illinois. Huff developed plans for an Athletics Research Lab, which was established in 1925 with Griffith as Director. Griffith was a prolific researcher who focused on psychomotor skills, learning and personality. Griffith taught sport psychology classes and published numerous research articles, as well as two classic texts, Psychology of Coaching (1926) and Psychology and Athletics (1928). As many current sport psychologists advocate, Griffith ventured into the field to make observations and interview athletes. For example, he used an interview with Red Grange after the 1924 Michigan-Illinois football game, in which Grange noted that he could not recall a single detail of his remarkable performance, to illustrate that top athletes perform skills automatically without thinking about them. Griffith also corresponded with Knute Rockne on the psychology of coaching and motivation. One quote from that correspondence, taken from a Rockne reply to Griffith of 13 December 1924, illustrates strategies of a successful coach and counters some popular images:
I do not make any effort to key them up, except on rare, exceptional occasions. I keyed them up for the Nebraska game this year, which was a mistake, as we had a reaction the following Saturday against Northwestern. I try to make our boys take the game less seriously than, I presume, some others do, and we try to make the spirit of the game one of exhilaration and we never allow hatred to enter into it, no matter against whom we are playing. (From the Coleman Griffith Collection, University Archives, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
When the Athletics Research Lab closed in 1932, Griffith continued as a professor of educational psychology, but did not totally abandon sport psychology. In 1938 he was hired by Philip Wrigley as team sport psychologist for the Chicago Cubs.
Griffith’s prolific research, publications and thoughtful insights place him among the most significant figures in the history of sport psychology, and he is widely described as the ‘Father of sport psychology in North America.’ However, as Kroll and Lewis (1970) note, Griffith was a prophet without disciples, and ‘father’ is really a misnomer. Sport psychology research and practice did not continue in North America after Griffith’s pioneering work. Parallel efforts in Germany by R.W. Schulte, and in Russia by Peter Roudik and A.C. Puni, continued there, but did not influence North America.
As Ryan (1981) noted, from Griffith’s time through the late 1960s most physical education texts had sections on psychological aspects, and many physical education objectives were psychological, but research was sporadic. C.H. McCloy (1930) of Iowa examined character building through physical education, and Walter Miles (1928, 1931) of Stanford conducted studies of reaction time, but other work waited until the post-Second World War extension of psychological research on learning and performance, when several scholars such as Arthur Slater-Hammel at Indiana, Alfred (Fritz) Hubbard at Illinois, John Lawther at Penn State, and Franklin Henry at Berkeley, developed research programs in motor behavior that incorporated some current sport psychology topics.
In the 1960s more texts with psychology issues and information began to appear, including Bryant Cratty’s (1967) Psychology and Physical Activity, and Robert Singer’s (1968) Motor Learning and Human Performance.
Organization of the Sport Psychology Discipline
Sport psychologists began to organize in the late 1960s when a number of individuals developed research programs, graduate courses and, eventually, specialized organizations and publications.
NASPSPA As individuals developed research and graduate programs, they began to organize, at first meeting in conjunction with the American Association of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (AAHPER) (now American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; AAHPERD). Soon, they developed plans for a sport psychology organization, and the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA) was officially incorporated in 1967. John Loy, an early member of NASPSPA as well as a sociology of sport scholar, described the history of NASPSPA prior to its first independent meeting in 1973, and his account is published in those proceedings (Loy, 1974).
At the 1972 meeting, NASPSPA members decided to hold the annual meeting separately from other organizations, and Rainer Martens and colleagues at the University of Illinois hosted the first independent meeting of NASPSPA at Allerton Park, IL, in May 1973. The Allerton meeting set the format that NASPSPA still follows. The meetings extended over several days, included major invited addresses as well as submitted research papers, and the special setting encouraged discussion before, during and after sessions. NASPSPA continued to be the major organizational force in sport psychology through the 1970s and 1980s; most active researchers and their graduate students joined, the conference drew high-quality submissions and the proceedings included some of the best work in the field.
The NASPSPA organization reflected the overlapping of sport psychology and motor behavior of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the early sport psychology specialists branched out from motor learning, and NASPSPA included sub-areas of motor learning, motor development and social psychology of physical activity (now the sport psychology area). Those three sub-areas remain in NASPSPA, although each has changed and grown more specialized since NASPSPA’s foundation.
International Organization Although NAS-PSPA clearly was the first and most prominent organization in the development of sport and exercise psychology in North America, international sport psychology also organized and influenced North American scholars.
In 1965 the International Congress of Sport Psychology in Rome marked the beginning of the International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP). Miroslav Vanek (1993), a key figure in international sport psychology, noted that the use of psychology in sport was stimulated in the 1950s by the sovietization of top-level sport. Thus, international sport psychology traditionally has aligned more with performance enhancement of elite athletes and has a clearer applied psychology foundation than the more sport and exercise science-oriented discipline in North America.
Several sport psychologists from Europe and the Soviet Union were instrumental in forming an international society, including Paul Kunath (East Germany), Peter Roudik (Russia), Miroslav Vanek (Czechoslovakia), Morgan Olsen (Norway) and John Kane (England). However, Ferruccio Antonelli (Italy), founding President of ISSP and organizer of the first International Congress in Rome in 1965, was the primary organizing force. The second international Congress was held in Washington, DC, in 1968, co-sponsored by NASPSPA and AAHPER. The 878-page proceedings of that congress (Kenyon and Grogg, 1970) includes papers by most of the sport psychology scholars mentioned in this section, and provides a nice overview of the emerging subdiscipline at that time. The international congress has continued to expand and meet every four years since then.
ISSP not only played a key role in the development of NASPSPA, but also inspired sport psychology organizations in Europe and Canada. The European sport psychology organization, FEPSAC, formed in 1968, continues as an active international force. Although NASPSPA has had a strong Canadian presence from its initial foundation, a separate Canadian organization formed in 1969 and developed in parallel with NASPSPA.
Publications Before organization of the discipline, specialized publications were not needed. Isolated psychology studies related to sports appeared in psychology journals, but were not really considered sport psychology research at that time. The major research journal for the sport psychology work of North American physical education scholars was the Research Quarterly (RQ), later renamed Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (RQES).
The International Journal of Sport Psychology, which began publishing in 1970, never served as the primary source or outlet for North American sport psychology scholars. The Journal of Motor Behavior(JMB) began publishing in 1969 and included some sport psychology research related to social psychology, such as research on social influence and motor performance. However, as sport psychology diverged from motor behavior into a separate subdiscipline with differing issues, perspectives and approaches, scholars sought specialized publications.
The most important publication outlet for sport psychology research during the early years was the NASPSPA proceedings, which included the most current research by leading scholars as well as invited addresses on important topics. Full proceedings of the 1973 (Wade and Martens, 1974) and 1975 (Landers et al., 1975) conferences were published, and from 1976 to 1980 the proceedings included only papers evaluated favorably by reviewers and editors. Thus, from 1976 to 1980, Psychology of Motor Behavior and Sport was the primary refereed sport psychology publication in North America.
In 1980 NASPSPA stopped publishing full papers, largely because of the 1979 appearance of the Journal of Sport Psychology (JSP). JSP emerged from NASPSPA, particularly through the work of Rainer Martens and Dan Landers, and quickly became the primary outlet for the sport psychology research. JSP (Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, JSEP, since 1988) has served that purpose well. Through Dan Landers’s 7-year term, and the subsequent editorial terms of Diane Gill (1985-90), Jack Rejeski (1991-4), Thelma Horn (1995-7) and current editor Bob Brustad, JSEP has been recognized as the leading publication outlet for sport and exercise psychology research.
Recent Development: The Science and Art of Sport and Exercise Psychology
The early organization of sport psychology paralleled the development of NASPSPA. In the late 1960s sport psychology scholars began to develop their own research base separate from motor behavior, established graduate programs, held annual conferences to share information, developed a research journal and gradually became the largest and most diverse of the three areas within NASPSPA. Some sociology of sport scholars, such as Gerald Kenyon and John Loy, contributed to the early social psychology emphasis, but during the first ten years sport psychologists closely aligned with motor behavior and looked to experimental psychology theories and research models for guidance.
Rainer Martens’s (1975) text Social Psychology and Physical Activity reflects the content and orientation of those years. Major psychological theories (for example, inverted-U hypothesis, Zajonc’s social facilitation theory, Atkinson’s achievement-motivation theory) framed the content; most supporting research was from psychology; and the sport psychology research seldom involved sport, but typically involved experimental tests of psychological theory with laboratory motor tasks such as the rotary pursuit and stabilometer.
By the mid-1980s sport psychology had not only grown tremendously, but also changed direction. While motor behavior scholars continued to emphasize psychological theories and experimental research, sport psychologists moved to more applied issues and approaches. Martens was a leading advocate for change, and his 1979 article in the second issue of JSP, ‘About smocks and jocks,’ prompted many sport psychologists to turn to more applied research and practical concerns. Martens observed that ten years of sport psychology research, while often theory-based and methodologically sound, told us little about sport behavior. Indeed, most of the research did not involve sport at all, but laboratory tasks that were too far removed from sport to help teachers, coaches and participants. Martens called for more research in the field, on relevant issues, and with attention to the development of sport-specific conceptual models and measures.
Martens’s own work on competitive anxiety (Martens, 1977) illustrated that approach. Martens developed a conceptual framework, combining psychology models of anxiety with his own competition model; defined sport-specific constructs; developed psychometrically sound, sport-specific measures; and conducted systematic research in varied field settings. Martens’s competitive anxiety work served as a model for subsequent sport-specific research and measures such as Gill’s competitive orientation work (Gill, 1993; Gill and Deeter, 1988), Carron, Widmeyer and Brawley’s (1985) group cohesion work, and Martens’s continuing work on competitive anxiety (Martens et al., 1990).
Although some continued to emphasize theory-driven, controlled experimental research, many sport psychology scholars pursued applied issues with sport participants. One notable example of this approach is the youth sport coaching work by Ron Smith and Frank Smoll of the University of Washington. Smith and Smoll began their work in the late 1970s, took a practical issue (effective coaching in youth sports), conducted systematic observations and field research, developed sport-specific measures and approaches, and eventually developed coach education programs to put their research into practice (for example, Smith et al., 1979; Smoll and Smith, 1984, 1993).
Through the 1980s field research and applied issues moved to the forefront of sport psychology. Applied issues also captured the attention of students and the public, and brought more people into the field. Most sport psychology researchers made some moves in more applied directions, and a few took bigger steps to move away from research and focus on work with athletes. This applied focus caught the attention of some psychologists who began to see sport as a setting for clinical and counseling work.
With more diverse students and psychologists participating in sport psychology, NASPSPA no longer fitted all interests. In particular, many sport psychologists wanted more discussion of applied issues, such as anxiety management techniques or certification of sport psychologists, as well as research information. NASPSPA did not respond to those interests, prompting the development of separate organizations and publications to accommodate applied interests and activities. John Silva was instrumental in organizing a 1985 meeting, which marked the beginning of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (AAASP). As summarized in the first issue of the AAASP Newsletter (Winter, 1986), the purpose of AAASP is to promote the development of psychological theory, research and intervention strategies in sport psychology. John Silva became AAASP’s first President, and AAASP held its first conference at Jekyll Island, GA, in October 1986. That first conference got AAASP off to a strong start and AAASP continues to hold an annual conference and maintains the basic structure set in 1985 with three interrelated sections: intervention/performance enhancement, social psychology and health psychology.
Martens’s address at the first AAASP conference, like his earlier ‘smocks and jocks’ paper, advocated major changes in sport psychology research and practice and presented a challenge that many sport psychologists have accepted. Martens criticized sport psychology’s reliance on orthodox science, and encouraged more diverse approaches to science and knowledge, such as idiographic and introspective methods.
Many sport psychology scholars took up Martens’s challenge, and a series of articles by Tara Scanlan and her colleagues (for example, Scanlan, Ravizza and Stein, 1989; Scanlan, Stein and Ravizza, 1989) on their in-depth studies of enjoyment and stress in figure skaters, provided a model of sound research for other sport psychologists wishing to use alternative methodologies. Martens’s (1987b) widely cited paper was published in the inaugural issue of The Sport Psychologist (TSP), which was developed to focus on the emerging applied sport psychology literature and to be complementary to the successful JSEP. In his publisher’s statement in the first issue, Martens noted that TSP was both an applied research and interpretive journal, and specifically called for applied research using less traditional methods, offering a publication outlet for the alternative approaches he called for in his paper. TSP was endorsed by ISSP, with Dan Gould and Glyn Roberts serving as founding co-editors.
With TSP focusing on applied research and professional issues, JSP focused on strong sport psychology research. In 1988, JSP added ‘Exercise’ to the title (becoming JSEP) and more explicitly sought research on health-oriented exercise as well as sport. JSEP and TSP continue to serve as strong complementary journals. Each makes important contributions to the knowledge base, and most sport and exercise psychologists value both sources of information.
AAASP also started its own journal, the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology (JASP) in 1989 with John Silva as Editor. JASP serves many of the same purposes as TSP, and gives applied researchers another outlet. JASP also provides AAASP information, publishes major addresses from the conference and has developed informative theme issues to add to the literature.
The rapid rise to prominence of AAASP and TSP is the most visible indicant of the growth of applied sport psychology in the 1980s, but some other organizations also added to this movement. In particular, several individuals trained in traditional psychology programs moved into sport psychology during this time, and psychology departments and organizations began to notice sport. Richard Suinn, a clinical psychologist and active member of the American Psychological Association (APA), did a great deal to bring sport psychology to public attention. Suinn and other psychologists, such as Steve Heyman, helped sport psychology scholar William Morgan organize a sport psychology presence within APA. After starting as an interest group, Division 47—Exercise and Sport Psychology—became a formal division of APA in 1986.
NASPSPA, AAASP and Division 47 of APA are the primary North American sport and exercise psychology organizations, but sport psychology also has a presence in some other exercise and sport science organizations. AAHPERD, the original home of NASPSPA, includes a Sport Psychology Academy, and many sport psychology scholars, especially those with interests in applications to physical education teaching and coaching, participate in that organization. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), a large organization dominated by exercise physiology and sports medicine, has expanded its sport psychology constituency and accommodated more sport and exercise psychology scholars and presentations in recent years.
Suinn’s early work with skiers in the 1976 Olympics helped the US Olympic Committee (USOC) recognize the potential role of sport psychology. Several other sport psychologists began to work with teams, and in 1983 the USOC established an official sport psychology committee and a registry. Many sport psychologists have worked with athletes, coaches and training programs through the USOC since then, and in 1987, the USOC hired Shane Murphy as its first permanent full-time sport psychologist to work at the training center in Colorado Springs.
The highly visible sport psychology presence in the Olympics, and the individual efforts of several psychologists and sport psychology consultants who worked with elite athletes in universities, on professional teams and in private settings, raised new professional issues for sport and exercise psychology. Conversations at conferences and in graduate student offices abounded with questions such as: Who is a sport psychologist? What training do I need to become a sport psychologist? Must sport psychologists be licensed clinical psychologists? When does the role of the sport psychologist working with athletes cross with the role of the coach or the clinician? Such conversations, and often heated debates, were especially prominent at AAASP meetings, and AAASP expended considerable time and effort attempting to define and set standards for sport psychology practice. At the 1989 conference, AAASP approved the criteria for certification, and in 1991 began to confer the title, ‘Certified Consultant, AAASP’ on qualified candidates. AAASP’s certified consultants are not licensed psychologists, and the consultant’s role is defined as an educational role emphasizing psychological skill training. Although the AAASP certification criteria provide guidelines, the issues are by no means resolved. Diverse, and often divergent, views are expressed, and the debates continue.
The expansion of applied sport psychology courses and workshops created a market for more literature. Few sport psychology texts existed before the 1980s. Cratty’s books were widely used, Martens’s 1975 Social Psychology and Physical Activity served its purpose, and in the mid-1980s I wrote Psychological Dynamics of Sport (Gill, 1986) to fit the needs of undergraduate and graduate sport psychology courses. By the late 1980s, though, the market for sport psychology literature extended beyond physical education and graduate sport psychology programs, and many books appeared with an applied focus, such as Robert Nideffer’s (1976) The Inner Athlete, Dorothy Harris and Bette Harris’s (1984) The Athlete’s Guide to Sport Psychology, Terry Orlick’s (1980) In Pursuit of Excellence (now in 2nd edition, 1990), Rainer Martens’s (1987a) Coaches’ Guide to Sport Psychology, and Jean Williams’s (1986) excellent volume Applied Sport Psychology (now in 3rd edition, 1998).
Sport and exercise psychology organizations and journals developed because the specialization flourished within exercise and sport science departments. Many of the scholars who organized the discipline in the 1960s and 1970s (such as Landers, Martens, Morgan, Singer) developed courses and began specialized graduate programs to train the next generation of sport and exercise psychologists. Sport and exercise psychology grew rapidly through the 1970s and 1980s to become one of the most popular graduate specializations. Today, most major PhD programs in exercise and sport science offer a sport and exercise psychology specialization. Undergraduate programs often include a ‘hands-on’ psychological skills course, as well as a core course based on sport and exercise psychology theory and research.
The general core or survey courses at both the graduate and undergraduate level continue to include the major topics that were introduced in the early courses, such as personality and individual differences, motivation, stress and anxiety, aggression and moral development, social influence and group dynamics. Specialized graduate programs have expanded greatly and diversified far beyond the survey courses of the early years. Scholars in graduate programs often offer advanced seminars on social, developmental, or psychophysiological sport and exercise psychology, as well as both research and practice-oriented applied courses and supervised experiences.
Interestingly, psychology departments have not incorporated sport and exercise psychology courses at either the undergraduate or graduate levels. Many psychologists have moved into sport and exercise settings for research and practice, but the development of the disciplinary knowledge base remains the task of the sport and exercise psychology specialists in exercise and sport science programs.
Summary: A Century of Sport Psychology History
The preceding sections reviewed 100 years of events and trends in the development of sport and exercise psychology. Formal organization was preceded by 70 years of isolated studies, which retrospectively can be labelled sport psychology. Although Coleman Griffith’s sport psychology work, from 1925 to 1932, punctuated this period, sport and exercise psychology did not emerge as a discipline until the late 1960s, when several scholars with sport psychology interests initiated research meetings and formal organizations. During the next ten years graduate programs and research expanded, creating a knowledge base as well as specialized organizations and publications. During the 1980s sport psychology turned toward applied research and practice.
As the twenty-first century begins, sport and exercise psychology is very different from the discipline that emerged in the 1960s. The young discipline remained aligned with motor learning and performance, and relied heavily on experimental social psychology theories and research models in the early stages. Sport psychology made a strong move to sport-relevance about ten years later, as research moved to the field and scholars developed sport-specific models and measures to build a more relevant psychology of sport and exercise behavior. Shortly thereafter, with an influx of individuals from psychology and with more direct applied concerns, sport psychologists began to apply information more directly in education and consulting work.
Sport and Exercise Psychology Today—Moving to a Global Future
As applied interests continue to expand, academic and research interests also are expanding and changing. Sport and exercise psychologists have responded to the public concern for health and fitness with increased research on health-oriented exercise. Healthy, active lifestyles, and preventive or rehabilitative exercise programs involve behaviors, and today’s exercise instructors and health professionals recognize the value of the psychological component of exercise and sport science.
Although sport and exercise psychology is not an especially large subdiscipline (compared to exercise physiology, for example), it is incredibly diverse in both research and practice. Some researchers emphasize theory-based basic research with tight controls and search for underlying physiological mechanisms. Others shun traditional research, using interpretive approaches and searching for experiential knowledge. Some are not concerned with research at all, but seek information on strategies and techniques to educate, consult or clinically treat sport and exercise participants. The expansion of sport and exercise psychology organizations and professional journals, each with its own orientation, reflects this diversity. Most likely both the research and practice sides of sport and exercise psychology will remain strong and continue to grow and change in the immediate future. The main question is whether these two sides of the field will grow together or apart. As Martens (1987b) suggested, scholars must conduct sound research, but that research must be relevant and aimed at answering questions about sport and exercise behavior. Sport and exercise psychology practitioners must have a grounding in the research and theory base, including knowledge of the science and the art, but must also incorporate their experiential knowledge as well as listen to participants to help develop and use the knowledge base. Researchers and practitioners, sport and exercise psychologists, physical educators and psychologists, sport psychologists and sport participants, must value the knowledge and skills of each other if, as Martens (1987b) advocated, we are once again to have one sport psychology.
As sport psychology moves into the new millennium, we are not only merging research and practice, but also moving toward a global sport psychology. With the electronic information revolution and increased international collaboration in conferences and projects, international communication and interaction have expanded exponentially, moving us toward shared research and professional identification as well as greater familiarity with cultural diversity.
First, sport psychology has expanded beyond its North American and European bases to become a truly international discipline. European sport psychology, particularly in the former soviet USSR and East Germany (GDR) was centrally controlled and focused on training elite athletes until recently. European sport psychology has continued to develop from its roots, but current issues and approaches encompass more diverse activities, especially health-oriented exercise, with more diverse participants. For example, Kunath (1995) a key organizer of European sport psychology and faculty member at the former GDR’s German Academy of Physical Culture at Leipzig, described the historical emphasis on training coaches and elite athletes, and welcomed the current expansion of sport psychology to leisure sport, exercise for people with disabilities and health-oriented exercise.
Biddle made similar points in the introduction to his welcome contribution to international dialogue, an edited volume of diverse European perspectives on sport and exercise psychology (Biddle, 1995). Biddle noted the former emphasis on elite sport, but also confirmed the changes in former state-controlled sport psychology programs as well as in most of Western Europe. The volume includes several chapters on exercise and health topics as well as sport topics, with diverse contributions by authors from several European countries.
Moreover, sport and exercise psychology work is not confined to North America and Europe. Australia has many scholars and programs similar to those of Europe and North America, and the rise of sport and exercise psychology in Asian countries is particularly notable. Japan and Korea have developed strong sport and exercise psychology programs, as they have developed politically and economically. The 1989 ISSP conference was held in Singapore, and that meeting certainly enhanced mutual recognition of sport psychology research and approaches on the part of both Asian and Western countries. In 1994 I was fortunate to be invited to make a presentation at the International Conference of the Korean Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance as well as at the Korean Society for Sport Psychology. I was able to meet and learn from many scholars from Korea and other countries, and also to visit several universities and the Korean Sport Science Institute. Korea has several university programs and sport psychology scholars who participate in international conferences and publish in top journals. Many Korean sport psychologists, like those of many countries, received their graduate training in North American universities. However, as with several other countries, the expanded number of programs and scholars should lead to more attention being paid to unique concerns and cultural variations.
The increased international presence at sport psychology conferences around the world, along with the long-overdue travels of some North American scholars to other parts of the world, should only add to the international dialogue. The AAASP recently implemented an international initiative under the direction of former president Tara Scanlan. The 1996 conference emphasized the international theme, with several invited speakers from around the world. As well as major speakers, a symposium entitled ‘Sport and exercise psychology: a global perspective’ included panelists from Australia, France, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom (Gould, 1996). Although panelists noted specific features of sport psychology in their countries, common themes clearly emerge in both the research and professional issues. For example, Chung (1996) noted that although research has typically been quantitative, some Koreans are taking more qualitative approaches to study motivation and peak performance; Fournier (1996) commented on attention to certification criteria and consulting ethics in France; and Stambulova (1996) noted the decline in the emphasis on elite sport with increased interest in exercise for health in Russia.
As well as exchanging information on professional issues and current topics, the increased international dialogue has enhanced sport and exercise psychology research. For example, the topic of anxiety has long been a major issue, and research has been conducted by scholars in several countries. Recently, that work has been shared more readily, international scholars cite each other’s work, and some international collaborative efforts have taken place. Jones (1995), in a chapter reviewing competitive anxiety research, cites the Martens work on SCAT and more recent multidimensional models (Martens et al., 1990), his own and Lew Hardy’s work (UK) on catastrophe models (for example, Jones and Hardy, 1990) and the work of Yuri Hanin (formerly of USSR, now Finland) on zone of optimal functioning (for example, Hanin, 1989). Dieter Hackfort of Germany is one of the most prominent sport psychology scholars doing anxiety research, and along with Spielberger of the United States, he co-edited an excellent volume on anxiety and sport that includes contributions from many of these and other international scholars (Hackfort and Spielberger, 1989).
International dialogue and participation in sport and exercise psychology likely will increase even more in the near future. Conferences are increasingly international, and with easy access to communication networks, information is increasingly shared even when travel is prohibitive. North America, Europe, Asia and Australia/New Zealand have internationally active sport psychology communities now, and other countries have some activity. For example, South America and Africa are less recognized internationally, but ISSP includes representatives from those areas, and several countries have developed organizations and increased their sport and exercise psychology activity. As sport and exercise psychology activity expands around the world, we will likely see continued recognition of common themes in both our research and practice. However, increased international dialogue should also decrease some of the North American/European dominance, and add greater insights into cultural variations and diversity. Overall, a more global sport and exercise psychology should enhance all our scholarship, and in turn enhance the sport and exercise experience for all participants.