Sport and exercise psychology (SEP) services (e.g., team interventions, one-on-one interventions, and consultation with organizations) aim at performance enhancement with athletic populations and exercise adherence with physically active individuals. In addition, SEP practitioners design their interventions to promote healthy lifestyles and to contribute to their clients’ personal growth, psychological well-being (PWB), and quality of life (QOL). This entry deals with the foundations, recipients, goals, approaches, and delivery considerations involved in SEP services.
SEP services are based on an interdisciplinary integration of basic and applied knowledge sampled from (a) SEP, (b) psychology (e.g., counseling psychology, health psychology, clinical psychology), (c) sport and exercise science (e.g., exercise physiology, motor control, sociology of sport), and (d) consulting.
Recipients of Services
SEP services can be offered to (a) organizations (e.g., fitness club franchises, single fitness clubs, sport academies), (b) groups (e.g., sport teams, fitness classes), (c) individuals responsible for helping others achieve goals (e.g., coaches, fitness instructors), and (d) individuals concerned with their own athletic or fitness goals (e.g., athletes, exercisers). Thus, SEP services can, for example, help to formulate systematic mental training services at a sport academy or implement new customer services procedures aiming at increasing intrinsic motivation of fitness club members (organizational level). Teams and fitness groups can use SEP services to increase a sense of cohesion to promote time-on-task productivity and adherence. Further, SEP services can aim at enhancing day-to-day operations of individuals (e.g., improved way of providing feedback for coaches, personal trainers, parents) who further support their trainees, clients, or children. Finally, SEP services assist individuals directly (e.g., an athlete or exerciser can learn and apply positive self-talk to manage distractions while engaged in their respective athletic or exercise activities).
Areas of an individual’s psychological functioning that can be improved through SEP services include, but are not limited to, motivation, self-confidence, stress management, resilience, mental toughness, and attention management. Improved psychological functioning aims to enhance the efficacy of practice and exercise drills improve competition outcomes, enhance rest and recovery, and overcome setbacks and failures (e.g., injury, relapse to sedentary lifestyle). Additionally, the goals of the clients’ personal growth, PWB, and quality of life (QOL) are pursued in an integrated fashion. SEP services can also target group dynamics and aim at team building (for both athletes and exercisers) through establishing productive norms, roles (e.g., leadership), and communication to achieve high levels of cohesion, including task (goal advancement) and social (interpersonal relationships) dimensions.
A long-term goal of SEP services is the recipient’s self-regulation in relation to the target behavior change (e.g., stress management while performing highly demanding motor tasks or exercise adherence during a major life transition). Thus, the client’s independence and self-reliance are promoted.
The numerous goals of SEP intervention programs can be accomplished through educational and psychological methods (or interventions), both sensitive to multicultural issues. Educational interventions commonly include psychological skills training (PST) and team building and utilize a single method or a combination of methods (i.e., multimodal mental training). For example, PST methods for performance enhancement or exercise adherence are based on a number of cardinal psychological skills such as, for example, activation management (i.e., relaxing and energizing), imagery, self-talk, concentration, goal setting, and mental routines. Alternatively, psychological (as contrasted with educational) interventions can involve cognitive restructuring; mindfulness, acceptance, and commitment approaches; management of interpersonal relations; and other strategies that are grounded in a SEP consultant’s theoretical paradigm in psychology (e.g., cognitive behavioral, humanistic, integrative).
Some psychological barriers (or mental blocks) to actualizing one’s athletic potential or maximizing one’s engagement in a physically active lifestyle can arise from clinical problems (e.g., eating disorders, affective disorders, exercise addiction) or major life adjustments (e.g., developmental transitions, injury, retirement, migration or immigration). To address these complex issues, clinical or counseling services (interventions) are needed.
Service Delivery Considerations
SEP service delivery is a multifaceted professional activity. Assisting a person, group, or organization in behavior change is a very complex process and requires adequate professional qualifications and competencies. In short, SEP service delivery involves a number of important elements: (a) education, training, and professional experience (including supervised practice); (b) professional ethics; (c) professional philosophy (the practitioner’s core personal values and beliefs, well articulated theoretical paradigm, and clearly defined model of practice along with unambiguous intervention goals and methods); (d) making contact (e.g., referral, advertising); (e) the working interpersonal alliance with the client; (f) assessment (e.g., through structured interviews, psychometric tests, observations, or combination of these); (g) conceptualizing athletes’ concerns and potential interventions; (h) program implementation (quite often in the practice or exercise setting, competitive venue, or both); and (i) program and consultant evaluation.
Currently in the United States there are two educational paths required for competent delivery of SEP services: (1) sport and exercise science (kinesiology) and (2) psychology. These paths need not be mutually exclusive. To obtain a license in psychology, one needs to earn a doctoral degree in a psychology program and meet other requirements (regulated by state governments). To obtain certification by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), a master’s degree in either sport and exercise sciences or psychology that includes specific course work in SEP complemented with supervised practice requirements is the minimum criteria.
Professionals and students who seek professionalization of SEP services are organizationally grouped in AASP. AASP attempts to ensure high-quality SEP services through its certification program termed Certified Consultant of the AASP (CC-AASP). Although primarily concerned with the advancement of applied sport psychology (SP) in the United States, AASP includes international membership from over 30 countries.
- Aoyagi, M. W., & Poczwardowski, A. (Eds.). (2012). Expert approaches to sport psychology: Applied theories of performance excellence. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology
- Dosil, J. (Ed.). (2006). The sport psychologist’s handbook: A guide for sport-specific performance enhancement. Chichester, UK: Wiley.
- Mellalieu, S., & Hanton, S. (Eds.). (2012.) Professional practice issues in sport psychology: Critical reviews. London: Routledge.
- Williams, J. (Ed.). (2009). Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.