Services in Sport

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.

Knowledge Base

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).

Service Goals

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.

Service Approaches

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.


  1. Aoyagi, M. W., & Poczwardowski, A. (Eds.). (2012). Expert approaches to sport psychology: Applied theories of performance excellence. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology
  2. Dosil, J. (Ed.). (2006). The sport psychologist’s handbook: A guide for sport-specific performance enhancement. Chichester, UK: Wiley.
  3. Mellalieu, S., & Hanton, S. (Eds.). (2012.) Professional practice issues in sport psychology: Critical reviews. London: Routledge.
  4. Williams, J. (Ed.). (2009). Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

See also: