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Sport psychology facts for kids

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Sport psychology means applying parts of psychology to sports and athletes. One of the main ways that sports psychologists use is to help athletes meet their goals. The main group of people that sports psychologists try to help are professional athletes. They can help non-professional athletes as well. Sports psychologists mainly focus on problems the athlete has on the field but they can also help athletes with problems that they have off the field. Sports psychology did not become a recognized area of study until recently, but it has been used in the past.


European history and the beginnings

Sports psychology began at the end of the nineteenth century in Europe. Sports and the body were now a more important part of people’s lives. During the 1880s, more sports were a part of the lifestyle of the people. But, the word psychology was not used in connection with the word sport before the late 1890s. In 1899 and 1900, the phrase, psychology of sport, appeared in the titles of two journal articles. The first one was by Balduin Groller. It was published in two parts in 1899, in the journal Die Wage under the title “Zur Psychologie des Sportes” (translated About the Psychology of Sport). This article said that there were parts of psychology that had not been researched at that time, that could be connected to sports and physical activities. Then in May 1900, an essay by the founder of the modern Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, was published. It was titled “Le Psychologie du Sport” (translated The Psychology of Sport).

In 1875, Pyotr Francevich Lesgaft started a system of physical education. Lesgaft was a Russian scientist who studied the human body. His aim was to promote harmony between the body and soul or mind. The method Lesgaft suggested was to learn conscious control of the body; being able to think about controlling the body and then actually doing it. Then in 1884-1885, Karoly Budinsky wrote an article called “About Gymnastic Activity and the Development of Will”. The article was about how self-control and willpower could make the nervous system stronger through physical exercise.

Two scientists were at the beginning of European sport psychology: Angelo Mosso and Philippe Tissie. Angelo Mosso was an Italian who studied the human body. He was also interested in using science to study physical education, exercise, and sport. In his experiments, Mosso found that mental work causes weakness of the muscles. He also found that physical work causes weakness in mental performance. In 1894, Mosso conducted an experiment with his brother, Ugolino Mosso. He had ten Italian Mountain soldiers climb to the top of the mountain and live in a hut for ten days. He also had them perform physical exercises. There are two parts of his results that are related to sports psychology. The first one is called the pioneer effect. The pioneer effect is when in mountain climbing, the person who is leading the group will be more tired than all the others. The second is called the rivaling effect. The rivaling effect is when the soldiers, especially in periods of boredom, would begin to compete with each other in their weight lifting tests. Philippe Tissie viewed sports as a way to treat mental disorders. He published several articles between 1894 and 1909. These articles talked about how sports could help people with mental disorders. He thought that a combination of sports, gymnastics, and psychology could help people with mental disorders. He also thought that playing in too many sports could cause people to have mental disorders and behavioral problems.

In 1896, a French doctor named Charles du Pasquier published an article about how sports could help people with depression. In 1900, Eduard Bertz said that sports could help people maintain a healthy body and soul or mind. Later in 1913, Toby Cohn believed sports was a way for people to develop self-confidence, emotional health, and goal orientation. In 1914, Bernhard Berliner conducted the first study on what effect sports and exercise had on the mind and psychology. In his study, he looked at children who exercised and played sports while at a camp. His study found that children who played sports and exercised were able to concentrate better.

The first sports psychology laboratory was opened in 1920 in Berlin, Germany by Carl Diem. That same year, a psychological lab was opened by Robert Werner Schulte at the Deutsche Hochschue fur Leibesubungen near Berlin. This was a college for physical education. The lab was used to study the natural ability that people had for doing good in sports. Schulte also included sports psychology in his talks to students who took physical education. Then in 1921, he published his first book. This book was named Body and Mind in Sport. He then continued to go on to write many books about the topic of sport psychology. One of these books was called Aptitude and Performance Testing in Sport. The next development, in 1926, was the first psychoanalysis of what motivated people to want to play sports. This was done by Helene Deutsch. She found that playing in sports could help people with depression, anxiety and overcoming fears.

There were also major developments to the field of sports psychology that took place in Russia. In 1925, Russian sports psychologist Petr Antonovic Rudik did research on the development of skills and on reaction times. A reaction time is how quickly someone responds to something. In 1926, Alexander Netchayev did research on how perception, memory, imagination, and attention are influenced by sports and physical activities.

North American history

Sports psychology in North America began in the 1890s. E. W. Scripture began to study the reaction times of runners in his Yale lab. He also watched how athletes could be helped by experimental psychology. Experimental psychology uses experiments and science to study the brain and the mind. He also wrote papers about how sports affected who a person was. In his papers he argued that prisoners who participated in sports while in jail got a better attitude.

George Wells Fitz was also active in sports psychology at this time. Fitz created the first known physical education lab in North America. In 1895, Fitz ran an experiment. This experiment focused on studying the reaction times of people. He found one thing in his results: people who had quicker and more accurate reaction times would be better at sports. Fitz was the first to run experiments on reaction times in North America.

The next major event in sports psychology was an idea known as transfer of training. Transfer of training happens when you exercise one arm or one side of the body to make it stronger and the other side also becomes stronger without having any exercise. This area was first studied by Walter Wells Davis in the late 1800s. Davis ran an experiment that involved having people lift weights with one arm and not the other. His results proved the theory of transfer of training. William G. Anderson also studied this concept. In his experiments he found that people who squeezed an object on one side of the body also got stronger on the opposite side of the body.

The next developments came from Norman Tripplett. Norman Tripplett worked at the University of Indiana as a psychologist. He conducted an experiment that focused on competition. This experiment started to connect sports and psychology. His experiment also began to combine them into one field. In 1897, Tripplett started his study. He focused on how the performance of one person is influenced by other people being around. In 1898, he wrote about his results in his article, “The Dynamogenic Factors Involved in Pace-making and Competition”. His beliefs and findings were that cyclists were more likely to cycle faster when in the presence of a pacemaker or a competitor. People were more likely to cycle faster because the presence of another person caused them to put in more effort and use energy that they were not before. In 1898, Tripplett tried to confirm his predictions and beliefs he came up with during the cycling study by running an experiment in laboratory. This experiment consisted of people winding fishing line as fast as they could in order to move a flag around a course. The results of this experiment confirmed the results and predictions that were found in the cycling study.

In 1903, G.T.W Patrick studied the psychology of American football and why people loved the game so much. Next in 1912, Howard wanted to discover why people became so emotional while watching sports. Then in 1915, Karl S. Lashley and John B. Watson started a study that focused on the learning curve of people in sports. A learning curve is how people learn the skills they need to in order to succeed in sports. The sport that they focused their study on was archery. The results of their study lead them to argue that when people were participating in harder tasks, like archery, they were more likely to work harder to complete the task.

Sportswriter Hugh S. Fullerton is involved in the next development in the history of sports psychology. Fullerton brought New York Yankees player Babe Ruth to a psychology laboratory at Columbia University. Fullerton brought Ruth there to participate in a study run by Albert Johanson and Joseph Holmes. He wanted Ruth to participate in the study because he wanted to find a reason for why Ruth hit so many home runs. He also wanted to prove to other baseball scouts whether or not other players like Ruth existed. The study that Ruth participated in was used to study sensory-motor performance. Sensory-motor performance is how things that we perceive with our senses influence our movements. The study involved measuring the power of Ruth’s swing, his reaction time, his attention, his memory, and his motor skills. The results of this study offered a reason for why Ruth hit so many home runs. His skill for hitting home runs could be because on the tests his motor skills and reflexes scored above average. The next development that came regarded football. At Stanford University, B.C. Graves, a psychology graduate student, Walter Miles, a professor, and Glenn “Pop” Warner, a college football coach started an experiment. Their experiment studied reaction time. They ran their ran experiment so they could find the fastest way to get the offense to move together when the center hiked the ball. This led to the use of psychology as a way to gain an advantage over your opponent in a competition.

Coleman Griffith

Even though there were many developments to this field prior to this point, the most important did not come until the time of Coleman Griffith. Griffith was a professor at the University of Illinois. He is considered to be the father of sports psychology in North America. Griffith's first contribution was that he started a section in his introductory to psychology class that only athletes could take. Then in 1921, he gave the first public talk about psychology and athletics. In 1923, he started a special course focusing on psychology and sports. It was called Psychology and Athletics. The textbook that was used for this class was Griffith’s third book, called Psychology of Coaching. Later in 1924, Griffith began meeting with Knute Rockne, who was a football coach at Notre Dame. He met with Rockne to explore how coaching was affected by psychology.

The next major contribution that Griffith made was in 1925, when he opened the first sports psychology lab in North America. This lab was only able to stay open for six years. After the closure of the laboratory, Griffith was contacted in 1937 by Philip Wrigley. Wrigley was the owner of the Major League Baseball team the Chicago Cubs. He contacted Griffith to offer him a job. Griffith accepted the job. He called the project Experimental Laboratories of the Chicago National League Ball Club. While with the Cubs, Griffith studied how psychological factors influenced performance. Based on the results of his research Griffith made recommendations to Wrigley. These recommendations included psychological clinics for the players, holding fielding practice, and having achievement tests to measure the athletes’ basic skills. However, Wrigley did not follow these recommendations but was still impressed by Griffith’s work. Wrigley offered Griffith a full-time position as a sports psychologist in 1939. Griffith refused the job to stay with his family. After this Griffith did not conduct anymore major research in the area of sports psychology. Griffith was an important part of sport psychology's history. He was an important part because not only was he the first sports psychologist but he also opened the first laboratory in America that studied the relationship between sports and psychology.

Sports Psychology after Griffith: The 20th century

In the 1920s and 1930s, psychology was beginning to be taught at coaching schools. Some coaches used what they were learning about sports psychology while coaching their teams. Paul Brown was head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. He began using psychological testing with his players. His tests eventually became known as the beginning of the National Football League’s tests that are still used today. During the 1940s, psychology was starting to be used as a way for athletes to improve their performance. Psychology professor Dorothy Hazeltine Yates helped a boxer try to improve his skills through psychology; the boxer then went on to have the best fights of his career. Also during the 1940s, hypnosis was starting to be used to help athletes to relax. During the 1950s, David F. Tracy began using psychological methods to help players on the St. Louis Browns, a major league baseball team, now known as the Baltimore Orioles.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, sports were becoming more important to people. So, psychology of sports was more accepted because it helped athletes. Four things were important to expand the field of sports psychology. These were textbooks, graduate programs, associations, and journals. One of the main areas that was being studied during this time period was the affect stress had on athletes and their performance. In 1960, Warren R. Johnson continued the research he started in 1949. This research was about the effect stress had on an athlete. He continued this research by creating the first textbook on the topic. In 1961, Maxwell Howell started the first graduate school program in physical education. He did this at the University of Alberta in Canada. The creation of associations and journals was the next development of this time period. In 1967, the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity or (NASPSPA)was created. It was created by a group of sport psychologists led by Warren Johnson. One of the first things that this organization did was to start publishing the "Sport Psychology Bulletin". The "Sport Psychology Bulletin" included research reports and the writings of the members of the NASPSPA. Then in 1970, the "International Journal of Sport Psychology" was started. During the 1970s and 1980s, there were many associations and journals that were started. These were the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology, the American Psychological Association's Division 47 of Exercise and Sport Psychology, the Sport Psychology Academy of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, the "Journal of Sports Psychology", the "Journal of Sport Science", the "Sport Psychologist", and the "Journal of Applied Sport Psychology". The next major developments involved the United States Olympic Committee. In 1978, they started a Sports Medicine Council that included sports psychologists. In 1985, they created the first registry or list of sports psychologists.

Modern sports psychology

Now there are two types of sports psychology, academic and applied. Academic sports psychology does the research. Applied sports psychology uses that research to teach coaches and trainers. There are three main areas of need in applied sports psychology. They are what kinds of certification, education, or licenses are necessary to practice applied sports psychology, the need to provide proper training for people who are studying applied sports psychology, and developing new ways to help athletes.

Today the number of sports psychologists that are being used by athletes is increasing. In fact, so many athletes are being helped by sports psychologists, that some organizations are starting to limit how many coaches can be on the field during a game. Many athletes are now using sports psychology as part of their everyday lives and training for games.

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