Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise


The involvement of students in sporting activities in their respective school is a crucial element of their education, either in private or public-school settings. Encouraging sporting activities in schools is backed on educational basis by educational results and educational philosophy. Several educational leaders are of the opinion that students who take part actively in school sporting activities enjoy better psychomotor, cognitive and affective development (Zaichkowsky, 2006). The rapidly developing concept of sport psychology is loaded with benefits for schools, especially regarding the provision of much-needed expertise for increasing the likelihood of exercise and sport bringing about positive experiences for the school children. Importantly, sport psychology applies research and theory to advise and teach coaches, athletes and even parents with the aim of engendering optimal sport performance and participation (Zaichkowsky, 2006; Anshel, 2011).

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Generally, three commonly intersecting sectors form the basis on which sport psychology is built on, and these can be seen in the chart below. The biggest interest is on the first focus area namely “performance enhancement”. In this area, sport psychologists, either trained sport scientists or psychologists with huge sport experience, advise their clients via experimentally proven methods so as to improve their performances (Zaichkowsky, 2006). The next focus area is known as the health and exercise psychology. The last focus area is known as social psychology. In this area, sport psychologists study and teach on subjects like diversity and gender, athlete career growth, fan behaviours, moral development, motivation and leadership and this also intersects with health psychology and performance enhancement.

Sports psychology in dealing with sports loss

Normally, athletes go through intense training for performance improvement. If they do not take enough time to rest however, they could suffer from declines in their performance. Intense exercise without proper rest and recovery, a phenomenon called overtraining, is now a real danger athletes from all sporting sectors face (Kreher & Schwartz, 2012). With improvements in athlete performances, there is a corresponding increase in physical demands specifically higher number of training hours every week and even more demanding training exercises. Present day cultural demands have caused even higher training intensity, for instance, via higher competition, expanded athlete performance duration, from the youth till professional level and selection of players while younger. Oddly, especially when considering the psychological benefits physical activity has, in the case of athletes being over trained, they are in danger of fatigue, poor performance and mood swings. A “syndrome of physical/emotional exhaustion, sport devaluation, and reduced athletic accomplishment” ” (Kreher & Schwartz, 2012; Hays & Baltzell, 2016) known as burnout, is caused by overtraining coupled with intense sport stress (i.e. unrealistic demands and precompetitive nervousness) and this can also cause sport termination. Whenever athletes feel trapped or under obligation, instead of attraction, for a particular sport, then they are at higher risk of experiencing burnout.

To take part in sports means to put oneself in danger of injury. A large part of the attention on sport injuries have been focused on the physical injury. Nevertheless, over the last two decades, significant research has tackled the psychosocial effects injury has. This research laid emphasis on the connections existing between sport anxiety, injury, management resources and other common life stressors (Hays & Baltzell, 2016). Injury could be seen as a kind of fault, a kind of betrayal by one’s body or a form of embarrassment. Injury could equally cause non-beneficial emotions such as sadness, guilt and anger. As well as the pain and physical limitations caused by injury, the regular mental responses include mood problems and worries about resuming play or getting another injury. Athletes need to tackle physical damage and mental responsiveness as well as social effects like distance and/or new relationships with teammates and the team in general and even their athletic personality.

A sport injury, in most cases, causes psychological irregularities which prevent the athlete from recovering normally. These adverse responses are popular across the globe, as seen in elevation on various scales of the Profile of Mood States. Conditions that can cause concern could be mental reactions or states like stress/anxiety, anger, depression, treatment noncompliance, general pain and exercise addiction (Gill, Williams & Reifsteck, 2017). Fear is also quite common among athletes nursing injuries. It could be fear of losing jobs, friends, positions, family, income or fear of getting injured again or not fully recovering. Another well-known reaction is shock and surprise at sustaining an injury.

A specific sports injury currently enjoying huge media attention and generation huge referrals to medical sports psychologists is sport-related mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). There are rising numbers of reported cases of mTBI aka cerebral concussions even though this could be partly caused by man-made or a product of higher public awareness. In college and high school athletes, the most reported number of concussions in young men take place in sports like soccer, ice hockey, football and lacrosse, while for females, concussions in sports like basketball, soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse are common (Institute of Medicine, 2013; Hays & Baltzell, 2016). Immediately after suffering mTBI, athletes suffer a group of cognitive, psychological and somatic symptoms. These could include irritability, anxiety, depression, fatigue, headaches and issues with concentration, organization, memory and planning (Chen et al., 2008). Even though most of the athletes enjoy full recovery in 3 months, these symptoms might linger.

Psychosocial stressors linked to mTBI are poor teammate support, difficult to detect quality of concussion, undetermined team return time and loss of position and relevance to the team. As this injury is not physical, it is difficult for athletes to back their decisions to stay away from sport activities (Hays & Baltzell, 2016). Moreso, teammates, athletes, coaches and even parents might not completely understand the health dangers concussions pose. Several external and internal factors commonly cause athletes not to be enthusiastic about reporting concussions. Due to this, important decisions regarding continued competition might be compromised.

Experimental information is rapidly changing on the subject of the best therapy measures for concussions as well as the most preferred approach to re-attaining complete sport participation (Institute of Medicine, 2013). Medical sport psychologists who are trained in neuropsychology might participate in the diagnosis and monitoring of an athlete recovering from mTBI. The medical sport psychologists that work on the small percent of athletes who are going through the lasting consequences of mTBI can help in several ways like symptom therapy and management, improved recovery efforts and providing support for athletes when making decisions which involve the immediate and delayed benefits full recovery before sport reengagement has. Collaborative work with clinical concussion specialists is important.

Concussion is just one of the several reasons for speedy sport termination. In several sports, athletes are regularly forced to end all forms of competitive sport participation at relatively young ages. When a career is ended by an abnormal chain of event, like an unexpected removal from a sport team or an injury, this can cause considerable sadness for the affected athlete (Hays & Baltzell, 2016; Anshel, 2011). This occurrence of compulsory failure and threat to social status can affect the state of well-being of the athlete. Forced termination has higher tendency of causing more serious pathopsychological symptoms like grief, depression and adverse moods.

Solutions for sports loss through psychology

Sport psychology training aimed at youths is currently in its infancy. In America, just a little percentage of doctoral courses gives trainings in both sport and clinical psychology. A huge portion of the education practitioners currently receive takes place via postdoctoral experiences, and these trainings can be formal or informal. The possibility of improved chances, within psychology courses, to include sporting activities and performance would be important, for the field’s viability as well as the interests and requirements of graduate scholars (Hays & Baltzell, 2016). It isn’t clear if these academic training courses will be established, considering the complex requirements before one can become skilled and certified as a psychologist and a sport psychology specialist as well.

Studies on the medical features of sport psychology haven’t been sufficient. There is little knowledge about athletes suffering from chronic psychopathology forms and how medical problems are associated with sporting performance. Studies on prevalence and therapy have to become more organized especially regarding professional sports, female athletes as well as the successful use of mind-affecting medication (Gonzalez, Smith Machin, & Cogan, 2014).

Advances in technology and how this affects the supply of tele-health therapy services are and would continually be crucial to the complete development of medical sport psychology. Relative to the other clients a practitioner works with, athletes practice and compete frequently away from their homes and they are majorly young and perfectly used to electronic communication. Sport psychology specialists can collaborate with other psychologists like consulting or industrial-organizational psychologists in order to produce the ethical, most effective and legal systems of communication with customers far away.

Important issues concerning sport diversity i.e. sexism, racism and homophobia and several other less known ones, have to be tackled both in practice and research linked with sport psychology (Gonzalez et al., 2014; Hays & Baltzell, 2016). It is important to the most important aim of recovery and competitive comeback that athletes are rehabilitated mentally and physically. Despite this, several coaches, athletes and their trainers do not possess the required skills and knowledge of psychological rehabilitation. If the emotional, behavioral and cognitive expressions related with an injury cause the sports medicine specialist to form the opinion that the recovery of the athlete is adversely affected, then psychological intervention is necessitated. An immediate reassignment to a sport psychologist brings about early control and relief from any unwanted emotional trouble. Above all, immediately reassigning the athlete brings about an instant treatment of the present psychological issues, stops subsequent psychological problems and causes beneficial psychological mindsets which have been proved to speed up healing.




Anshel, M. H. (2011). Sport psychology: From theory to practice. Pearson Higher Ed.

Gill, D., Williams, L., & Reifsteck, E. (2017). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise. Human Kinetics.

Gonzalez, S. P., Smith Machin, A. L., & Cogan, K. D. (2014). “Diversity in sport”. In J. L. Van Raalte & B. W. Brewer (Eds.), Exploring sport and exercise psychology (3rd ed., pp. 427–450).

Hays, K. F., & Baltzell, A. (2016). Clinical sport psychology. In J. C. Norcross, G. R. VandenBos, D. K. Freedheim, M. M. Domenech Rodríguez, J. C. Norcross, G. R. VandenBos, … M. M. Domenech Rodríguez (Eds.) , APA handbook of clinical psychology: Roots and branches (pp. 337-350). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/14772-017

Institute of Medicine, (2013). Sports-related concussions in youth: improving the science, changing the culture. National Academies Press.

Kreher, J., & Schwartz, J. (2012). Overtraining syndrome: A practical guide. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 4, 128–138.

Zaichkowsky, L. (2006). Sport psychology: A primer for educators. The Journal of Education, 187(1), 1-8.

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