About Applied Sport & Exercise Psychology

Applied sport and exercise psychology involves extending theory and research into the field to educate coaches, athletes, parents, exercisers, fitness professionals, and athletic trainers about the psychological aspects of their sport or activity. A primary goal of professionals in applied sport and exercise psychology is to facilitate optimal involvement, performance, and enjoyment in sport and exercise.

Practice in the field of applied sport and exercise psychology usually involves a combination of individual and group consulting or counseling depending on the style of the professional conducting the intervention and the needs of the client.

AASP Certified Consultants (CC-AASP) and specially trained licensed psychologists are typically the most competent practitioners working in the field of applied sport and exercise psychology. Although there are many specific concepts within applied sport and exercise psychology (e.g., goal setting, concentration, motivation, relaxation, imagery), the general goal is to teach mental skills necessary to perform consistently in training and competition, increase adherence to exercise programs, and to help individuals realize their potential.

Currently, AASP is the largest sport and exercise psychology professional association in North America that offers certification to its members.

Definition of Sport

Are the Services of a CC-AASP for You?

  • Do you or your athletes:
    • have trouble staying focused during competition?
    • lack confidence during practice or games?
    • perform better in practice than in competition?
  • Are you looking for a competitive edge?
  • Are you concerned with your child's experience in organized youth sports?
  • Are you struggling to begin or continue an exercise program?
  • Have you lost confidence or motivation after an injury?
  • Are you looking for a way to improve your sport or exercise experience?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, working with a CC-AASP may be for you!

During the last two decades, applied sport and exercise psychology has received significant and increasing attention from athletes, coaches, parents, and the media. Consider, for example:

  • The growing number of elite, amateur, and professional athletes who acknowledge working with a professional in the field of applied sport psychology.
  • The increased media attention on increasing physical activity in youth as a way to fight the national obesity epidemic.
  • Coaches at the high school and university levels who seek professionals in the field of applied sport and exercise psychology to work with their athletes and teams on game preparation, team cohesion, communication skills, and other areas that affect performance.
  • The growing concern about the use of performance enhancement substances in sport and exercise settings.
  • Major universities, where professionals in the field of applied sport and exercise psychology are being added to athletic department staffs to assist athletes with life skills development and to improve coping with the demands of being a student-athlete.
  • The number of professional and Olympic athletes who discuss mental training as a regular part of their training routines.
  • Exercise specialists, athletic trainers, youth sport directors, corporations, and psychologists who are using knowledge and techniques developed by professionals in the field of applied sport and exercise psychology to assist with improving exercise adherence, rehabilitating injuries, educating coaches and parents, building self-esteem, teaching group dynamics, and increasing effectiveness.

In 1989, AASP established and approved specific criteria intended to demonstrate that individuals seeking certification must have obtained a minimal level of training and experience to provide professional services in applied sport and exercise. Currently, AASP is the only sport and exercise psychology professional association in North America that offers certification to its members.

We have devoted an entire section of this website to help you learn about Certified Consultants and how to find a certified consultant.

Common Psychological Skills in the Field of Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology

Anxiety or Energy Management

Skill most commonly used to help individuals who experience arousal at a level that is not effective (i.e., too high or too low) for optimal performance. These techniques can be used for anxiety, stress, and anger management. Common treatments include: (a) breathing exercises (e.g., diaphragmatic breathing, rhythmic breathing), (b) progressive relaxation, (c) meditation, (d) imagery or visualization, and (d) cognitive techniques (e.g., thought stopping and cognitive restructuring).

Attention and Concentration Control (focusing)

Being able to focus one’s awareness on relevant cues so they can deal effectively with their current situation. These skills help them maintain their mental intensity within a situation. Common techniques include: (a) attention control training (to avoid distractions) and (b) techniques to expand awareness (e.g., attending to performance cues and bodily sensations).

Communication

Skill used to help improve group cohesion and individual interactions in a sport setting (e.g., athlete–athlete, athlete–coach, coach–parent). Techniques used with this skill include: (a) teaching active listening and communicating skills (reflecting, clarifying, encouraging, paraphrasing), (b) helping individuals create a free and open environment, and (c) assertiveness training.

Goal Setting

Skill commonly used for enhancing motivation, focusing attention on the aspects of performance that are most in need of improvement, or facilitating rehabilitation from injury. The establishment of a goal-setting program often includes several common components, including: emphasis on skill development (not the outcome, such as winning), identifying target dates for attaining goals, identifying goal achievement strategies, and providing regular goal evaluation.

Imagery, Visualization, Mental Practice

Skill using all of the mind's senses (e.g., sight, sound, taste, touch, hearing, kinesthetic/muscular feel) to re-create or create an experience in the mind. Uses include: (a) mental preparation, (b) anxiety control, (c) attention, (d) building self-confidence, (e) learning new skills, and (f) injury recovery. Common components include the evaluation of imagery ability, the establishment of the proper physical and mental setting (i.e., relaxed and quiet), and practice creating vivid and controllable images.

Self-talk

This is what you say or think to yourself. Self-talk patterns are related to how people feel and act. Changing self-talk is commonly used for (a) prompting a specific behavior, (b) improving self–confidence, (c) attention control, (d) motivation, and (e) arousal control. Common components include the identification of negative or irrelevant thoughts, challenging these thoughts, the creation of positive thoughts, and the substitution of positive thoughts for the negative thoughts.

Team Building

This is the process of helping the members of a group enhance their ability to work cohesively through the improvement of communication, group objectives, trust, and respect. Team building strategies are often used at the beginning of a season to help group members become more familiar and trusting of each other. Common techniques include group introductions of each other, ropes courses, and individual and team goal setting.

Time Management/Organization

This is the ability to plan and maintain one's regular schedule in a way that avoids confusion, conflict and undue stress. Common time management techniques include: (a) teaching how to use a planner, (b) learning about the demands of a task, (c) setting legitimate goals for tasks, (d) understanding the demands of one’s life (managing role conflict), and (e) developing pre–performance routines.

Professional Role Definitions Related to the Field of Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology

Athletic Trainer

Athletic Trainers work to prevent, assess, and treat injuries in athletes and exercisers. They provide acute and long–term care for injured physically active people, as well as design and monitor rehabilitation programs.

Physical Therapist

The Physical Therapist typically works in a sports medicine or hospital clinic to provide acute and long-term care for a variety of sport and work–related injuries. Designs and monitors rehabilitation programs.

Coach

The Coach is the organizational leader of a specific sports team. Often manages team affairs (travel, recruiting, scheduling) in addition to having a primary role as a teacher of sport-specific skills and strategy.

Psychologist

The Psychologist is trained in clinical or counseling psychology to provide individual or group therapy relative to a broad range of behavioral and emotional issues. Typically works in a public clinic or private practice.

Performance Enhancement Consultant

Performance Enhancement Consultants are professionals trained in sport and exercise but are not licensed psychologists or counselors. Also known as sport and exercise psychology consultants or mental coaches. Provides individual or group consultations geared towards performance–related issues.

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