This paper shall investigate the general field of sports psychology in order to provide the reader with a brief comprehension of many of the key factors that compose this intriguing area of sociology and psychology. This paper shall investigate the elements of motivation, visualization, training, burnout, and relaxation through sports as a means of creating a general understanding of sports psychology as a whole.

Sports Psychology

Performance in sports has always been considered a combination of both mind and matter: While it is without question that the body must be finely honed in order to yield extremely progressive results, the mind must also be “trained” for the athlete to fully perform at his or her best. Over the centuries, many specific elements of this mental training have been ushered into the field of sports psychology, where athletes are able to assimilate mental techniques that will help their overall physical performance. (Cratty: 3 – 4)

One such example of a mental skill is found in the field of visualization. In the 1960s, a physical fitness researcher investigating new methods of fitness training found that an athlete improves their performance if they visualize themselves practicing the event, rather than simply physically practicing. Clark studied the results of mental practice, physical practice, and a combination of both in the accuracy of the Pacific Coast one-hand foul shot. This researcher broke 144 volunteers into three separate groups and found that the study group that both practiced daily and visualized making the shots in their nonpractice periods found themselves able to make the baskets a greater percentage of the time. This discovery demonstrated for the first time that there is indeed a conclusive link between physical performance and mental conditioning.

Similar to the technique of visualization, the strategy of motivation is also extremely effective in conditioning an athlete for a competitive performance. Rather than visualizing the accomplishment of the event, however, motivational strategies tend to focus primarily on the psychology of the individual. Motivational techniques encompass an extremely wide range of mental conditioning: one form of a motivational techniques shall be discussed in this paper in order to give the reader a better understanding of what these techniques encompass. The technique of positive perfectionism is often used in order to increase the overall performance of an athlete. Positive perfectionism is called by one source: "… a function of positive reinforcers." ((Terry- Short, et al.: 664)

This type of motivational technique involves the athlete continuously embracing their past achievements in order to achieve a state of future perfection – The concept is that the positive self- image that is constructed through constant encouragement will yield a better performance because the athlete simply expects that degree of success from themselves. This is a form of conditional positive approval and the athlete will accept that they are supposed to perform at a degree that is better than that exhibited by their peers.

In sports psychology, training can also be seen as a means of encouraging an athlete to compete at a higher level of competition. Training is a physical conditioning, but it does have an undeniable effect on the self- image of the athlete. In this manner, training and motivational techniques have a great deal in common: As the athlete continues to train for a specific event, they increase their sense of accomplishment. This is similar to watching an individual succeed at a diet, whereas their physical image improves, their self- esteem begins to improve in turn. Training therefore tends to yield a better athlete because the athlete is aware that they are capable of achieving a superior performance and they will then attempt to reach this goal.

Oddly, however, one source remarks that training might have the reverse effect on athletes, where the constant sense of competition generates the sense that the athlete will “… never be good enough”. The implication is that constant competition and the drive to “be the best” implies that any athlete is not the best and will never be the best, and that this serves to destroy the real self- image in all athletes. Because of this, all athletes are classified through: "… high self- expectations, a rigid and obsessional approach to reaching goals, difficulties in accepting less than 100 per cent performance, a high emphasis on emotional control, and an underlying sense of poor self- esteem" (Leichner: 66). This point – while perhaps founded squarely in common sense – is often overlooked in the literature.

Burnout is perhaps the worst thing that can happen to any athlete. Burnout is the term that is given to any athlete that has pushed themselves past their limit, either physically or mentally. A physical burnout is actually easier to recover from than a mental burnout, where the effects of a physical burnout depend entirely on the structure of the body and not the psyche of the individual. The overwhelming pressure that an athlete can place on themselves in order to “get back into the game” after a mental burnout will only prolong the problem. Finally, relaxation is a relatively underutilized aspect of sports psychology. Relaxation in sports psychology is similar to its colloquial definition, where the athlete is required to distance themselves from the activity and to address the competition in a more relaxed manner. Relaxation techniques promote a greater degree of acceptance in the athlete and this acceptance – when compared to the obsessive techniques found in motivation – might actually be seen as being more healthy for maintaining the performance of the athlete and in ensuring that burnout does not eventually occur. All types of writing tasks you can order at


This paper has investigated many of the more common elements found within the field of sports psychology. It is clear that sports psychology concentrates on the connection between the mind and the body, where the athlete is instructed to develop both mind and body in order to achieve a specific degree of performance.


  • Cox, R. H. (1985). Sport Psychology: Concepts and Applications. Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers.
  • Cratty, B. J. (1983). Psychological Preparation and Athletic Excellence. New York: Movement Publications, Inc.
  • Leichner, P. (1986) "Anorexia nervosa, bulimia and exercise." Coaching Review. March/April 1986: 66-68.
  • Terry- Short, L.A., Owens, R. Glynn, Slade, P.D., & M.E. Dewey. (1995) "Positive and negative perfectionism." Personality and Individual Differences. Vol. 18, No. 5. 663-668. 

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