A proficiency that uses psychological knowledge and skills to address optimal performance and well-being of athletes, developmental and social aspects of sports participation, and systemic issues associated with sports settings and organizations, sport psychology is taking over the world of competitive team sports.
Since the 1990’s teams across all team sports have started to hire sport psychologists as consultants in an attempt to better understand the mindset behind success and how to improve the performance of their athletes. As I will cover later, the experiment of using a consultant to understand and change what goes on inside the mind of athletes has been hugely successful in professional sports, and as a result the popularity of sport psychology is expanding exponentially.
Sport psychology was first introduced to team sports in the early 1930’s by a man named Coleman Griffith. After years of struggling with funding for his lab, Griffith branched out and acted as a consultant for the Chicago Cubs starting in 1932. Glenn “Pop” Warner, famously known for having youth football leagues around the country named after him, also conducted a study at Stanford in the 1930’s that focused on the efficiency of a football team’s offense, according to the American Psychological Association.
Decades of experiments throughout the 1900’s, mixed with a couple famous cases of sports psychologists significantly helping teams, has increased the popularity of using a sports psychology consultant in professional sports. One man that is often referred to as the turning point for the field is George Mumford. Mumford acted as a consultant for multiple teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and some of the best athletes of all time, including Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, credit Mumford with a lot of their success.
Stepping Into the Spotlight
But what about sport psychology makes athletes successful and allows teams to succeed?
“Sport psychology is changing the way that teams approach their respective sports and helping athletes to better understand how to make decisions that will benefit their performance and their personal lives.” – Kim Richards, Professional Psychologist
The way that Bryant and Jordan talk about Mumford speaks to the way that he influenced their lives. Both athletes, who won a combined eleven NBA championships under his consultation, say that Mumford’s constant preaching of the importance of meditation and self-examination was the key to bringing their games to the next level. Mumford may be the most famous case that has come out of the use of consultants, but examining his methods and the way that he raised teams to a championship level just by gaining a better understanding of what happens inside the mind of winners, shows the success that sport psychology has had in professional sports.
Mumford, who now works as a consultant for the New York Knicks, uses meditation and self-examination to change the way that athletes think. His belief is that finding time to escape the pressure of professional sports and reflect on oneself leads to healthier decision making and a calmer, more calculated approach to sports. Sport psychology also focuses on motivation and how to find and cultivate what drives a player or team, which led to the development of achievement goal theory. Achievement goal theory is the idea that setting achievable goals can help to motivate and empower players to improve and achieve their tougher goals, or the goals of the team.