The History of Sports Psychology


Prior to the 1890s, athletes did not have the knowledge or foundation on which to build a superior athletic performance. Athletes relied on good luck to achieve this peak performance. In 1897, Indiana psychologist Norman Triplett began to explore why athletes performed the way they did in certain situations. These initial studies resulted in the development and growth of the modern sports psychology industry.

The Early Years

  • Triplett began by testing the effects of cycling alone as compared with cycling with a group. Triplett concluded that cyclists who cycled with a group cycled faster than those who cycled alone.
    To further test his findings, Triplett decided to study children to see how fast they could perform a simple task of reeling in fish alone as compared with a group setting. Triplett discovered children reeled their lines in faster when others were present as compared with when they were alone.
    Triplett wrote a paper called "The Dynamogenic Factors in Pacemaking and Competition," and these findings were in the American Journal of Psychology in 1898.

The Griffith Era

  • Coleman Griffith conducted informal studies of football and basketball players while he was pursuing his doctorate in psychology at Illinois University in 1918. He was interested in players' reaction times as well as mental awareness, muscular tension and relaxation.
    In 1925, Griffith founded his sports laboratory, which was devoted to the study of sports psychology. He studied the factors that affected athletic performance.
    In 1926, Griffith's book "The Psychology of Coaching," was published. In 1928, his book "Psychology of Athletics" was published.

Preparation for the Future

  • Franklin Henry received his Ph.D from the University of California in 1938, and that same year, he was hired as an instructor at University of California-Berkeley's physical education department.
    While teaching, Henry began to study the sports psychology factors and how they affect the motor skills of athletes.
    He began to experiment with the effects of exercise at high altitudes, decompression sickness and aeroembolism (this is the release of air bubbles in tissue upon rapid decrease in air pressure).
    In 1964, Henry published a paper " Physical Education: An Academic Discipline."

Sports Psychology as an Academic Discipline

  • 1965 marked the advent and formation of "The International Society of Sports Psychology" in Europe and that same year, the society held its first world meeting.

    In 1967, "The North American Society for the Psychology of Sports and Physical Activity" was founded in the United States.
    Professor Dorothy Harris developed a "Sports Psychology" graduate program at Penn State, and she organized the first research conference on women and sports in 1972.
    "The Journal of Sports Psychology" was established in 1979.

Scientific Practice and Exercise in Modern Sports

  • International Olympic teams hired sports psychologists to work with the athletes in the 1984 Olympics. The U.S. Olympic Committee hired its first full-time sports psychologist in 1985.
    " The Association for the Advancement of Applied Sports Psychology was created in 1986.
    The United States hired more than 20 sports psychologists to work with the athletes in the 1996 Summer Olympic games.
    Now every professional sports team has a sports psychologist on staff.

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