Sports Psychology Minor

For students interested in applying psychology to athletics, the Psychology Department offers a sports psychology minor in collaboration with the Physical and Sports Education Department.

This minor focuses on how psychological factors affect behavior on sports and athletics and on how participation in these activities affects the athlete. Students study social perception, motivation, group dynamics, development of motor skills, leadership, aggression, and other topics essential to working with teams and individual athletes for careers in coaching, education, research/ teaching, or counseling.

What is Sports Psychology?

Wiggins (1984) has described sports psychology as studying "the effect of psychological factors on behavior in sports, or the psychological effect that participation in sports or physical activity has on the performer." Over the last two decades psychology has become increasingly involved in athletics and sports, both as an area of scientific study and as an applied field.

Applications of psychology to sports and athletics are numerous. They focus both on the individual athlete and on the team. Psychology is increasingly involved with athletes, coaches, and trainers to enhance athletic performance through improved physical and mental training. A knowledge of psychology is essential for understanding each individual's motivation and developing that motivation to an optimal level for athletic performance. In addition to facilitating athletic performance psychology is important in rehabilitating athletes from physical injuries and psychological trauma, as well as in providing more routine counseling services.

Sports psychologists work not only with the individual athlete but also with the team. How best to meld a group of individual athletes into a cohesive team is an ongoing question and challenge for coaches and team leaders. A knowledge of group dynamics, social perception--how people perceive, think about, and respond to each other--and individual differences in personality are all essential to motivating and leading a collection of athletes into a smoothly functioning team that makes the best use of each individual player's strengths.

In addition to the interventions that are part of applied sports psychology, sports psychologists also study topics like fan behavior, including aggression and mob violence, developmental antecedents of interests in sports and athletics, factors influencing the adoption and maintenance of regular exercise programs, comparative sports, sports as art, etc.

Career Opportunities in Sports Psychology

The diverse field of sports psychology provides the researcher and practitioner alike with an extensive array of interesting and challenging career opportunities.

Three major career paths await sports psychologists:

  1. Educational: Primarily teaching activities in both traditional (college university) settings and in non-traditional venues such as at workshops, clinics and seminars.
  2. Research: Sports psychologists are engaged in searching for new knowledge in the "field." Application of psychology to physical performance requires multivariate models that incorporate the simultaneous evaluation of several variables. These research efforts seek to predict performance outcomes in the actual competitive environment.
  3. Clinical: A degree in either clinical or counseling psychology allows the practitioner to focus on personality disorders and behavioral problems affecting the quality of life for athletes. These include anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, concentration or attention problems, motivation, and burn out.

Professional Activities of Sports Psychologists

Coach-Education     Leadership and interpersonal skills, communication, management of human resources
Athlete Preparation   Performance enhancement, relaxation, biofeedback, mental imagery
Research/Teaching   Produce evidence of scholarly contributions to the field; conference and journal contributions
Clinical/Counseling   Guidance and psychological support services, private practice

Career Related Activities at Canisius College

In addition to the areas described above, there are growing opportunities in sports administration. Canisius College offers a Masters Degree in Sport Administration for those interested in athletics and/or sports psychology but who are oriented more to a career in administration.

Professional Organizations Associated with Sports Psychology

As psychology has become more closely involved in the activities described above there has been interest by professional organizations in providing training and career planning for students interested in sports psychology.

The American Psychological Association (APA) division 47, Exercise and Sports Psychology Division publishes "Graduate Training and Career Possibilities in Exercise and Sports Psychology." The Association for the Advancement of Applied Sports Psychology (AAASP) defines the criteria for certification as a sports psychologist.

The Sports Psychologists in the 1990's finds a large number of accrediting bodies whom seek specialists in this field. These include providing consulting services to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Sports Medicine Committee, Registry of Approved Sports Psychologists, Psychological Advisory Committee (USOC), National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP)Professional Golf Association (PGA), Major League Baseball, and the National Football League (NFL).

Note: Two bodies govern research in the field of Sports Psychology: NASPSPA- North American Society for the Psychology of Sports and Physical Activity; and the CSPLSP - Canadian Society for PsychoMotor Learning.

For more information about this minor program, contact Susan Putnam, PhD, at (716) 888-2895.

For more information on minor requirements, please click here.