Is it time for sport and exercise psychology to go their separate ways?
It is interesting that in the UK, and many other countries, the psychology of sport is grouped with the psychology of exercise. This takes place both in terms of the educational training routes offered and the professional/academic literature that underpins these educational routes. This is interesting as you can argue that much of exercise psychology shares significant links with the area of health psychology, you could even argue that exercise and health psychology are better bed fellows than sport and exercise psychology. Indeed if you look at the environments in which much of the sport and exercise focused psychology practice takes place they appear to be distinctly different.
As such I would argue that sport could fit better with the emerging area of performance psychology. The parallels here are significant. Particularly as performance psychology focuses on, well, exactly what it says on the tin. Performance psychology seeks to understand, explore, and enhance the mindset and psychological characteristics that underpin performance. One significant message that emerges from performance psychology is that the psychology that underpins performance is similar regardless of whether we are talking about sport performance or performance in other domains such as music, theatre, medicine, aviation, the military and in business.
For example, in all of these cases the ‘performer’ needs to prepare to perform under pressure by developing effective habitual responses that are triggered when the situation dictates, or need to develop the skill of focusing on task relevant stimuli to ensure effective task performance. Adopting this ‘performance psychology’ focus in sport would enable the sport psychology consultant access to significant existing resources and literature to further underpin their professional practice. The notion of preparation to perform and ‘what if’ planning is transferable across performance domains. For example, pre-performance routines are a central aspect of preparation to perform in sport, and as such there is an extensive body of literature exploring this within a sporting content. However, pre-performance routines also form a crucial aspect of performance in the theatre, the performing arts, music, military, and medicine environments. There could be significant lessons that could be learnt through exploring existing knowledge, practice and understanding across these domains.
So, while sport and exercise psychology are currently seen as closely linked maybe it is time for the two domains to go their separate ways and for sport to start building a relationship with performance psychology while exercise further engages with the health psychology profession.