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Understanding Sport Psychology

Use the principles of sport psychology to maximise individual potential

In this theme of the Coach Learning Framework, you will find resources on:

  • Child and adolescent brain development. Understanding how the brain develops can help you develop appropriate activities for your participants.
  • Holistic individual development. Learn about the importance of meeting physical, cognitive, personal, social, emotional, psychological and well-being needs.
  • Developing self-regulation and emotional management. Consider the importance of emotional management and its impact on your participants and yourself.
  • Sport psychology performance skills. Explore the key skills that will empower your participants to maximise their potential.
  • Managing support network expectations. Discover how to work effectively with your participants' support networks.

Why is Understanding Sport Psychology Important in Coaching?

To develop someone as a participant, you need to develop them as a person. To do this, you need to understand them, both as a participant and as a person. Sport psychology can help you achieve this. With a strong understanding of sport psychology, you can maximise an individual’s potential and empower them to improve their performance, whether that’s in the gym, on the field, at the track, in the pool, or on the court.

It's important to remember that sometimes it’s not about training harder, but about training smarter. A holistic approach to developing your athletes can also have a much greater impact.

Sport psychology combines psychology, mental health and mental well-being to support individuals to improve their focus, increase their confidence, develop coping strategies and achieve the right zone to perform. This in turn enhances motivation, communication and self-belief, empowering your participants to embrace a healthier approach to themselves and to sport or physical activity.

By integrating sport psychology into your technical, tactical and physical practice sessions and competition environments, you can enable your participants to consistently perform to their potential in sport and in life.

Through the pillars below, find resources to help you on your journey to understanding sport psychology.

Child and Adolescent Brain Development

The brain develops through a number of different processes in the early years, including the creation of neurons that act as processors and exchange information through electrical transmissions. During adolescence there is a rapid and significant reorganisation of the brain, often referred to as ‘the toddlers twin’, where the brain goes through massive ‘synaptic’ pruning and changes to increase the speed in which information is communicated to the brain.

‘Neurons that wire together, fire together.’

During these maturation processes, young people are still developing their decision-making and social functions, as well as being hyper-sensitive to rewards and criticism and engaging in risk-taking behaviours.

Understanding the developmental processes of the brain during these significant transitions can help you to better support each individual and their emotional, social and cognitive developmental needs. 

Holistic Individual Development

Holistic development emphasises the importance of meeting the physical, cognitive, personal, social, emotional, psychology and well-being needs of the individual.

Taking an individual approach enables you to assess the needs of each individual and provide a supportive and developed programme to empower them to develop and succeed in all areas of the sport and physical activity, as well as in life. It helps individuals connect with the world around them and understand their own development in the context of their specific situation.

Taking a holistic approach also enables you to plan effectively for future activities involving that individual, helping them to develop key skills, behaviours and qualities before they need them in competition, which will aid their overall learning and development and general well-being.

To achieve this, consider how the developmental areas connect and link up, and how progress in one area can influence development and growth in another area.

Developing Self-Regulation and Emotional Management

Emotions play a fundamental role in our personal growth and performance by influencing how we receive and detect important sensory information, and subsequently respond. This includes how we act and react to situations, and our behavioural responses, decisions, memory and recall, and interactions with others.

Emotional regulation refers to the strategies that can be developed to initiate, maintain, modify or display emotions, feelings that reflect current and past interactions and experiences with people, situations and the environment.

Developing an awareness of your emotions, including how long they last and their intensity, are all aspects of emotional regulation, which is especially crucial in sport and physical activity, where interaction with others, pressure and competition are often at the forefront.

It's important to consider how you can support emotional regulation in your coaching practice, as well as to consider how your emotions and behaviours may influence your participants.

    • An Introduction to Behaviour Change

    • Strategies to Support Behaviour Change

    • Reflective Practice Iceberg

    • What Motivates Young People to be Active?

    • Managing Behaviour in Sport: What Works?

    • Understanding the Pyramid Model

    • Understanding the Pyramid Model

    • Understanding Self-Determination Theory

    • Managing Behaviour in Sport: What Works?


Free Resource Picks




Understanding the Stress Model

In this introduction to the Stress Model, the first of three resources on the topic, Megan Little explains key concepts and how the approach to stress management can impact athlete performance




Support and Advice for Parents in Sport

This blog reflects on the recommendations of Baroness Grey-Thompson’s Duty of Care Report to consider what additional support and information we need to provide parents, and offers some additional tips and advice for parents in sport




Checklist for Emotional Regulation

Even with a strong understanding of your emotions, it’s important to analyse them regularly. Use this checklist to reflect on situations and your emotional response

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Sport Psychology Toolkit

Developed in partnership with Optimise Potential, this toolkit is packed with practical tools to help coaches understand how to develop a more flexible, adaptive and resilient mindset that will drive participants to achieve their potential. Learn how to apply psychology in your coaching sessions by exploring the toolkit's eight themes, which include 24 downloadable activities, 24 session plans, 8 tip sheets, and 8 podcasts

Coach Learning Framework

The Coach Learning Framework has been created to help you design memorable and engaging great coaching experiences that meet the needs of all your participants, regardless of your sport or physical activity.

Understanding Sport Psychology is one of nine themes that comprise this insight-based framework.

Continue your journey through the framework to learn more about the other eight themes and the key attributes of high-quality coaching environments, and how you can demonstrate the skills, qualities and behaviours that will empower the people you coach to achieve their personal goals.