It was the Cold War and the Olympic rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union that made the discipline grow in the 1960s and 70s. Here, the discoveries seemed ripped out of popular education literature from the last ten years.
The writing on mental toughness and self-efficacy is suspiciously similar to all the recent talk about "grit." Much of the sports psychologists' research into team dynamics and coaching sounds a whole lot like modern organizational psychology.
What is interesting is that sports psychology had a chilly initial reception in the academy. It was not "scientific." (How do you replicate the pressure of the Olympic 100 meter final in a lab?) A sports psychologist retorted that most "scientific" psychology has validity that only extends to the antiseptic climate of other laboratories. Confining psychology to experimental conditions robs it of vast, interesting and important aspects of the human experience. A motto of sports psychologists became, "No research without action, and no action without research."
As long as education is taking insights from sports psychology, a few recommendations for other, common techniques employed by practitioners:
- Fear: Sports psychologists spend a lot of time helping athletes deal with game day anxiety and performing well under pressure. The best athletes have received training in visualization techniques and self-talk. Athletes are encouraged to create pre-performance routines to calm their nerves. Many of these techniques would be useful in the classroom, not only before high stakes tests, but before learning anything new.
- Burnout: High level athletes often experience complete emotional exhaustion and a feeling of "depersonalization." So do students. Sports psychologists deal with these problems by encouraging their subjects to cultivate a few different interests, or hobbies, and to get everything in their lives organized.