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  • Writer's pictureLeilanie Pakoa

Exploring the Fundamentals of Sport & Exercise Psychology: 10 Topics and What You Need to Know

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My name is Leilanie and I am a sport and exercise psychologist based in Brisbane, Australia. I have found over the years when I say I'm a sport and exercise psychologist, people usually know what a psychologist is but aren't quite sure what the "sport and exercise" bit entails.

To be completely honest, it's kinda confusing, but in the greatest way possible. I have found that working as a sport and exercise psychologist means every day is different. I get to work with different groups in society, I get to learn about a wide range of human experiences, and I also get to build skills with clients across lots of different contexts.

I thought I would write out the top 10 topics discussed and focused on in the field of sport and exercise psychology.

  1. The System of Sport in Australia - I've been finding over and over again when we play sport it is not just us as individuals. Sport involves individuals, teams, clubs, organisations, politics, culture, and all levels of society. Sometimes it is important to consider those other factors that can impact our participation in sport.

  2. Performance Enhancement - this is usually the classic understanding of sport and exercise psychology, whereby we focus on improving sporting performance through mental skills. Mental skills including self-talk, concentration, motivation, resilience, goal setting, imagery, visualisation, and managing performance anxiety.

  3. Mental Health and Wellbeing - as a psychologist our main focus in work is usually understanding, educating, and improving overall mental health and wellbeing. In this space we consider risk, diagnoses, functioning, and methods of ensuring mental health is looked after.

  4. Injury, Rehabilitation, and Coping - a large part of sport that can significantly affect physical and mental health are injuries. Injuries can influence ability to play sport, perform at the highest level, mood, wellbeing, and functioning. Looking at the psychological impact of injuries and methods to assist in rehabilitation and coping can be vital.

  5. Youth Athletes - an area I am quite passionate about is working with youth athletes. At times, there can be alot of pressure placed on children and adolescents, especially in high performance sport. Learning how to manage high pressure and sport along with being a teenager is a skill sport and exercise psychologist support.

  6. Bodies and Sport - there are many sports where athletes are measured or scored by their body weight, shape, and appearance. The psychological impact this can have on how one values themselves or sees themselves can be huge. Sport and exercise psychologists can work in the space of managing disordered eating and eating disorders in relation to body image, weight, and shape concerns.

  7. Identity and Transitions in Sport - from young ages we can attach our identity and sense of self to sport and performance. We can gain alot of satisfaction, validation, and success within sport and have this attached to who we are as an individual. Issues can arise when injuries derail performance, we stop playing sport, our bodies age, or retirement occurs. Sport and exercise psychologists can help identify other aspects of identity, transferable skills, and other space to use those sporting strengths.

  8. Psychology of Coaching - you know when you have such a great coach, you aren't always aware of what they are doing or why they are so good. There is alot of research and psychology around what makes a great coach, what skills are required, and why some might miss the mark.

  9. Neurodiversity - I work with children as young as 4 years old, and something I've learnt over the years is that no two brains are the same. We have diagnoses such as ADHD and Autism (ASD) that would signify neurodiversity. I have developed a passion for breaking down the stigma of neurodiversity and teaching others about the wide range our brains process and understanding information, especially in sporting contexts.

  10. Team Dynamics - linked to the system of sport, team dynamics can be vital in understanding how individuals come together in sport. As a sport and exercise psychologist we would work with different teams to build skills in communication, leadership, role clarification, cohesion, and coming together as one.

Hopefully this was helpful, it you have any questions please feel free to reach out at to learn more or connect.

Leilanie Pakoa

Sport and Exercise Psychologist

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