The Emotion of Sports Performance and Motivation

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The field of psychology is increasingly expanding and becoming incorporated into other fields of study. From the study of behavioral economics to the burgeoning field of media psychology (with its emphasis on the effects of advertising, especially on children), literally anything that can be thought of is a possible venue for the probing, empirical analysis of various strains of psychological theory. And why not? There are currently 54 different divisions of the American Psychological Association. Not all are actual theoretical perspectives posited by psychology—such as behaviorism or social psychology—some are merely fields of interest within which a psychological focus has been found to be academically useful, or clinically rewarding, or medically necessary. Such is the case with sports and exercise psychology (division 47). For a variety of reasons—the economic impact of the billions of dollars a year professional sports industry, the growth of empirical evidence suggesting exercise is good for us (both physically and psychologically), as well as the influence of sports on childhood development and academic achievement and socialization (as a negative correlation to school violence)—sports and psychology are increasingly mixing. This paper will take a look at the theoretical and scientific ways psychology is being used to explain and enhance sports performance from the parallel points of view of personality, motivational theory, emotion, and social cognition; all under the watchful eye of Freudian psychoanalysis. There is, of course, a reciprocal relationship between the reasons for, or why we need sports activity, and the motivation towards a qualitatively enhanced sports performance. The initial impetus for man to engage in sports may have been be to simply play at sports for leisure or diversion, but upon closer examination its clear there’s something more which drives our seeming obsession for sports (and this includes the growing fanaticism of spectating, as well). Freud looked at sports during his time from his by then typical psychoanalytical point of view and found, what else (?), sex…; or at least what he felt were the attempts by education institutions to curb the urge in children by substituting repetitive play (Holowchak, p. 697). This repetitive play serves as the foundation for the more formal adult world of competitive sports which then becomes standardized (though at lesser levels of difficulty) for children in a full circle process that, curiously, blurs the line between origins and necessity. Nonetheless, Freud believes this sort of adult play (sport) is at once an attempt to relive the unfettered, carefree days of childhood, while simultaneously using them (games) as a way of releasing pent up tensions and anxieties—both from sexual repression and the conscious seeking out of the pleasure principle. Play is pleasurable because it essentially mimics sexual movement while substituting for it in a socially acceptable way. Play becomes sport when the obstacles introduced by the participants are re-imposed repeatedly in order to allow for their usurpation in order to increase the psychic energy being built up solely for its ultimate—and very pleasurable—release (Holowchak, p. 698-99). Regarding the motivational forces that compel us to turn play into competition and equally—and instinctively—strive for greater and greater rewards (measurable goals and feelings related to victory and status), Freud believed in certain “drives” (Holowchak, p. 701) that serve as a spark and a conduit for, ultimately, all human behavior—including the play/sport dialectic. As with all psychoanalytic theory, the basis of drives is compelling (fascinating), but nebulous, to say the least. Unless, of course, one views those drives through an evolutionary prism. I’ve always had the gut feeling that many of Freud’s ideas piggybacked—to one extent or another—on the backs of Darwinian evolutionary theory and...
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