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At Carolina Performance in Raleigh, our mission as psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists is to enhance the performance of our clients, resulting in a smarter approach to sports, a more effective work life, and an improved general well-being. We use mental training techniques to build upon existing skills, develop mental game plans, achieve individual and team goals, and maximize potential. 


At Carolina Performance in Raleigh, our mission as psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists is to enhance the performance of our clients, resulting in a smarter approach to sports, a more effective work life, and an improved general well-being. We use mental training techniques to build upon existing skills, develop mental game plans, achieve individual and team goals, and maximize potential.

Filtering by Category: Exercise Psychology

Where it all Began: The History of Sport Psychology Research

eric morse

Sport psychology is a relatively NEW discipline! The idea of practicing sport psychology didn’t gain much momentum until the 1960’s, but some researchers were starting to think about studying the way performance is affected by mindsets before 1900.

Where it all Began

Norman Triplett conducted a study in 1898, now considered the first research study in sport psychology. He found that cyclists competing against others in races were faster than those who competed alone for a time-trial, even when the distance was the same. I’m sure the concept of being pushed by competition is familiar to everyone reading, whether it’s athletic competition, a board game, or an academic course, but no empirical evidence was offered until this study.

The Father of Sport Psychology

Triplett broke some ground, but Coleman Griffith is considered the founder of sport psychology, as the first researcher to specialize in the area. He taught a course called “Psychology and Athletics,” and in 1925, opened the first research lab specializing in sport psychology topics. Many of his topics are still being researched today, including methods of teaching psychological skills in football, the effects of fatigue on performance, the persistence of errors, and mental variables associated with excellent athletic performance. Sound familiar?

Griffith was also the first practicing sport psychologist, who was hired by the Chicago Cubs to work with the professional baseball team until 1940. Unfortunately, after he left his lab, his work was not readily continued. It was not until the late 1960’s that sport psychology began to emerge as an independent field of study. The International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP) was founded and the International Journal of Sport Psychology created soon after. Around the same time, North American leaders in sport psychology began the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA). This was a huge step for the field, having journals and conferences devoted to only research related to sport psychology.

From Smocks to Jocks

At this time, however, the research was mainly dedicated to social psychology in the context of physical activity. An article by Rainer Martens, “From Smocks to Jocks,” called for researchers to conduct more applied studies in the field and look at sports specifically, beyond just physical activity as a whole. In the 1980’s, SEP had shifted toward the psychological skills training of elite athletes. This shift led to the formation of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (AAASP) in 1985, which heavily focused on applying psychological knowledge to help athletes in their sport environment. The word “Advancement” in this title was later dropped, and the association is now known simply as AASP. As research expanded, the American Psychological Association (APA) added an official Division 47, which was the Exercise and Sport Psychology division in 1986. This addition of exercise psychology was an important marker, as the Journal of Sport Psychology became the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychoogy in 1988. Soon after, the United States Olympic Committee also established a sport psychology committee and registry and hired their first full-time sport psychologist. By the 2000’s, the field of sport and exercise psychology was a fully independent research field with its own textbooks, academic degree programs, journals, and conferences. The importance of AASP, APA 47, and the USOC is discussed in my next blog post: How to choose a sport psychologist

Where are we now? Sport Psychology Practice.

These days, sport psychologists can specialize in research or application. Although the practice of sport psychology is much more popular now, it still lacks the commonplaceness of counseling and therapeutic psychology (aka clinical psychology). This is likely a result of both psychology’s history of being associated with mental illness and the lack of awareness that sport psychologists exist and are helping individuals achieve their goals every day. Articles recently posted to our social media (e.g. illustrate athletes’ reluctance to seek help from a sport psychologist or psychiatrist.

Nonetheless, more and more universities and athletic programs around the world are hiring sport psychologists either full-time or as consultants to work with their athletes. In fact, the top employer of sport psychology professionals is the United States Military, where masters and doctoral level graduates train soldiers to perform under pressure.

More commonly, you’ll see sport psychologists, sport psychiatrists, and mental skills trainers working independently through a private practice. Carolina Performance is unique because it is a single practice with a variety of practitioners specializing in all realms of performance-related psychological training. The The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) provides a great list of registered consultants who have a certain degree of expertise in the area.

If you're interested in speaking with a sport psychology professional, start here at Carolina Performance!

Coming soon... "Wading your Way through the Sport Psychology Waters: How to find the Performance Psychology Professional that's Right for You!"

Lauren Becker
Carolina Performance Intern
Master’s Student in Kinesiology at UNC-Greensboro
Correspondence can be directed to:

"Drop and give me 50!" Using Exercise as Punishment

eric morse

"Drop and give me 50!"

Athletes, soldiers, police officers… all these groups understand that if you do something wrong – show up to practice late, talk back, slack off – you might hear that dreaded phrase. Pushups, running laps, and other strenuous activities are commonly used as punishments in these domains. But, given the current obesity epidemic, can we afford to let people associate punishment with physical activity? How could this strategy affect later motivation to exercise?

Punishment involves imposing an undesirable consequence to someone after a “bad” behavior in an effort to reduce the behavior. However, research tells us that punishment is pretty much across-the-board something to avoid if one really wants to reduce the frequency of a behavior. It leads to undesired consequences like learned helplessness and the avoiding of the SOURCE of the punishment. For example, a child who was spanked for bad behavior will now ADAPT such that they only engage in the behavior when the spanker is not present. Instead, psychologists promote the use of reinforcement. Read more on this here:

What I’d really like to discuss is this idea that punishment via exercise might create an association between feelings of depression, disappointment, or anger with intense physical activity.

Professional Opinions

Professionals vary on their personal opinion on the issue. On one end of the spectrum, elite athletes should not feel discouraged as a result of exercise punishment, as they are already in such great shape. The exercise serves as a chance to improve while being responsible for their mistakes. Further, the idea of punishment in the military has been noted by some to be “motivating” and “a healthy challenge.”

Others claim that over time, as the competition starts to fade, all athletes are left with is the same type of exercise they only did as a punishment. That is, with the competitive basketball ending, all they're left to do are more push-ups and lap sprints – the exact kind of exercise they’d been trained to avoid. Still other sport psychology consultants claim that the exercise-related punishment has very little impact on an athlete’s later fitness, claiming that the bigger issue is that the exercise shifts from “training to win” to “training to stay fit,” a far less motivating outcome.

But perhaps the punishment depends on the “cause.” Are sprints more discouraging when presented as an individual punishment for being late to practice or as a group punishment for losing a game? My guess? A group punishment like that would foster anger, helplessness, and an environment of blame – definitely not ideal for an athletic team. Using the same reward or punishment for a group or team who have all individually engaged in different behaviors leading up to a loss makes no sense. Winning and losing are not behaviors.

For punishment to work, it is necessary that the individual is able to understand its connection to the right behavior. It is well known that punishment becomes less effective after a delay. Kids that get punished at home for a tantrum at the grocery store may not see the relationship between the unwanted behavior and the punishment. It is best to give punishments right after the behavior occurs and include an explanation of why the punishment is being imposed.

Nonetheless, punishment is still used, often as an attempt to provide “motivation.” After running multiple sprints, the last thing the athlete wants is to run another one due to being slow, so they attempt to run faster. In this situation, though, this coaching style could also be seen as negative reinforcement. A fast runner gets to stop running sooner, the upsetting situation gets taken away as a reward for performing well. Note how different this example is from, “Drop and give me 50!” in response to a late arrival to practice.


In the end, as with all of psychology, individuals assume that their personal experience is representative of a general rule of behavior, and this is often false. In fact, intuitions OFTEN lead us astray. But that is for another time. Regardless of anecdotal stories of punishment by physical activity, the research has time and time again stated that extrinsic rewards and punishments are insufficient at increasing an individual’s intrinsic motivation.

Rogers, Maslow, May, et al, Ryan and Deci (2000) (Self-Determination Theory) present a strong case for the belief that humans are intrinsically motivated and that extrinsic rewards and punishments actually demotivate a person. A book by Deci cites abundant studies supporting this idea.

“The Competitive Ethos and Democratic Education” by J. Nichols in 1989 demonstrates that a mastery motivation leads to greater persistence of training efforts when external rewards are scarce than an ego motivation.  Coach administered rewards and punishments for winning and losing, thus, would seem to undermine mastery, intrinsic motivation, and self-determination.

Behavioral reinforcement has been studied extensively for over one hundred years since Edward L Thorndike first introduced the Law of Effect in 1905: “responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation, and responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur again in that situation."

NASPE Statement

The conversation is fascinating, but in the end we must look to research for evidence of what works. In fact, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) created a position statement to address this issue that reads: “Administering or withholding physical activity as a form of punishment and/or behavior management is an inappropriate practice… The core issue is that administering or withdrawing physical activity as punishment is inappropriate and constitutes an unsound education practice” and finally, “the absence of support for using physical activity as punishment renders its use by a teacher or coach indefensible, from a legal liability standpoint.”

Wow. These statements are incredibly strong and do, indeed, discourage the use of physical activity (or the removal of physical activity) as any sort of punishment.

This NASPE position statement further informs its readers that the National Standards for Sport Coaches (2006) also specifically states, “…coaches should ‘never use physical activity or peer pressure as a means of disciplining athlete behavior’ (NASPE, 2005, p. 17).

I wonder how many coaches follow that guidance! Nonetheless, we can all start following the evidence right away and STOP USING PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AS PUNISHMENT.

Until next time…

Lauren Becker
Carolina Performance Intern
Master's Student in Sport & Exercise Psychology
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Goal Setting: Are you doing it right?

eric morse

Goal-setting may bring up memories of boring workplace orientations or cheesy teamwork exercises, but in reality, goal setting is one of the most widely-researched performance-enhancing strategies in the field of sport psychology and has been proven to be successful if done right. It sounds so simple, “Write down a goal.” But, people do this wrong ALL THE TIME. I saw it all the time in the classes I taught. Goals like, “I want to get in shape,” were abundant. But, what does this person mean by that statement?

Perhaps they mean they want to lose weight – To accomplish this goal, this person might start walking more to burn calories and eating fewer calories each day. Will their health improve? Yes! Will they lose weight? Yes! Will they increase their fitness? Probably not. They won’t run faster, jump higher, or get much stronger.

But maybe this person wants to become more “fit.” But how so? Do they want to run longer, run faster, stretch further, or increase their strength? Maybe all of it? Well, that’s a lot to keep track of in one goal sentence.

To run longer, this involves progressively overloading one’s large muscle groups such that they adapt to have better aerobic capacity via cellular changes within muscle and nerve tissue in response to the stress of exercise. Or to increase one’s strength, the person will want to lift heavier weights than is comfortable, but only for 3-6 reps at a time, exhausting on the final rep, in order to build more Type IIx muscle fibers, which have a higher anaerobic capacity. Phew!

These training programs are all very different! The way that individual would approach all these different goals is different. Without a clear direction, what should this person do?

This example demonstrates how important it is REFINE your goal statements, and I'm going to tell you how. Start with knowing what result you want or at least a goal for where you want to be a couple months from now. Using SMARTER goal setting strategies can help you write down a goal that will actually help you pinpoint what you need to DO to accomplish that OUTCOME.

Your goal statements should follow a formula that satisfies all of these guidelines. Your goal should be SMARTER:

S – Specific – Goals should describe the exact activity you’d like to improve upon, and how you will test your success. “Fit” becomes “aerobically fit” which becomes “running-fit,” which means your goal involves RUNNING. “Lose weight” becomes “lose pounds” or “lower body fat percentage” or “Lower risk of diabetes.”

M – Measurable – Avoid vague terms like “more” “better” “improve”, and use computable terminology. Drink 8 glasses of water per day. Lose 4 pounds. Walk for 20 minutes per day. Increase muscle endurance by 20 squats. Reduce run time by 20 seconds. Touch my toes with proper stretching form. Run the entire mile without stopping.

A – Attainable – Set goals within physical limits. If you are new to certain exercises, do not expect to become elite by the end of this week. If you are not a runner, do not expect to run a mile and a half in <10 minutes anytime soon. Know where you are already, and ask for help assessing what is realistic growth, and get help to plan how you would have to get there. Is losing 10lbs in 10 weeks attainable? Sure, but it will be easier than losing 15lbs in 10 weeks and harder than losing 5lbs in 10 weeks. Know what it will take to get you there.

R – Realistic – Related to above. It has to be possible and probable. Quitting smoking cold turkey is unrealistic goal, whereas goals to start using nicotine patches may be more applicable. Don’t set a goal so unrealistic that anyone would likely fail or probability is far against you. You can always set a goal for a week from now, and then set another for a week from then. Keeping some short-term goals will help your success seem closer.

T – Time-frame Specific – Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to reach your goal, but give yourself a time limit. “This goal will be achieved by December 1st.” On that day, you will plan to assess yourself using your planned measurements, and you’ll know precisely whether or not you’ve achieved your goal, and by how much you exceeded it.

E – Evaluate – Consistently evaluate the progress you’ve made on your goals and adjust them as needed. You might find that you’re reaching your goal much sooner or later than anticipated! Maybe you need to change your strategy or adjust your timeframe expectations.

R – Recorded ­– Make sure to WRITE GOALS DOWN in a place where you’ll see them regularly! Try a a bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or front door.


  • Set goals for practice as well as competition. How many free throws do you want to make in practice?
  • Set reminders for yourself. Want to make sure you go to the gym later today? Keep your gym shoes in front of the door so you have a reminder of what to do. Maybe even keep a pair in your car to cut down on the excuses!
  • Develop goal-achievement strategies or plans (Do your research – For example, know that 1 lb of human fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. Over the course of a week, can you burn an extra 3,500 or eat 3,500 fewer calories? Adjust your plan and your goal accordingly!)
  • Prioritize process, performance, and outcome goals.
  • Find social support for goals. Tell friends who will hold you accountable – they might even join you!
  • Make the goal-achieving FUN! However you can, fun and exciting goals will be achieved faster than boring ones. Make sure you work them positively and remind yourself all the exciting changes that will occur when you reach your goal. This should be a fun, rewarding experience!


  • Set too many goals and have difficulty tracking them all.
  • Fail to recognize individual differences. (Not all goals are appropriate for all people; set them based on your current level of ability).

Lauren Becker
Carolina Performance Intern
Master’s Student in Kinesiology at UNC-Greensboro
Correspondence can be directed to:

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