Humanistic Theory in Sport, Performance, and Sports Coaching Psychology
- Rebecca K. Dickinson, Rebecca K. DickinsonSchool of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, University of Queensland
- Tristan J. CoulterTristan J. CoulterSchool of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Queensland University of Technology
- and Clifford J. MallettClifford J. MallettSchool of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, University of Queensland
As a basic psychological framework, humanistic theory emphasizes a strong interest in human welfare, values, and dignity. It involves the study and understanding of the unique whole person and how people can reach a heightened sense of self through the process of self-actualization. The focus within humanism to encourage and foster people to be “all they can be” and develop a true sense of self links to a strengths-based approach in sports coaching and the defining principles of positive psychology. In the field of sport and performance psychology, positive psychology has been influential as a discipline concerned with the optimal functioning and human flourishing of performers. Since the 2000s, many sport and performance psychologists have embraced positive psychology as a theoretical basis for examining consistent and superior human performance. However, in the modern history of psychological science, positive psychology is not a new phenomenon; rather, it stems from humanism—the traditional “third wave” in psychology (after the dominance of psychoanalytic and behaviorist approaches).
Sport is recognized as a potentially influential context through which people at all levels and backgrounds can thrive. The tendency to focus on performance outcomes, however—winning and losing—often overshadows the potential of sport to achieve this aspirational goal. As evidence of this view, many high-performing athletes are commenting on their distressing experiences to reach the top and the “culture of fear” they have been exposed to as they pursue their own and others’ (e.g., institutional) ambitions (e.g., medaling at the Olympic Games). Humanism concerns itself with the quality of a person’s life, which includes, but also extends beyond such objective and classifying achievements. It is a person-centered approach to understanding the individual and his or her psychological, emotional, and behavioral reality. It seeks to help people define this reality more clearly in such a way that will help them feel good and perform at a high level. Humanism has been, therefore, an important school of thought for improving the lives and experiences of people who play sport as well as those who perform in various other contexts.