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The ABCs of Sport and Exercise Behaviour


Sports and exercise are naturalistic events meaning that human agents that must have some level of familiarity with the practices and the performing environment formulate them. Human decision-making is dependent on behavioral, cognitive, and emotional variables. In addition, sports, and exercise psychology is a dynamic field as decisions are made in real-time (Taylor 2005). The influences of these dynamic elements heighten decision deliberation. Traditional studies in sports psychology have employed a closed system analysis that entails investigations for purposes of reducing uncertainty. The method depicts the world in a determinate view highlighting the relationship between quantum physics and physical exercise. Though improvements have been made in sports, psychology that links social, cognitive, and behavioral functions elevates performance. The relationship between biological, psychological factors and physical activities is mutually inclusive with all elements having direct implications on the other.

Literature Review

It is a well-recorded fact that there is an ecological approach that shows the relation between an individual’s behavior and his or hers immediate environment. According to Araujo and Davids, the stated theory emphasizes on human and animal perceptions and responses to be influenced by substance. In meaning, the theory in sports psychology shows how a difference in substance, for instance, water and nature of surface affect an athlete’s performance. Take the example of an athlete who has trained in highland or mountainous regions. The individual faces rough surfaces, extreme weather conditions, and elevated physical pressures. The hardships shape the individual’s behavior by making it more resistant and patient (Araujo, Ripoll & Raab 2009). The athlete similarly benefits physically by practicing in the rough terrain. The highland environment affects the individual’s behavior that in turn influences cognitive resistance allowing elevated physical performance. The athlete gets to exceed his physical limitation by integrating mental resistance.

Similarly, Johnson’s study involves research that seeks to map out the decision-making processes that take place within the world of sports. Johnson (2006) acknowledges the increased importance of cognitive modeling in the world in recent years. Psychologists have applied this concept within many fields, with some taking a keen interest in the process of decision-making within human activities such as sports (Durso & Nickerson 2007; Sattelmair & Ratey 2008). Johnson (2006) adds that this increased importance has been the result of the success that cognitive modeling has had in other fields such as education. Based on this, he surmises that cognitive modeling can effectively apply within the field of sport but only if experts select the right methods based on efficiency.

Ross (2007) also carried out a study that considered the value of cognition within the field of sports. Ross (2007) based his study on the premise that physical education, carried out in the right way can have a positive influence on the cognitive development of children. Ross (2007) particularly sought to debunk the myth that classes such as physical education did not help the mental development of children, one that has led to their decline and the subsequent increase in conditions such obesity. The results of this study established that sports do increase the levels of cognition within children, an issue that other researchers have affirmed (Keeley & Fox 2009; Hillman, Erickson & Kramer 2009).The study emphasized the use of sports that do not just instill a blueprint of situational reactions within children. Instead, it proposed the use of activities that engage the children’s critical thinking and problem solving skills so that they can make decisions better. As such, the study conclusively demonstrated a valuable link between cognition and sports; one that helped sportspeople make better decisions on the field.

Purpose of the Study

Based on this review of the literature, this study will investigate how cognition affects the performance of sportspeople when they are engaged in a sporting activity. The study will specifically attempt to establish whether there is a positive correlation between cognition (as indicated by the sportsperson’s level of education) and their decision-making abilities as demonstrated by the participant’s performance in the field. While many studies have looked into the way that sporting activities improve a person’s cognition, this paper will assume a different perspective and use the two variables to investigate whether cognitive development can lead to an increase in a person’s performance in the field.


The study involved a sample of fifty participants aged between twenty-four and twenty-five years old. These participants are all avid sportspeople who have already completed their post-graduate studies. This means that they are all within the same academic level. The study will only use non-professional sportspeople to ensure that the natural sporting abilities of the participants do not have a large impact on the results. The fifty participants selected will encompass equal numbers of males and females to ensure that the results accurately reflect the issue as it affects both genders. To collect information from the participants, the study will use questionnaires that the participants will fill out at their own pace. These questionnaires will contain different types of questions including open-ended queries that will help create a narrative in the analysis. The queries in the questionnaires will focus on the participants sporting abilities and their education. Using these questions, the study will then analyze how much the education of the participants and their cognitive development have affected their sporting abilities.


The results of the study indicated that the participants’ sporting abilities generally improved, as they grew older. All of the participants involved in the study played their respective sports until they were in college. Three of them stopped playing when they were in their final years, while an additional ten ceased in the years after completing college. For all of the participants involved in the study, their ability to play generally improved as they grew older and gained more experienced. Twelve of the participants involved in the study attributed this development to their increasing maturity. One of the participants, a twenty-six year old Asian male explained, “I was much better player during my college years, but I think it was because I was faster and stronger”. Other respondents relayed similar sentiments saying that their sporting improvements were mainly the result of their growing physicality. Nine of the participants were unwilling to attribute their growth as players to either their physical development or education. Most of these respondents stated that they could not see any significant improvement on their part as players and they remained on the same level as their peers. For these respondents, talent and innate ability was the reason why some people became better than others were. While not attributing their growth to their maturity, seventeen participants specifically rejected the idea of their education making them better players. For them, the ability to think critically and solve problems did not make them better players. The remaining respondents (twelve) were the only ones who believed that their progressive education made them better players. One of these participants, a twenty-five-year-old Caucasian male replied, “I think I became a better player after high school because I was smarter. It made me capable of reading my opponent’s next move and know what to do next”.


Based on the findings of the study, there appears to be no clear positive correlation between cognitive development and education and sporting ability. This study attempted to establish a positive correlation between cognitive development and sporting ability by using the participant’s educational levels as measures for their cognition. Research has shown that as a person continues to go through school, they undergo cognitive development that improves their critical thinking and problems solving skills (Durso & Nickerson 2007; Felfe, Lechner & Steinmayer 2011). Accordingly, the study attempted to use the educational levels of participants to highlight their cognitive development and show how it affected their sporting abilities. Only twelve respondents reported a positive link between the two indicates that this link is not as obvious as it seems. This contrasts with the findings of Woodman and Hardy (2004), who found cognitive development to have a positive correlation with sports performance. Another study investigating the same issue found that cognitive development did have a positive impact on sports performance in men and women, but that impact was more apparent in males than it was in females (Myer et al. 2013). It is worth noting that a large number of studies have looked at the correlation between cognition and sports performance from a different perspective investigating the impact of the former on the latter. With this regard, various studies have found a positive correlation between increased cognitive abilities and sporting activities in children, adults and elderly people (Tomporowski et al. 2008; Bherer, Erickson & Liu-Ambrose 2013). Other studies have shown that cognitive abilities and motor function share an intrinsic link in players (Bhoutros et al. 2013). The difference between the findings of this study and others is likely to have been the result of the qualitative nature of the research, as the results relied mostly on the perceptions of the respondents. A strength of this study is that it used the participants’ perceptions to estimate their sporting development and this may have helped it gain a unique perspective. However, the nature of the study meant that the findings may have been affected by the participants’ own innate sporting abilities and perceptions of their self-worth.


The link between sports and cognition is one that many researchers have investigated in the past. However, most studies from the past look into the way that sports influence cognitive development. This paper takes a unique perspective and tries to determine the impact of cognitive development on sports performance. Using the participants own views, the study finds that there is no clear positive correlation between cognitive development (as indicated by education) and sports. The lack of clarity on the issue as well as the low sample used in the study suggests that there is a need to delve further into this issue and gain more clarity on it.



Araujo, D., Davids, K.W. & Rocha, L 2010, The ecological dynamics of decision-making  sailing In: Renshaw, I, Davids, K.W. & Savelsbergh G.J.P. eds. Motor learning in practice: A constraints-led approach. London, Routledge, pp. 131-143.

Araujo, D Ripoll, H & Raab, M 2009, Perspectives on cognition and action in sport. New York, Nova Science.

Bherer, L Erickson, K I & Liu-Ambrose, T 2013, A review of the effects of physical activity and exercise on cognitive and brain functions in older adults. Journal of Aging Research, 2013, August, pp. 33-41.

Boutros, N Norcia, M C Sammouda, J, Tran, C L Pearson, I & Gagnon, I 2013, Effects of exercise on symptoms, cognitive and motor performance tasks using the sport concussion assessment tool (SCAT2) in young adults and children. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(5), pp. 34-47.

Durso, F T, & Nickerson, R S 2007, Handbook of applied cognition. Hoboken, Wiley

Felfe, C, Lechner, M & Steinmayer, A 2011, Sports and child development. Discussion Paper 6105. Bonn, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

Hillman, C H, Erickson, K I & Kramer, A F 2008 Be smart, exercise your heart: Exercise effects on brain and cognition, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9 January, pp. 58-65.

Johnson, J G 2006, Cognitive modeling of decision making in sports, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7 May, pp. 631-62.

Keeley, T J H  & Fox, K R 2009, The impact of physical activity and fitness on academic achievement and cognitive performance in children, International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2(2) September, pp. 198-214.

Myer, G D, Kushner, A M Faigenbaum, A D Kiefer, A, Kashikar-Zuck, S & Clark J F 2013, Training the developing brain: Cognitive development considerations for training youth, Current Sports Medicine Reports, 12(5) September -October, pp. 304-310

Ross, D 2011, Activating bodies of knowledge: Improvisation, cognition and sports education, Critical Studies in Improvisation [internet], 7(2), March. Available from <> [Accessed 13 November 2014].

Sattelmair, J & Ratey, J J 2009, Physically active play and cognition, American Journal of Play Winter, pp. 366-374.

Taylor, L M 2005, Introducing cognitive development. New York, Psychology Press.

Tomporowski, P D, Davis, C L, Miller, P H & Naglieri, J A 2008, Exercise and children’s intelligence, cognition and academic achievement, Educational Psychology Review, 20(2) June, pp. 111-131.

Woodman, T & Hardy, L 2004, The relative impact of cognitive anxiety and self-confidence upon sport performance: A meta-analysis, Journal of Sports Sciences, 21 March, pp. 443-457.

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