Social Influences In Sport Psychology

The aim of this lesson is to understand the effect our social environment and experiences have on our performance (Equivalent to UK A Level Physical Education)


Watching others, family, peers, and role models and learning from their behaviour and experiences affects the way we perform and behave on a daily basis. This learning of accepted behaviours, values, rights, and wrongs when we are children is known as socialisation. Physical education plays an important role in socialisation at a young age.

In P. E. demonstration and observation of others performing a skill is a vital way of learning. It has been shown that an individual’s performance will improve most when the demonstration is from a skilled superior, such as a teacher or coach. However, demonstrations from unskilled peers also are often effective.

In 1961 Albert Bandura came up with seven points that must be considered when using models and demonstrations for young people. These are:

  1. Appropriate behaviour in-line with social norms is more likely to be copied
  2. Behaviour is imitated if it is thought to be relevant to the individual
  3. The more similar the demonstrator is to the individual, the more likely they are to imitate their actions
  4. Teachers and coaches who are encouraging and approachable are more likely to be imitated
  5. Powerful role models, such as professional sportspeople and celebrities are more likely to be copied
  6. Young people are more likely to imitate the behaviour of models whose behaviour is condoned by their superiors (parents/teachers etc)
  7. Consistent behaviour is more likely to be copied

Bandura progressed further with this theory to develop a model to show the effect of demonstration on the learning of skills:

Effect of Spectators

The effect of having others present during performers can be either positive or negative. Performers can suffer from evaluation apprehension, which increases arousal levels which in turn increases heart rate and causes other detrimental effects. This is linked to Hull’s drive theory. The following relates to how this increased arousal can affect performance:

  • The presence of an audience increases arousal
  • Increases in arousal will trigger the dominant response
  • If a skill is well-learned then the response will be correct
  • If the skill is new or poorly learned the response will be incorrect

There is also the question of whether a ‘home’ crowd affects performance. For some individuals, a home crowd is an advantage due to the friendly encouragement. For others, a home crowd usually includes family and friends and this thought increases the level of evaluation apprehension. The response of an athlete to a crowd may well relate to his personality type. Type A personalities do not like to be judged!

The negative effects of this social facilitation can be dealt with using the following tips:

  • Relaxation techniques
  • Imagery
  • Explanation and understanding of the way in which audiences can affect individuals
  • Encouragement and support from team members
  • New skills should be taught in a non-evaluative way

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