20 Best Sports Psychology Books for Motivating Athletes

Sports Psychology BooksWhile some athletes break through under pressure, performing at their very best, others falter, never realizing their potential (Mack & Casstevens, 2001).

Mental toughness, resilience, self-confidence, and the right mindset are all factors in moderating the effects of stress while providing the drive for sportspeople to perform at their best (Sheard, 2013).

Sports psychology offers a way into the zone. This well-researched discipline provides teaching and tools for athletes to know themselves better and develop the mental skills needed to perform consistently.

This article suggests some of the best books available to understand sports psychology as a profession and how it can help individual and team performance in sports.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

20 Best Books for Motivating Athletes

Sports psychology books can inspire and offer new insights, whether written with an academic, athlete, coach, or interested reader in mind.

Furthermore, the research and learnings associated with sports are highly transferable to other areas of life, particularly business, education, and any field of expertise requiring focus and discipline.

The following books approach the fascinating and expanding area of sports psychology from many different angles. Also, they offer a way of understanding what it takes, mentally, to maximize personal performance.

 

1. Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success – Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

Peak Performance

Written by Brad Stulberg, former business consultant, and Steve Magness, a performance scientist and coach of world-class athletes, this book is fast paced, honing in on what is needed to perform as an athlete, intellectual, or artist.

Filled with inspiring stories and psychological and scientific insights, the narrative is engaging and helpful in understanding the nature and mechanisms of peak performance.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

2. Endurance Performance in Sport: Psychological Theory and Interventions – Carla Meijen

Endurance Performance

This book is the perfect companion text for athletes, coaches, and academics who require a thorough grounding in the psychology of endurance performance.

Carla Meijen’s book provides a deep-dive into the theories and concepts behind emotions, attentional focus, self-efficacy, and beyond, and their relevance to the endurance athlete.

Each chapter offers tools and techniques to help overcome the mental and physical challenges associated with endurance sports.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

3. Mental Toughness: The Mindset Behind Sporting Achievement – Michael Sheard

Mental Toughness

While academics and athletes widely use the term ‘mental toughness,’ it is often poorly understood.

Michael Sheard’s hugely valuable book examines what it means to be mentally tough (its characteristics and development) and how it can be developed through psychological skill training.

As Sheard (2013) writes, “sporting events are often won and lost between the ears.” A disciplined mindset can differentiate between being good and great at something, with ultimately the mentally strong prevailing.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

4. Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence – Gary Mack and David Casstevens

Mind Gym

Sports psychology consultant Gary Mack explores the impact of the mind on athletic performance and the potential to build “mental muscle.”

He introduces the idea that pressure is highly effective at making you perform significantly better or worse and that only through the right mindset can you achieve the former.

The book contains many inspirational quotes along with 40 accessible lessons to improve the performance of sportspeople at all levels.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

5. The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive – Jim Afremow

Champion Mind

Jim Afremow’s book hopes to take your game to the next level. While recognizing that raw talent is not always sufficient to become the best, he provides practical and powerful techniques for maximizing potential.

Lessons include how to get and remain in the zone, function as part of a team, sustain excellence long term, and excel in the sporting arena and beyond.

While a strong commitment to success is crucial, Afremow also recognizes the importance of all-around mental fitness.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

6. Pure Sport: Practical Sport Psychology – John Kremer and Aidan P. Moran

Pure Sport

Applied psychologist John Kremer and cognitive psychologist Aidan Moran offer a contemporary view of sports psychology, written in everyday language that should appeal to everyone.

The book contains practical insights for the academic, interested reader, and sportsperson wishing to build a success mindset in sports.

Each chapter covers the central points involved on the field, including mental toughness, motivation, goal setting, reflection, and focusing.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

7. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Mental Toughness – Harvard Business Review

HBR Mental Toughness

This book contains an invaluable collection of articles on mental toughness from many experts in the field.

While the book targets businesspeople wanting to become better or more effective leaders, many of its lessons are taken from the world of elite sporting performance.

This is both a theoretical and a practical book for anyone wishing to gain a clearer understanding of mental toughness and its value in performance gains.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

8. Sport and Exercise Psychology: A Critical Introduction – Aidan Moran

Sport and Exercise

This is an outstanding text that presents a comprehensive roadmap of the topics central to sports psychology. Aidan Moran manages the difficult task of bridging theory and practice to explore how sports are played with the body yet won with the mind.

Building a comprehensive summary of sports psychology’s current state, Moran presents the techniques – visualization, goal setting, expertise, mental imagery, etc. – that can help the individual’s or team’s success.

An interesting read for anyone studying sports psychology or sports science.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

9. Achieve the Impossible – Greg Whyte

Achieve Impossible

Professor Greg Whyte has helped top-level athletes and celebrities undertaking sporting challenges for charities to deliver their best performances.

Whyte’s book clarifies the reality that only through hard work can we overcome the obstacles we face in sports and life, while introducing techniques and a level of understanding to support the tough times ahead.

The book recognizes the limits we sometimes face but teaches that we can overcome them by identifying them and enhancing our body, mind, technology, and environment.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

10. Mind Games – Annie Vernon

Mind Games

This beautifully written and insightful book helps the reader understand the mental aspects of reaching the top in sports.

As a retired Olympic athlete, Annie Vernon is well placed to ask and offer answers regarding why and how to compete at that level.

Chapters dig into the motivation, drive, and confidence needed to be one of the best in a chosen sport.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

11. Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance – Alex Hutchinson

Endure

A high degree of endurance is vital to almost all sports. While traditionally, it has been accepted that the limiting factor is muscular fatigue, new insights suggest many of our constraints are mental.

In this incredibly inspiring book, Alex Hutchinson breaks down some of our incorrect assumptions and shows how it is possible to override our desire to stop.

Entertaining and eye opening, the engaging narrative will change how you think about what it means to be tired.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

12. Developing Mental Toughness: Coaching Strategies to Improve Performance, Resilience and Wellbeing – Doug Strycharczyk and Peter Clough

Developing Mental Toughness

This book remains a favorite because of its easily digestible yet in-depth exploration of the conceptual and practical impacts of mental toughness.

It is a thorough and engaging text describing the theoretical background to mental toughness while introducing a pragmatic set of tools to further its development and benefit performance.

Not limited to sports alone, this book is a useful companion for anyone interested in applying mental toughness to the challenges they face in life.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

13. Handbook of Embodied Cognition and Sport Psychology – Massimiliano L. Cappuccio

Handbook of Embodied Cognition

This book is a heavyweight in sports psychology, both in its physical size and its theoretical content.

In the book’s 26 chapters, editor and cognitive scientist Massimiliano Cappuccio considers the relationship between the mind and body in relation to athletic performance.

This is both an essential and in-depth academic text that shows that athletic skill is a “legitimate form of intelligence” as sophisticated as that found in solving the most complicated mathematical problems.

While not an easy read, the articles within are inspiring in their portrayal of sporting performance as part of an embodied cognitive theory.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

14. Brain Training for Runners: A Revolutionary New Training System to Improve Endurance, Speed, Health, and Results – Matt Fitzgerald

Brain Training

Written in 2007, Matt Fitzgerald’s book remains highly relevant to any amateur or professional athlete wishing to drive their performance to new limits.

Lessons from Fitzgerald include techniques to resist running fatigue, master the art of pacing, and outsmart injuries. While there are detailed training programs for runners, from 5k to marathon distance, the insights into endurance, speed, and health apply to anyone breaking down new individual barriers.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

15. How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over Muscle – Matt Fitzgerald

How bad do you want it

This book is the second in the list from Matt Fitzgerald. In this exciting journey into mastery, Fitzgerald breaks down a dozen crucial races to explain how elite athletes put their mental toughness to good use.

Using the relatively recent psychobiological model of endurance performance, a series of lessons help the reader push back their limits and unlock their full potential.

Not only do we find out the importance of how to brace yourself for a tough race, but also that there is no such thing as “going as fast as you can–only going faster than before” (Fitzgerald, 2015).

Find the book on Amazon.

 

16. Inner Excellence: Train Your Mind for Extraordinary Performance and the Best Possible Life – Jim Murphy

Inner Excellence

In this practical guide for anyone wishing to develop a mindset for success, Jim Murphy offers exercises and techniques to give your life new meaning and develop inner excellence.

Insights include developing self-mastery, overcoming anxiety, removing mental blocks, and training your subconscious mind.

It will not only increase peace and confidence, but also propel performance to a higher level.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

17. The Mamba Mentality: How I Play – Kobe Bryant

Mamba Mentality

Kobe Bryant, the basketball superstar who sadly died in 2020, shares his famous “mamba mentality” with his readers.

Bryant describes how he prepared for every game not just to succeed, but to excel. His engaging writing style is paired with amazing photographs that provide an insight into what it means to be a top-performing athlete and create a mindset to be the best.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

18. Next-Level Coaching: How to Use Sport Psychology to Educate, Motivate, and Improve Student-Athlete Performance – Ben Loeb

Next level coaching

This is a practical, results-driven book that helps implement sports psychology in individual and team sports.

Mental excellence has to do with what you think, how you think, and if you overthink,” says Loeb (2018).

The 75 exercises provide coaches and athletes with tools to reach a new competitive level through building mental toughness, confidence, motivation, and focus.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

19. Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance That Is Revolutionizing Sports – Marc Bubbs

Peak

Marc Bubbs’s book explores the fundamentals of high performance in sports, combining the latest knowledge from psychology, physical training, health, and nutrition.

This is a valuable book because of its more complete approach (integrating psychology and physiology) to performing at an optimal level in sports and overcoming the challenges athletes face.

It is a practical and engaging text for anyone with an interest in sports, but particularly those wishing to take their performance to the next level.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

20. Peak: How All of Us Can Achieve Extraordinary Things – Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Peak all of us

Anders Ericsson is an expert in mastery. He has spent his career understanding what makes a world-class chess player, athlete, violinist, and memory expert.

What he found is that expertise is the same, whatever the domain. As a result, he has distilled thousands of hours of research into a powerful learning technique that we can all use to become our best in sports, education, and business.

Use his teachings to become better at mastering your chosen discipline.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Resources

We have many tools and worksheets that will help you develop self-confidence, self-belief, motivation, and focus inside and outside sports:

  • Catch Yourself Being Great
    We are not always good at recognizing and rewarding ourselves for our achievements. Use this worksheet to capture what you have done well.

  • Strengths in Challenging Times Worksheet
    This worksheet shows you how essential it is to recognize and use your strengths in tough times.

  • Self-Directed Speech Worksheet
    Identify the behavior you would like to change and the words and phrases that will motivate you by using this self-directed speech worksheet.

  • From Inner Critic to Inner Coach Meditation
    It can be valuable and helpful to respond to ourselves with compassion and care rather than criticism. This tool will help you move from inner critic to inner coach.

  • A Personal Coping Mantra
    How we think changes how we feel. Establishing personal coping mantras can be valuable in future moments of distress.

  • Consulting the Future Self When Making Choices
    Decisions that consider your future self rather than just your present needs can lead to making better choices.

  • 17 Motivation & Goal-Achievement Exercises
    If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, this collection contains 17 validated motivation & goals-achievement tools for practitioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques.

 

A Take-Home Message

An athlete’s success results from several interrelated factors: psychological, physical, technical, and tactical (Liew, Kuan, Chin, & Hashim, 2019). All of which can be modified and developed to support their growth and ability to perform.

However, it is increasingly clear that the psychological element determines the winner and loser in elite sporting competitions, where athletes have a similar degree of fitness and access to premium equipment (Brewer, 2009).

While mental toughness is frequently called out as one of the most important psychological characteristics in sports, other factors, including coping skills, optimism, resilience, self-belief, and self-confidence, are related and impact success (Liew et al., 2019).

The books within this article offer differing insights, favoring the academic, coach, or athlete, yet they all recognize the importance of mental fitness to performance.

Select several of the books to broaden your understanding of this fascinating and continually evolving field, and employ some of the techniques described in your own or your clients’ sports endeavors.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.

  • Afremow, J. (2015). The champion’s mind: How great athletes think, train, and thrive. Rodale Books.
  • Brewer, B. W. (2009). Handbook of sports medicine and science, sport psychology. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Bryant, K. (2018). The mamba mentality: How I play. MCD.
  • Bubbs, M. (2019). Peak: The new science of athletic performance that is revolutionizing sports. Chelsea Green.
  • Cappuccio, M. L. (Ed.). (2019). Handbook of embodied cognition and sport psychology. MIT Press.
  • Ericsson, A., & Pool, R. (2017). Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things. Vintage.
  • Fitzgerald, M. (2007). Brain training for runners: A revolutionary new training system to improve endurance, speed, health, and results. Berkley.
  • Fitzgerald, M. (2015). How bad do you want it? Mastering the psychology of mind over muscle. VeloPress.
  • Harvard Business Review. (2018). HBR’s 10 must reads on mental toughness. Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Hutchinson, A. (2021). Endure: Mind, body, and the curiously elastic limits of human performance (rev. ed.). Custom House.
  • Kremer, J., & Moran, A. P. (2013). Pure sport: Practical sport psychology (2nd ed.). Routledge.
  • Liew, G. C., Kuan, G., Chin, N. S., & Hashim, H. A. (2019). Mental toughness in sport. German Journal of Exercise and Sport Research, 49(4), 381–394.
  • Loeb, B. (2018). Next-level coaching: How to use sport psychology to educate, motivate, and improve student-athlete performance. River Grove Books.
  • Mack, G., & Casstevens, D. (2001). Mind gym: An athlete’s guide to inner excellence. McGraw-Hill.
  • Meijen, C. (2019). Endurance performance in sport: Psychological theory and interventions. Routledge.
  • Moran, A. (2012). Sport and exercise psychology: A critical introduction (2nd ed.). Routledge.
  • Murphy, J. (2020). Inner excellence: Train your mind for extraordinary performance and the best possible life. Academy of Excellence.
  • Sheard, M. (2013). Mental toughness: The mindset behind sporting achievement. Routledge.
  • Strycharczyk, D., & Clough, P. (2015). Developing mental toughness: Coaching strategies to improve performance, resilience and wellbeing (2nd ed.). Kogan Page.
  • Stulberg, B., & Magness, S. (2017). Peak performance: Elevate your game, avoid burnout, and thrive with the new science of success. Rodale Books.
  • Vernon, A. (2020). Mind games (reprint ed.). Bloomsbury Sport.
  • Whyte, G. (2015). Achieve the impossible. Bantam Press.

About the Author

Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.

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