William P. Morgan, emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin, was the first president and a catalyst for the inception of Div. 47 of APA. This excerpt of a presidential address provides a historical perspective on the development of the division.

Aug. 24, 1986 can be viewed as a key date in the history of North American Sport Psychology. On this date at the APA Council of Representatives Meeting in Washington, D.C., the Council voted to support "Item 25" — the proposal to form a "Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology" without a single statement of opposition. Thus, came Division 47 to APA! What started as an interest group of 25 or 30 individuals has become a division with over 700 members and student affiliates.

The Exercise and Sport Psychology Interest Group was formed during the Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association held in Washington, D.C., in 1983. During the subsequent three year period a steering committee was formed; bylaws were developed; several hundred members of APA became affiliated with the interest group; over 500 members and fellows of APA signed a petition supporting the formation of a Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology; a newsletter was published; and symposia dealing with sport psychology topics were offered at the APA Convention through cooperation with Divisions 1, 13 and 38. The focus of professionals and students in this field of specialization is quite diverse, and scientific inquiry, as well as clinical applications, have historically cut across the interest of many existing divisions. Individuals working in this area come from sub-specialties within psychology such as developmental, educational, clinical, counseling, industrial, comparative, physiological, social, personality, hypnosis, motivation, human factors, ergonomics and health psychology. 

Although professionals and students in this area represent numerous specialties within psychology, they are bonded together by a common interest in sport and exercise. In other words, sport and exercise were the unifying forces in the development of this division. Some individuals are concerned with research issues and applications involving competitive athletics, and some even restrict their attention to elite athletes who perform at the national and international levels. However, an equal number focus on the study and application of exercise and sport in noncompetitive settings. These individuals, for example, study exercise and sport from the perspective of motor development and motor learning; compliance recidivism; the aging process; prevention of various psychic and somatic disorders; personality structure and high-risk occupations (e.g., firefighters) and recreational pursuits (e.g., scuba and sky diving); and cellular adaptations at both the peripheral and central levels.”

As years have passed, Division 47 has continued to provide leadership through APA in clarifying the role of the exercise and sport psychology professionals, supporting the development of professionals by linking scientific advances to professional practice, and supporting student participation and development. Our two-decades old division now maintains a website and list serve that facilitate the achievement of the division’s goals and enhances communication among the division’s constituents. In addition, the division publishes a triannual newsletter for professionals and students interested in exercise and sport psychology. The division celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2011.

Furthermore, the division has continued to provide excellent programming, often in cooperation with other divisions, at national APA conventions, and the division has joined with APA’s Running Psychologists “to promote well-being and physical fitness among psychologists and in the community at large. The division’s conference program now includes the Steven R. Heyman Memorial Lecture. Steven was a former president of Division 47 and leading figure in the development of science and practice in exercise and sport psychology. Finally, the division promotes an annual sport psychology Give-away-athon, the brainchild of Judy VanRaalte, a former Division 47 president. This program matches up willing sport psychology service providers who give away exercise and sport psychology services to local recipients in conjunction with the annual APA conference.

These brochures have provided direction for students, professionals and potential clients. Most importantly, the professional practice has been enhanced by the development and APA approval of a Proficiency in Sport Psychology. This document assists “the general public in recognizing the appropriate services and skills of psychologists who describe themselves as ‘sport psychologists’ and assists psychologists in recognizing and understanding the knowledge and skills considered appropriate for psychologists practicing in this particular area of expertise.” The designation as an APA proficiency recognizes the specialization in exercise and sport psychology as a postgraduate specialization.

A final development in the history of Division 47 has been the promotion of our membership through the Division’s awards program; the APA Division 47 Dissertation Award, the Distinguished Contributions to Exercise and Sport Psychology in the Public Interest, the Distinguished Contributions to Education and Training in Exercise and Sport Psychology, the Bruce Ogilvie Award for Professional Practice and the Distinguished Contributions of Science and Research in Exercise and Sport Psychology. Finally, the Division has supported outstanding contributions to exercise and sport psychology through the honor of being nominated and awarded fellow status in the APA (41 Division members have been awarded APA fellow status).

As a division we have made tremendous progress. Clearly, we have established a communication and support network for the future of scientific evidence based professional practice in exercise and sport psychology.