Ethical Security Solutions

Performance and Sports Psychology in Security Practice

What can the security industry learn from Sports Psychology

War, combat, sports, and security is as old as history itself, and in some cases, they overlap. This overlap for example of work and play can be seen when countries play "war games". Both the USA and Europe through, NATO perform "war games" to test each member state's military personnel readiness for combat or all-out war. Even the term "war games" has the element of the word "games" in it. The goal is to exhibit the skill, strategy and mental fortitude to defeat the "enemy".

What can security managers learn from the psychology of sports? Or in this case, the psychological need to play, have a game, compete in sports or start and stick with and exercise? (And I do not mean physical exercise here but ongoing security expertise to develop a security culture). Can security managers motivate employees to exhibit proper security practices in their organizations to secure the property, people, information, or data? 

How can security managers utilize sports psychology as a means of encouraging an ongoing security culture in the workplace? What is sports psychology you may ask?  Below are the two definitions of sports and exercise psychology. For the sake of time and space, I am using them interchangeably in the context of mental and psychological benefits towards building a security culture in an organization.

American Psychological Associations definitions of sports psychology and exercise psychology
"Sport psychology is a proficiency that uses psychological knowledge and skills to address the optimal performance and well-being of athletes, developmental, and social aspects of sports participation and systemic issues associated with sports settings and organizations" (American Psychological Association, 2008).

What Is Exercise Psychology and Sport Psychology?
Exercise psychology and sports psychology involve the scientific study of the psychological factors that are associated with participation and performance in sport, exercise, and other types of physical activity. Sport psychologists are interested in two main areas: (a) helping athletes use psychological principles to achieve optimal mental health and to improve performance (performance enhancement) and (b) understanding how participation in sport, exercise, and physical activity affects an individual's psychological development, health, and well-being throughout the lifespan (American Psychological Association, 2011).

At times, security managers complain that employees have a hard time or outright ignore security policy to keep the organization running securely. Many security managers come up with new policy solutions, new techniques, implement new software policy, etc, etc, but are still coming up short in establishing a long term security mindset needed to keep employees engaged in security and not have them lose interest.

While many security managers are awesome when it comes to security policy, running training programs, and even teaching the need to be secure, they at times miss the psychological aspect of the human that is needed to keep the employees engaged.

For security managers to have success in keeping people interested and engaged, they must not only understand their mental, emotional psychological state but also understand human psychology to a degree to understand why security practices are being or not being implemented by people.

What keeps people engaged in the security mindset? Do they have confidence in themselves? Do they trust the security manager? Or, are they in a complacent mindset that nothing has happened in the past, so they doubt that anything significant will happen in the future? Many employees lose the security mindset due to complacency, boredom, or at times they simply do not trust the security manager and start to put up a mental wall and reject pretty much everything that is being asked of them by the security managers regarding security policy practices. And this lack of action by the employee leads not only to a frustrated security manager but also a frustrated employee as both engage in a tug of war of egos and emotions.

How might security managers overcome this tug of war of emotions and egos by understanding human nature? Well, sports and exercise psychology may provide some solutions to those security managers that are interested in human behavioral psychology as a way to get cooperation and work towards the same goals. With human behavior in mind, let us take a trip back to how human behavior is molded and developed through human behavioral development from childhood.

Human psychology at "play"

Humans are curious, and in one form or another love to compete with each other, be it in play, games, sports, or exercise where most people fall into one of these activity categories. And as we grow from childhood into adulthood we develop our skills of walking, running, hitting balls, balancing, speed, and power through playing, games, sports, and exercise.

As we grow into adulthood and reach adulthood, our activities may change, but skill development and fitness continue to grow. As adults many of us still play, we still get involved with games, some may even continue or start being part of sports to compete, and many just simply exercise to keep fit both mentally, physically, and to stay healthy.

The definitions of the 4 phases of activity are play, game, sport, and exercise

This mode of activity is typically used for having fun, enjoyment, and doesn't always have to have a target goal. This activity mode also reduces anxiety, excess energy, and lets the individual practice a set of skills (Shaw et al., 2005).

This mode is typically for having a playful competition, and the outcome of this mode is to develop or exhibit skill and strategy. In this mode, rules are not so important than for example in the games mode (Shaw et al., 2005).

This model is structured and institutionalized. This mode is typically organized with teams, sponsors, coaches, referees, and leaders. It can also involve technical equipment such as safety, clothing, and training halls (Shaw et al., 2005).

This mode is typically thought of as a way to develop a level of health and fitness. exercise, unlike sports, is that there is no competition and is typically non-institutionalized.

Psychological context
All of these modes are explored from a sports psychology context and the behaviors that are involved in the inner workings of people in a way of mental phenomena. The human inner behavior falls into two categories, feeling and thinking. So we can say that the psychological aspect here is the scientific study of behavior, feelings, and thoughts (Shaw et al., 2005) generated by people in the above-listed modes.                             


Employing play, game, sport, and exercise in developing a security culture using sports and exercise psychology, can help the security manager to use out of the box thinking, as well as using methods that have been tested and researched to work with athletes and people trying to get into shape.

Employing these concepts can also assist in reducing stress and anxiety through confidence-building methods.

Employing play
you have to make the security activity fun, and this can most of the time be employed by play. Play mode sets into motion a thinking mode that this will be a fun activity. The play activity will be enjoyable, pleasurable, and can be spontaneous (Shaw et al., 2005). When employing the play mode of security psychology, we must keep in mind that this is not the time for competition, this is the time to relax and entertain, and use the newly learned skills as a way to release stress and anxiety.

Employing game
In this mode, it is now time to do a bit of friendly competition. In this mode, the goal will be to test or determine the physical skill sets, strategy skill sets of the players (Shaw et al., 2005). In this mode, you will have to make up some ground rules as well as what will determine the winners and losers as well as what the prizes may be.

Employing Sports
OK, so now that you have understood the game mode it is no time to step it up a notch, and for those that are willing, it is time for the sports mode. In the sports mode, an institutionalized model has to now be employees such as teams, area to exhibit the skills, much more stringent rules, and regulations, team captions, rituals, rewards, trainers, coaches, and so on (Shaw et al., 2005).
However, remember that the main feature of the sports model is its physical dimension (Shaw et al., 2005) and that some people are not going to want to participate in the sports aspect of it due to reasons of their own such as being non-competitive, fear of embarrassment, low self-esteem, fear of losing and so on. The organizer of these in a company or organizational events must consider these factors and counsel these people to gain progress.

Exercise mode
The exercise mode is typically an ongoing process that goes beyond games, sports, and play. The exercise mode is typically thought of as an ongoing process to gain better health and fitness (Shaw et al., 2005). In the exercise mode unlike the sports mode, there is no competition involved, there are no winners or losers (Shaw et al., 2005). In the exercise mode, a person can simply do it to keep up their newly learned skills or the skill sets that they have already acquired years back. And so in the spirit of fitness they typically continue this activity as an exercise to keep their physical, mental and wits engaged and sharp. It is the exercise mode that is typically a sought after goal by organizational leaders. the person in an exercise mode is doing it mainly for intrinsic value and sees the benefits of continually being engaged in the activity both for psychological rewards as well as physical rewards. The exercise mode mentality is what we seek to gain and this is the overall goal in security psychology.

Let's get ready for action!! 

How may an individual or corporation use these 4 modes to build a proper security psychology mindset, leading to proper and effective awareness assessment and action? The goal of using sport psychology concepts in this post is not to give you an exact technique or method that you must use, nor a crop and paste format nor a step one to ten application. The goal here is simply for you to think differently and expand your base by exploring methods you can employ by building off the sports psychology model which has already been researched, evaluated, and tested for effectiveness. 

So the goal here is to give you a different way of thinking about security in hopes that you and your organization can build on these sport psychology concepts to change behavior. Most importantly, to get you to use your imagination to construct long-lasting behavior changing activities through behavioral psychology as forethought, and not as an afterthought. Think, evaluate, use your imagination, and build using sport psychology concepts.

Due to the vast needs and differences of companies out there, it would be very difficult if not impossible to give a one size fits all solution to employees for all organizations, every organization has different needs, different work culture and so on. However, all organizations employ humans as their primary workforce, and so the task becomes a lot more simplified because of human psychology and behavioral techniques that can be employed to promote a secure environment by the above mode of sport psychology concepts. 

Technology changes as it typically does, but human behavior as complex as it maybe is still more workable and simpler with a degree of predictability. I am not saying that human psychology is a simple matter, but what I am saying is that humans in this context, from childhood to adulthood like to play, have friendly games, join sports, and commit to exercise in one form or another.

Human psychology is a lot more predictable and manageable for the overall goal of promoting a security mentality as well as a security culture in the long run. Exercise programs that stimulate the thinking process to activate the proper security mentality will reduce anxiety and must be a lifelong choice.

What can security managers learn from sports psychology in the context of mental health for employees that have anxiety and stress when it comes to keeping up their role in keeping a security mindset? A lot! It is not always easy to keep up with the constant bombardment of security threats, security responses, and changing security policy. It is hard enough at times to just simply do your job, and now, to have this extra burden of keeping up security can produce anxiety by being overwhelmed.

Over the last decade, there has been a vast amount of literature written on the subject of mental health promotion in exercise by sports psychologists, neurosciences, pharmacologists, psychophysiologists, and physiologists. A broad range of support can be found on exercise benefits. This exercise is of course not limited to physical exercises such as boxing, golf, running, biking but also activities such as chess and other sports that are generally associated with mind use only (sports psychology concepts themes).

From sport psychology, we can learn that the more a person is comfortable and exhibits a degree of competence with activities will result in less anxiety and stress when it comes to keeping up with the learned skills.

Developing a coach-athlete relationship

Shamuel kohen. Bomb Threat Awareness for organizations
Relationship and trust. Security managers and the team must develop a 2-way relationship. Like a coach or athlete.
Without getting in too deep into the security managers as a coach, we must understand that security managers are a type of coach. Coaching, guiding, explaining, and at times enforcing operational and policy practice. So, within this context security managers take on a sort of coach position.

And like with all coaches and athletes, there must be trust. If employees do not trust your advice, training methods, and reasons for living up to the security culture standards as well as employing some form of training, security compliance will be ignored or in some cases outside the mandatory compliance, they will largely ignore what is being taught or employed.

According to (Moore & Tschannen-Moran, 2015), people have a basic need to belong and try to maintain a strong bond of lasting personal attachments; people seek a healthy positive relationship with each other. And through this need, most people seek to do their best at what they do as a way to be part of the group in play, games, and sport.

When people seek out coaches, in this case, the security manager, an important factor that people sought out in a coach was empathy, someone who inspires confidence, competency as well as being in a positive mindset, not to mention that the coach must have the ability and knowledge to understand the client's point of view as well as values (Moore & Tschannen-Moran, 2015).

So without going deeply into the coaches job, my point was to just point some basic information regarding the coach and I encourage security managers to study out the topic of being a good coach and supplement their knowledge base regarding the topic of sports coaching and hopefully gain a deeper insight into the psychology and behavior of not only themselves but the people that they are trying to guide into a security culture mindset.

So what is the goal of all this sports psychology application into the security mindset? Well, we can say it is to build a healthy habit, a way of thinking, and a lifestyle built on behavioral change through natural human behaviors such as play, games, sports, and exercise. People as well as animals, love to play, and love to be challenged with interaction, stimulation as well as some form of reward. By introducing and understanding the 4 modes of the sport psychology listed earlier, we can tap into the natural human instinct to build skills and competencies that further produce a feeling of know-how and self-confidence to reduce boredom, anxiety, and stress. Confidence in one's ability can lead to a desired security policy implementation, outcome, and security-oriented culture. 

By Shamuel Kohen


American Psychological Association. (2011). What is exercise psychology and sports psychology?

American Psychological Association. (2008). Sport psychology.

Breslin, G. (2016). Sport and exercise psychology: Practitioner case studies. John Wiley & Sons. 

Moore, M., & Tschannen-Moran, B. (2015). Coaching psychology manual. LWW. 

Shaw, D., Gorely, T., & Corban, R. (2005). Sport and exercise psychology. Garland Science. 

All material and pictures are copyright Shamuel Kohen