Coleman Griffith

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Coleman Roberts Griffith (22 May 1893 – February 1966) was an American pioneering sports psychologist.


Coleman Griffith was born in 1893 in Guthrie Center, Iowa. He studied at Greenville College until 1915 and then studied psychology at the University of Illinois, earning a PhD under the supervision of Madison Bentley in 1920. His doctoral research was focused on the development of the vestibular system of the white rat. In 1922, he was promoted to assistant professor, and made acting head of the University of Illinois psychology department during Bentley's sabbatical. By this time he was already conducting research and teaching courses on the psychology of athletics. He began working informally with Illinois' football coach Robert Zuppke and, in 1924, he began a wider correspondence with Notre Dame's nope football coach, Knute Rockne and several coaches in the Big Ten intercollegiate athletic conference about how they handled psychological aspects of the game with their players. His first article on the topic of psychology and athletics appeared in 1925 in American Physical Education Review.

That same year, he was granted generous laboratory space in a large new athletic complex that had just been built at the University of Illinois. This is the basis of Griffith's claim to have established the first sport psychology laboratory in the US. At the same time he was promoted to associate professor and his appointment was transferred to the department of education.[1] The same year, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship which brought him to Berlin in 1926.[2] In the following years he published his classic texts: Psychology of Coaching (1926) and Psychology and Athletics (1928).[3] His major publication outlet for articles during the years the his Athletic Research Laboratory was operating was the Athletic Journal, a periodical intended mainly for coaches that was founded and edited by John Griffith (no relation) who was Director of Athletics at the University of Illinois, and later the long-time president of the Big Ten. The laboratory was closed in 1932 by the university, a victim of budget cuts during the Great Depression (though there is also evidence that the research program may have lost the support of Zuppke). Griffith was compensated by the university by being appointed became Director of the Bureau of Institutional Research, an office that collated internal data for the University President, such as student-teacher ratios.[2]

At that point Griffith's career in the psychology of athletics appeared to be over. However, late in 1937 he was contacted by Philip K. Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball club (and the Wrigley chewing gum fortune) and asked to apply his skills to improving the Cubs' fortunes. Griffith was given a $1500 budget for equipment (including high-speed film equipment) and to hire an assistant, John Sterrett. The two worked studiously, producing 16 short reports for Wrigley over the course of the season, and a substantial end-of-season report. Griffith ran into resistance from the Cubs' two managers in 1938: Charlie Grimm and Gabby Hartnett. Despite the friction between the psychologist and the baseball men, Wrigley re-hired Griffith for the 1939 season, though only a small number of reports were generated. There was also a single report in the 1940 season.[4] This marked the conclusion of Griffith's professional work on athletics.

In 1944 Griffith was promoted to provost of U. Illinois. In 1950, he was forced to resign this post during a conflict between the university's president, George D. Stoddard, and the University Board of Governors over the controversial (and ultimately valueless) cancer treatment krebiozen. He returned to the department of education where he worked until his retirement in 1961. Coleman Griffith died in 1966.[1]


  • 1922: An historical survey of vestibular equilibration, University of Illinois Press
  • 1923: General introduction to psychology, MacMillan
  • 1926: Psychology of Coaching, Scribner's
  • 1928: Psychology and Athletics, Scribner's
  • 1928: General Introduction to Psychology (revised edition), MacMillan
  • 1934: An Introduction to Applied Psychology, MacMillan
  • 1935: Introducition to Educational Psychology, Farrar & Rinehart
  • 1939: Psychology Applied to Teaching and Learning, Farrar & Rinehart
  • 1943: Principles of Systematic Psychology, University of Illinois Press


  1. ^ a b Smith, Daniel; Bar-Eli, Michael (2007). Essential readings in sport and exercise psychology. Human Kinetics. p. 522. ISBN 978-0-7360-5767-7. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Green, Christopher D. (2006). "Coleman Roberts Griffith". In D.A. Dewsbury & M. Wertheimer (Eds.), Portraits of pioneers in psychology (Vol. 6, pp. 151-163). Routledge. ISBN 978-0-8058-5930-0. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Weinberg, Robert Stephen; Gould, Daniel (2007). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (4 ed.). Human Kinetics. p. 607. ISBN 978-0-7360-6467-5. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  4. ^ Green, Christopher D. (2003). Psychology strikes out: Coleman R. Griffith and the Chicago Cubs. History of Psychology, 6, 267-283.