How to do Research on Sports

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sports research guideHow to do research on sports? To many sports enthusiasts, the echoing crack of the bat or the resounding body slam of an opponent in the ring embodies the true spirit of sports. In reality, there’s more to this popular past time than a few home runs or cracked vertebrae. Sports are the stuff of legends and players of every caliber, of grit, determination, and heart pumping action, of athleticism, psychology, and individual performance, and, more importantly, love and appreciation for the sport itself.

Today, the sports business is a billion-dollar industry and an integral part of American and world culture. Interest in sports has hardly waned from the most watched Super Bowls, to the greatest World Series, to record-breaking accomplishments of sports stars. Yet there is a dark side; widespread controversies about steroid use, long-term contracts ruining the sport, and franchises relocating to other cities when the revenues dry up.

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Whether you love sports, have a difficult research question or a desire to learn more about a particular sport, athlete, or controversial issue, many sources provide information to suit your needs for research paper writing. Among them are almanacs and general reference works, abstract and citation indexes, popular periodicals and journals, and countless print and electronic sources.

The following sources describe the selected references in the above categories to get you started.

Selected Subject Headings

Listed below is a sample of a few broad Library of Congress subject headings—made up of one word or more representing concepts under which all library holdings are divided and subdivided by subject—which you can search under and use as subject terms as well when searching online library catalogs for preliminary and/or additional research, such as books, audio and video recordings, and other references, related to your research paper topic. When researching materials on your topic, subject heading searching may be more productive than searching using simple keywords. However, keyword searching when using the right search method (Boolean, etc.) and combination of words can be equally effective in finding materials more closely relevant to the topic of your research paper.

Suggested Research Topics for Sports

  • Athletics
  • Ball Games
  • Coaching (athletics)
  • College Sports
  • Doping in Sports
  • Games
  • Mass Media and Sports
  • Olympics
  • Outdoor Life
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Professional Sports
  • Recreation Sport
  • Sporting Goods
  • Sports
  • Sports for Women
  • Sports—Administration/Management
  • Sports—History
  • Sports—Medicine
  • Sports—Psychology
  • Television Broadcasting of Sports
  • Violence in Sports

Selected Keyword Search Strategies and Guides

sports research guide 2Most online library indexes and abstracts and full-text article databases offer basic and advanced “keyword” searching of virtually every subject. In this case, combine keyword terms that best define your thesis question or topic using the Boolean search method (employing “and” or “or”) to find research most suitable to your research paper topic.

If your topic is “steroid use in professional sports,” for example, enter “steroids” and “professional sports” with “and” on the same line to locate sources directly compatible with the primary focus of your research paper. To find research on more specific aspects of your topic, from your list of keywords that you developed alternate with one new keyword at a time with “and” in between (for example, “steroids and athletes and professional sports,” “steroids and ban and professional sports,” “steroids and performance and professional sports,” “steroids and suspensions and professional sports,” etc.).

For additional help with keyword searching, navigation or user guides for online indexes and databases by many leading providers—including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, EBSCO, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, Ovid Technologies, ProQuest, and Thomson Gale—are posted with direct links on library Web sites to guides providing specific instruction to using whichever database you want to search. They provide additional guidance on how to customize and maximize your searching, including advanced searching techniques and grouping of words and phrases using the Boolean search method—of your topic, of bibliographic records, and of full-text articles, and other documents related to the subject of your research paper. Many libraries, under the “Help” sections of their Web sites, post their own tutorials on subject and keyword searching, which you can also consult.

Selected Source and Subject Guides

As part of your preliminary research to find appropriate resources for your research paper, information source and research guides are available at most public and academic libraries and are keyword searchable through your library’s online catalog (to search and locate guides, enter your “subject” followed by these keywords one search at a time: “information sources,” “reference sources,” and “research guide”). Printed guides available for this subject area include

Information Sources in Sport and Leisure, edited by Michele Shoebridge, 345 pages (London; New York: Bowker-Saur, 1992)

Sport, Leisure, and Tourism Information Sources: A Guide for Researchers, edited by Martin Scarrott, 267 pages (Oxford and Boston: Butterworth Heinemann, 1999)

Sports, Exercise, and Fitness: A Guide to Reference and Information Sources, by Mary Beth Allen, 287 pages (Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2005)

Sports History: A Guide to Scholarship, the Literature and Sources of Information, by Richard William Cox (London: Frank Cass, 2002)

Women in Sport: A Guide to Information Sources, by Mary L. Remley, 139 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Co., 1980)

In addition to these sources of research, most college and university libraries offer online subject guides arranged by subject on the library’s Web page; others also list searchable course-related “LibGuides” by subject. Each guide lists more recommended published and Web sources—including books and references, journal, newspaper and magazines indexes, full-text article databases, Web sites, and even research tutorials—you can access to expand your research on more specific issues and relevant to your research paper subject.

Selected Books and References


ESPN Sports Almanac 2009, edited by Gerry Brown and Michael Morrison, 976 pages (New York: Ballantine Books, 2008)

Called by its publisher “the most authoritative sports reference book ever published,” this best-selling almanac annually recaps the major sports stories and sports moments of the previous year. Featuring hundreds of photographs and thousands of graphics and tables, it offers year-by-year and sport-by-sport coverage, including facts and statistics, “Top Ten Moments” from each sport, plus essays and analysis by popular ESPN on-air personalities including Tim Kurkjian, Rick Reilly, Bill Simmons, Dick Vitale, and others.

Sports Illustrated 2009 Almanac, by the editors of Sports Illustrated, 576 pages (New York: Time, Inc., Home Entertainment, 2008)

Originally published annually by Little, Brown & Co., from 1992 to 2002 this book provides extensive coverage of the year in sports for 19 major sports, including baseball, football, biathlon, and figure skating. Included is a wealth of statistics, records, and essays by Sports Illustrated writers.


Churchill Livingstone’s Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science and Medicine, 3rd ed., compiled by Michael Kent, 624 pages (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Written for athletes, coaches, medical professionals, and students, this third revised and updated edition includes more than 7,500 cross-referenced terms in all major areas of sports science and medicine. Subjects covered include anatomy, exercise physiology, nutrition, sports sociology, sports injuries, and scientific and training principles.

Dictionary of Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine, edited by Sheila Jennet, M.D. 496 pages (St. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier, 2008)

Easy-to-use dictionary that covers all sports and exercise sports sciences. Entries feature clear and concise definitions of terms for such areas as adapted physical education, biomechanics, exercise physiology, motor control, motor development, motor learning, sport pedagogy, sport psychology, and sport sociology.


Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport, edited by David Levinson and Karen Christensen, 4 vols., 1,816 pages (Great Barrington, Mass.: Berkshire Publishing Group, 2005)

Information about hundreds of sports from around the world since ancient times is well detailed and nicely chronicled in this informative four-volume encyclopedia. Entries cover not only each individual sport and how it’s played but also the history and evolution, human experience, emotion, and influences that shaped them.

International Encyclopedia of Women and Sports, 3 vols., edited by Karen Christensen, Allen Guttmann, and Gertrude Pfister (New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 2001)

In the words of one critic, “No other encyclopedia treats the field of women in international sports with such currency, depth, and detail” as this three-volume reference set does. It features more than 130 biographies, 170 individual and group sports overviews, and 75 country profiles, all related to women and sports. Articles up to 4,000 words long examine cultural, ethical, health, and societal issues, as well as non-Western sports, extreme sports, and outdoor recreation, generously supplemented by photographs, charts, informative sidebars, and bibliographies.

Rules of the Game: The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia of all the Sports of the World, by the Diagram Group, 320 pages (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995)

This concise, color-illustrated volume details the rules and procedures, equipment required, and methods of scoring for more than 150 sports—including darts and jai alai—for over 400 related events.

General Reference

Sports: The Complete Visual Reference, by Francois Fortin (New York: Firefl y Books, 2003)

Fully revised color-illustrated reference guide to more than 125 sports played around the world, such as baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, BMX, and diving, grouped by category. Clear, concise explanations detail the origin, method of play, the kinds of equipment and environments, and physical and training requirements of each sport. Charts of world records and legendary competitors of the past are also included.


Handbook of Sport Psychology, 3rd ed., edited by Gershon Tenenbaum and Robert C. Eklund, 960 pages (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2007)

Authored by leading experts, this third, revised edition, featuring 22 chapters, documents the psychological aspects, discipline, and training of competitive sports, including new research and approaches to exercise, motivation, pain management, and performance.

Sports Nutrition: Olympic Handbook of Sports Medicine, edited by Ronald J. Maughan and Louise Burke, 200 pages (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Science, 2002)

This book offers practical nutritional information. Subjects covered include nutrition needs, exercise and energy demands, recovery time between training sessions, and nutritional strategies for training, as well as other related topics, such as weight management, limitations to exercise performance, sports foods, and other supplements vital to training and performance.

Selected Full-Text Article Databases

Academic Search Premier (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, 1972– )

Full-text articles from more than 4,650 publications, including an index of articles found in 1,000 other academic publications, for information on a wide range of topics in art, computer science, education, engineering, ethnic studies, humanities, language, literature, medical sciences, social sciences, and more.

Education Abstracts Full Text (Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson Co., Wilson Disc, WilsonWeb/OCLC Education Abs/Ovid Technologies, Inc./ProQuest/Thomson DIALOG, 1983– )

Indexes, abstracts, and provides selected full text of articles in more than 400 education-related periodicals and yearbooks. Includes journals that cover physical education and sports in schools. Indexing begins in June 1983, and abstracts and full-text articles in August 1994, with most full-text articles beginning in 1996. Also produced under the name of Wilson Education Abstracts, both on CD-ROM and online.

Health Source: Consumer Edition (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, indexing/abstracting: 1984– , full text: 1990– )

Provides full text of 300 consumer-health, international health and nutrition journals—largely English-language materials—plus indexing and abstracts from newsletters, pamphlets, reference books, and other information. Useful for researching topics such as biomechanics, food sciences, physical fitness, sports and sports medicine, and wellness. Dates of coverage vary by title; full text from 1990 to the present.

InfoTrac OneFile (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale InfoTrac, 1980– )

Features citations, abstracts, and full-text articles from more than 6,000 scholarly journals, popular magazines, and newspapers in nearly every academic discipline, including the arts and humanities, social sciences and science and technology, as well as business, law, current affairs and general interest topics, from 1980 to the present updated daily.

LexisNexis Academic Universe (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1970– )

Good source for finding current articles and information on professional and amateur sports and athletes featuring full-text newspaper and journal articles more than 5,600 news, business, legal, medical, and reference publications. Includes national and regional newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times, broadcast transcripts, wire services, international news and non-English language sources. Stories are searchable under the “General News Topics” category, and under “News/Arts and Sports.”

ProQuest Research Library (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, index: 1971– , full text: 1986– )

Useful for researching such as topics as athletes, exercise, physical fitness, and sports injuries, ProQuest Research Library (originally Periodical Abstracts Research II) indexes current articles, some 2,500 full-text journals, in nearly every academic discipline, as well as current affairs and general interest topics. Citations and abstracts are from selected publications since 1972, with more complete coverage beginning in 1996. Updated daily, this multidisciplinary database mixes scholarly and popular journals, with full-text coverage of nearly 15 exercise and sport science titles from 1988 to the present.

PsycARTICLES (Washington, .D.C.: American Psychological Association PsycINFO, 1894– )

Online database of full-text articles published by the American Psychological Association, APA Educational Publishing Foundation, the Canadian Psychological Association, and Hogrefe and Huber Publishers covering all aspects of psychology. Covers such areas as sports psychology, leisure, and rehabilitation.

SBRnet: Sport Business Research Network (Princeton, N.J.: Sports Business Research Network, 1993– )

Major online research database featuring articles, consumer surveys, government data, market research reports, and news releases, some in full text, covering all facets of the sports industry, from archery to youth sports. This comprehensive database provides immediate access to market research from the National Sporting Goods Association, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and sports governing bodies, full-text articles from 14 magazines and newsletters published by Miller Freeman, the world’s largest sporting goods trade publisher, and newsletters provided by leading independent industry experts. In mid-1999, SBRNet added buyTRACK, a new database created by Harris Interactive, which tracks the sporting goods purchasing habits of consumers on the Internet.

SPORTDiscus (Ottawa, Canada: Sports Information Resource Centre [SIRC], 1830– )

Contains more than 700,000 citations and abstracts, with links to full-text articles, to periodical literature in physical fitness, recreation, sport management, sport science, and related areas. Coverage includes worldwide scientific and practical literature, such as articles, audiovisual material, conference proceedings, dissertations, monographs, and research reports for both individual and team sports. Also indexed is literature on coaching, conditioning, officiating, and training, and additional sport- and fitness-related topics, including biomechanics, exercise physiology, exercise psychology, international sports history, sport psychology, and much more. Most sources are in English and French.

Selected Periodicals

American Track and Field (Madison, Wisc.: Shooting Star Media, 1994– , five times yearly)

Aimed principally at high school, college, and club track and field and cross-country coaches, this professional periodical is a source of training information, new techniques, and approaches meant to improve “the performance of American athletes in the disciplines of track and field, cross country, and race walking.” An official partner with the U.S.A. Track and Field organization, American Track and Field was first published in 1994 and is issued five times yearly. Each issue profiles top athletes and coaches, reviews major world athletic events, reports on U.S. championships, and offers informative articles on related topics, including individual event training, sports nutrition, and sports psychology.

Baseball America (Durham, N.C.: American Sports Pub., 1981– , weekly)

Perhaps the best baseball weekly in its class, this popular tabloid provides complete coverage of high school, college, and professional baseball. Highlighting each issue are expertly written articles, columns, and features covering the latest news, the top names and up-and-coming players in the game, plus statistics and scores of the most recent games. Past issues are available in microform from January 1991 through the end of the previous year.

Basketball Digest (Evanston, Ill.: Century Pub. Co., 1973– , six times yearly)

Published six times yearly since November 1973, this entertaining tabloid provides an insider’s perspective on NBA, NCAA, and WNBA basketball, and the world of hoops in general. Every issue contains informative and timely features, player profiles, statistics, schedules, and more. The editors also publish special sections every year featuring their selections of the “NBA Player of the Year,” “All-NBA Teams,” “All-Rookie Teams,” and “All-American Teams.”

Football Digest (Evanston, Ill.: Century Pub. Co., 1971– , eight times yearly)

From the publisher of Basketball Digest and Hockey Digest, this photo-packed magazine has since 1971 delivered comprehensive coverage of happenings in NFL and college football, including in-depth season previews, informative interviews with players and coaches, the latest news, NFL and college schedules, NFL rosters and directories, and relevant statistics on players and teams. Special issues are also devoted annually to the “NFL All-Pro” and “College All-American” teams.

Golf Digest (Evanston, Ill.: Golf Digest, 1950– , monthly)

Published monthly since 1950, this glossy magazine provides practical advice and in-depth coverage of the game of golf for both amateur and semiprofessional golfers alike. Coverage includes “how-to” articles and lessons, feature stories, and reviews of the most recent championship opens, equipment reviews, and much more.

Hockey Digest (Evanston, Ill.: Century Pub. Co., 1972– , six times yearly)

Since its first issue, published in November 1972, for more than 30 years this popular tabloid has provided the most extensive coverage of hockey, from the game’s top stars and Stanley Cup championships to college hockey. A wide range of articles is included in each issue, including interviews with professionals, in-depth features, and expert analysis of the latest trends and game action.

Journal of Sport History (Radford, Va.: North American Society for Sport History, 1974– , quarterly)

A project of the Amateur Athletic Association of Los Angeles and the North American Society for Sport History, this scholarly publication offers articles in each issue devoted to the study of all aspects of sport history. Most articles and back issues of the journal are available online as PDF files from 1974 to 2001, and are fully searchable.

The NCAA News (Shawnee Mission, Kan.: National Collegiate Athletic Association, 1900–2007, biweekly, online: 2008– )

The NCAA News is the official publication of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a voluntary organization with members from nearly 1,200 colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and sports organizations nationwide. Published biweekly in print through 2007, this leading authority on college athletics covers the latest news regarding the business and administration of college athletics throughout the year. Beginning in January 2008, The NCAA News discontinued its print edition, becoming a daily online publication instead. To access, visit and click on “NCAA News.”

Pro Football Weekly (Chicago, Ill.: Pro Football Weekly, Inc., 1967– , weekly)

Devoted exclusively to pro football, this weekly tabloid newsmagazine provides complete coverage of the NFL, Canadian, Arena, and European football leagues. Each issue features award-winning columns and features, inside information, game previews, scouting analysis, investigative reporting, rosters and injury reports, and complete scores and statistics of the previous week’s action. Some content is published online and accessible at

Runner’s World (Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1970– , monthly)

First introduced nationally in 1970, this long-running monthly magazine publishes informative and helpful articles of interest to runners of all ages. Issues contain timely articles on medical and training advice, sports medicine and nutrition, shoe evaluations, profiles of running personalities, and coverage of important races and upcoming events designed to educate and inform its readers.

The Sporting News (St. Louis, Mo.: Sporting News, 1886– , weekly)

Long known as the “bible of baseball” and “America’s sport authority,” this weekly sports publication, published since 1886, provides weekly analysis and reviews of every major sport, including baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. Every issue combines in-depth articles, team-by-team capsules, and the latest news and statistics covering American professional and college sports. The Sporting News also provides online access to archival material covering all sports through its Web page called The Vault. Included are sports histories, virtual scrapbooks of legendary sports figures, special features on sports anniversaries, and other resources. To access, visit

Sports Illustrated (New York: Time, Inc., 1954– , weekly)

Perhaps “the most recognized periodical of American sports,” this popular weekly magazine has provided coverage of American sports since 1954. Combining commentary and analysis with action-packed photography, every week articles include profiles of past and current sports legends, weekly wrap-ups of recent competitions in professional and college sports, major sport news, and primers of upcoming college and pro sport seasons. Full-text articles are also found in the library database Expanded Academic ASAP (1980– ).

Tennis (Trumbull, Conn.: Miller Sports Group LLC, 1965– , 10 times yearly)

In print since 1965, this popular publication is a primary source of information and instruction for fans and avid tennis players of all levels of expertise. Articles cover every facet of the game with a primary emphasis on improving skill and enjoyment of the game. Contents of the most current issue are retrievable online at

USA Today Sports Weekly (Arlington, Va.: Gannett Co., 1991– , weekly)

Formerly known as Baseball Weekly, this newspaper-style tabloid, first published on April 11, 1991, in partnership with USA Today, provides comprehensive coverage of current sports in season. Each publication includes articles, features, commentaries, photos, statistics, and box scores of the previous week’s games. An electronic version is available by subscription. To subscribe and access, visit

Selected Web Sites

Sports Videos, Articles, Player Biographies and More! (

Provides news and scores from all major professional sports, including the Canadian Football League (CFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), Professional Golf Association (PGA), racing, tennis, and more.

American Statistics Association—Sports Data Resources (

Comprehensive online directory provided by the American Statistics Association featuring links to Web sites for a number of sports, including baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer.

CBS Sports (

A free service of CBS Broadcasting, Inc., offering full-text articles, scores, columns, and a search engine for information on baseball, NFL, NBA, NHL, golf, tennis, auto racing, and other sports.

SI (

Delivers full-text articles from Sports Illustrated, plus individual sections on baseball, pro and college football, pro and college basketball, golf, hockey, motor sports, soccer, tennis, and women’s sports, and scoreboards and team pages.

ESPN SportsZone (

Offers regularly updated full-text articles on the NFL, college football, the NHL, the NBA, college basketball, and other sports.

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