Hermann Rieder (1928-2009)

The FEPSAC MC was very sad to receive the information that Hermann Rieder passed away. Please find below his obituary written by Dieter Hackfort.


Prof. Dr. Hermann Rieder
*3.5.1928 †22.8.2009

For the international sport science community and sport psychology colleagues from all over the world Hermann Rieder was a blessing. In the constitutional phase of the International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP), he contributed significantly to the advancement of the Society, to the advancement of sport psychology as a discipline, and as a global player to intercultural communication and understanding among colleagues, coaches, and athletes. When he passed away Saturday morning, August 22nd, our scientific community lost a sport psychology beacon. However, his spirit and initiatives not only have been tremendously influential on us, but they will continue to inspire future generations in sport psychology.

From 1971 to 1973 Hermann Rieder served as the founding Director for the Federal Institute for Sport Science (Bundesinstitut fuer Sportwissenschaft) the German governmental institution which today is of key importance for funding sport science research. From 1968 to 1994 he holds the position of the Head of the Institute for Sport and Sport Science at the University of Heidelberg. From 1971 to 1985 he served as the chair for the asp (German Association for Sport Psychology). In these roles and as a Secretary General of the ISSP (1973-1985), he promoted national and international sport science and sport psychology. He had a unique approach and style of integrating people and ideas, enhancing social and organizational structures, and initiating collaboration among researchers, scholars, students, athletes, and coaches.

With a background in Physical Education and History, interest in Psychology guided him toward research to explore the potential and meaning of sports for the handicapped, especially mentally handicapped children. The result of this research is documented in his dissertation (1970) on psycho-motor and socio-motor diagnostics as a basis for a curative-pedagogical sport therapy with behavioral disoriented children. The elaboration of this concept resulted in a book on sport therapy (Sport als Therapie) published 1971 which can be regarded as a milestone in sport science. He extended his research on sports for special groups and on sports as a therapeutic means, e.g. for patients with back problems, asthmatic and HIV patients. A further milestone was achieved by Hermann  in sport psychology when he organized the first international symposium of the asp in Heidelberg and published the proceedings in 1974 on empirical methods in sport psychology (Empirische Methoden in der Sportpsychologie). He also reflected on the meaning of audio-video media in sports (2002, Zur Bedeutung audiovisueller Medien im Sport) and initiated a video series to present significant personalities in interviews on their work for the development of sport science in Germany. In one of the videos Hermann and his work is presented and it provides an impression not only on the outstanding body and scope of his work (documented in ca. 300 publications) but also on his exceptional personality. His attitude and ability to bring together experts from different areas and to manage an exchange of knowledge from various fields motivated him to initiate and organize national and international congresses and to compile books with contributions from international colleagues. Examples are the AIESEP Congress in Heidelberg in 1986 on The Physical Education Teacher and Coach Today and the book on Sport Psychology – International (1984).

Hermann served as the first Secretary General (SG) for the ISSP when Miroslav Vanek was elected President of the association for the1973-1985 term.  Prior to his appointment for SG by the ISSP MC in 1973, he organized the very successful third European Congress of Sport Psychology for FEPSAC in 1972 in Cologne. It was a period of time when international meetings were strongly influenced by thinking in world political East-West schemes. With his integrative attitude and convincing style, Hermann was the best possible person for this job in this period of time for an association such as the ISSP. He was able to build bridges between ideological and philosophical orientations inside the ISSP MC and membership. His beliefs and principles are still sound to overcome intercultural gaps. When he reflected about his presidency, Vanek stated in 1993 that Hermann was the best person on this Managing Council. He emphasized that Hermann was energetic but modest, strong in personality but kind, hard working but fair. He added that Hermann and the German asp in the critical period between the congresses in Madrid and Prague were a most important element for a new ISSP stability. This represents one of many examples of  comments given with respect to the significant work and contributions of Hermann for his subject, sport and exercise, his behavioral style in his various roles and positions in sport psychology and sport science, and with regard to his exceptional personality in which expertise was combined with humanity.

In the developmental phase of his career in sports he was a world class athlete in javelin with a personal best of 76.68m. He won many national championships as well as the student world championship in 1952. Proximate as the coach for the national elite athletes in javelin, his athletes won European (Klaus Tafelmeier) and Olympic gold medals (Klaus Wolfermann at the Olympic Games in Munich 1972). Klaus Wolfermann once expressed in an interview that Hermann Rieder’s coaching style was a kind of lifestyle consultancy with a strong psychological impact. At the end of his career, Hermann concerned himself again with javelin, this time from a archeological perspective. He investigated the early usage of the tool for hunters, its use as a weapon, and the evolution toward an object for competition in sport. The report on this research (2005, Wurfgeraete der Altsteinzeit: Steine, Wurfhoelzer, Speere) is relevant not only for sport science as it contributed to the increase of knowledge about the cultural history of javelin. It also may inspire for the development of a sport archeology and future sport archeological research within an experimental framework in sport science.

For his work and leadership in international sport science,  ICSSPE honored Hermann with the Philip-Noel-Baker Award. The ISSP paid tribute twice to Hermann`s impact on the association. In 1989 the ISSP Honor Award was given to him at the World Congress in Singapore, and in 1997 at the World Congress in Israel he received the ISSP Distinguished Scholar Award.  It was recognized that there were only few who have had as integrative and an essential social impact on international sport and exercise psychology as Hermann Rieder.

Based on my personal experience and the privilege to collaborate with Hermann in various roles, I can state that I never met a person for whom the popular motivational concept of fear of failure was less relevant and who would score higher on a similar well-known dimension, namely task orientation. He was driven by the vision of exploring the potential of sport and exercise for the enhancement of human performance and health in and for various groups. He was stress tolerant against obstacles and always ready not only to accept different perspectives and approaches but to learn about and from such perspectives and strategies. It is my understanding that these characteristics were essential for Hermann to be successful as an athlete, a coach, and as a researcher and scholar. His legacy will be carried on by his students, colleagues, and friends all over the world.

Hermann Rieder lived sport, provided inspiration to sport science, and will always be remembered as an icon of sport psychology.


Dieter Hackfort
Past President ISSP