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How to Become a Sports Psychologist

Sports psychology uses psychological knowledge and skills to address the well-being and optimal performance of athletes, the social and developmental aspects of participating in sports, and systemic issues related to sports organizations and settings. Sports psychology interventions are intended to help athletes and others involved in sports from a broad array of backgrounds, levels of ages and competitions, and range from youth sports to collegiate, Olympic, and professional performers. (APA.org).

If you are interested in becoming a sports psychologist, below is critical information to know about how to become one, job demand, educational requirements, and more.

What Is Sports Psychology?

Sports psychology involves the scientific study of the many psychological factors that are related to performance and participation in sports, exercise, and other physical activity. (APADivisions.org)

Sports psychologists are focused in two major areas:

  • Helping athletes to utilize psychological principles to achieve top mental health and to enhance performance
  • Understanding how participating in athletics and exercise affects a person’s psychological development, health, and well-being throughout their lives.

Sports psychology professionals are trained to identify, develop and execute mental and emotional knowledge, abilities, and skills that are required for excellence in athletics. They also are skilled in understanding, diagnosing and preventing psychological and emotional inhibitors of excellent performance.

What Do Sports Psychologists Do?

Some athletes want help from a sports psychologist when they have an issue that affects their athletic performance. They could become anxious or lose focus during a game. Or, they could have difficulty communicating with teammates, keeping their temper, or even motivating themselves to work out. (APA.org)

But athletes do not just work with a sports psychologist when they are having problems. Sports psychologists also can help athletes in these ways:

  • Boost performance: Mental strategies such as self-talk, visualization, and relaxation can help athletes to enhance their performance.
  • Cope with the pressures of athletic competition: Help athletes to handle pressure from themselves, parents, and coaches.
  • Recover from injury: After an injury, athletes could need help tolerating pain, sticking to their physical therapy or adjust to not being able to perform.
  • Keep up with exercise: Even those who want to exercise daily may be unable to reach their goals. Sports psychologists help them to boost motivation.
  • Enjoy competition: Sports organizations may bring in a sports psychologist to educate coaches about how to help children enjoy sports more and how to boost self-esteem.

Sports psychologists use many strategies and procedures to address issues faced by athletes and other sports participants, such as coaches and family. Some of the principal areas are:

  • Cognitive and behavioral skills training to enhance performance: The sports psychologist uses the following techniques with the athlete – goal setting; imagery and performance planning; concentration and attention control; development of self-esteem and self-confidence; emotion management; leadership, and sportsmanship.
  • Counseling and clinical interventions: Athletic motivation; weight management and eating disorders; grief, depression, loss, and suicide; overtraining and burnout; aggression and violence; and athletic injury.
  • Consultation and training: Team building, systems interventions with parents and families; education of coaches regarding leadership and motivation; education of administrators and coaches about early identification and prevention of psychological problems in athletes.

Where Do Sports Psychologists Work?

Most sports psychologists work in facilities that cater to high school, collegiate, and professional athletes.

High schools and colleges often hire sports psychologists to talk with and counsel student-athletes. Some sports psychologists work with professional sports teams and athletes exclusively. They also can find work at physical rehabilitation centers, gyms, and hospitals.

What Is the Job Outlook for Sports Psychologists?

The job outlook for psychologists is excellent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job demand for psychologists will rise by 14% through 2028, which is much faster than average. (BLS.gov)

Employment of clinical and counseling psychologists will rise because of the greater need for psychological services in hospitals, mental health centers, and social service agencies. As Americans are getting older, there are more people seeking psychological help so they can enjoy their elder years more easily.

For sports psychologists, the growing popularity of sports at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels will introduce more job opportunities for sports psychologists.

There also is recognition in sports that to achieve the best athletic performance, being mentally healthy and sharp is critical. Many teams now employ full-time sports psychologists to work with their players.

How Can You Become a Sports Psychologist?

Entry-level positions in sports psychology with a bachelor’s degree are rare. Most sports psychology positions require a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling, clinical, or sports psychology. Also required is direct training and experience in applying psychology to exercise and sports.

The American Board of Sport Psychology offers several professionals certifications that can help you become established in the field.

The highest level credential offered is the Board Certified Sports Psychologist-Diplomat, which shows that the holder has the training and experience in sports psychology to understand the ethical, research, and methodological issues related to the application of methods to enhance the performance of athletes. Many who have this certification are licensed clinical, counseling, or health psychologists. (Verywellmind.com).

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

Most professionals who work in sports psychology have a master’s or doctoral degree in clinical, counseling, or related specialty of psychology, with additional training and certification in sports psychology. Practicing psychologists are required to have a license in their state of residence, which requires a master’s or doctoral degree, and an internship of 2000 to 4000 hours of supervised clinical work.

After licensure as a psychologist, you can earn your Board Certification in Sport Psychology from the American Board of Sport Psychology. With this certification, you will have the knowledge, skills, and credentials to work as a sports psychologist at all athletic levels.

It is understood today in athletics that being psychologically fit as important as the physical side of athletics. Working in sports psychology can be a highly rewarding and interesting career, with many jobs opening up in the future particularly in collegiate and high school athletics.

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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief

Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of PsydPrograms.org. Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.