How to Become a Sport Psychologist

how to become a sports psychologist

It happens to professional golfers, basketball players, college quarterbacks and Little League pitchers. High performing professionals or amateur athletes can lose their edge and confidence, causing a drop in performance that affects the athlete and the team. Coaches work to improve physical and technical skills and teamwork, but sometimes the problem is emotional, fear or lack of confidence.

Sports psychology is the study of how the mind affects physical activity and athletic performance. What happens off the field in the lives of athletes can have an effect on performance on the field. Sports psychologists use techniques of psychology to improve the physical, mental and emotional function and performance or athletes, coaches and teams.

What Do Sport Psychologists Do?

Some sports psychologists work closely with athletes, coaches and parents on the emotional and mental side of dealing with injuries rehabilitation, communication and how to work through periods of loss on the field and off. They also work with successful athletes to adjust to the fame and recognition that comes with winning, and the pressure to maintain performance. They help athletes cope with success, attention, fame and fortune as well as an exhausting schedule of games and travel.

Educational sports psychologists use techniques such as goal setting, energy management, bio-feedback, positive self-talk and guided imagery for relaxation and to improve performance.

Clinical sports psychologists combine psychology with psychotherapy to treat mental disorders such as eating disorders, depression and drug abuse.

Some teach at the university level and scientific research. Other career tracks include consulting with private clients, athletes recovering from injury working toward returning to competition, and children and teens considering a career in professional athletics.

Education Requirement for a Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists must complete all the educational requirements for a clinical psychologist. They must complete a bachelor’s degree and either an Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in psychology, complete any internships and clinical work before taking the state licensing exam. They may also require direct training and experience in sports and exercise psychology.

Sports Psychology Licensing

There are several professional certifications for sports psychologists. The most prestigious is the Board Certified Sports Psychologist-Diplomat, conferred by the America Board of Sport Psychology. Those who hold this certification are also licensed clinical, health or counseling psychologists.

Work Environment for Sports Psychologists

Some sports psychologists enter private practice and work with clients in private offices, at the sports facilities, in locker rooms or on the field or courts.  They work one-on-one with athletes, the entire team or with team up with coaches, team owners or sponsors. Some sports psychologists travel with the team to scheduled games, playoffs and championships to help athletes deal with the pressures of competition.

They may also work in colleges, universities or schools with amateur athletes and children involved in school sports to improve athletic performance, build confidence and teach fair play and competition. 

Sports Psychology Earning Potential

Earnings vary with education, training, level and type of client and area of specialization. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data reports the median annual income for the category that includes sports psychologists was $90,000.

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