If you have a passion for both psychology and sports, why not start to research the careers in sports psychology? The sports psychologist title has been labeled one of the hot careers in psychology by the American Psychological Association and is a great choice in a sport-loving society like America. You might be wondering to yourself why an Olympic athlete or a professional in athletics would need a psychologist to perform, but psychologists play a bigger role in sports than it might look at first glance. Read on, and find out what sports psychologists do and how you can pursue this specialty area.
What is Sports Psychology?
This is the study and application of how psychology affects sports participation and performance as well as how participation in sports affects the psychology of those who take part in sports. For instance, anxiety may affect the way an athlete performs, but a good performance may increase feelings of well-being afterward. There may also be physical reactions to feelings that arise before, during or after performance.
That means sports psychology careers not only pertain to athletes, but to people who just enjoy sports and to those who exercise to maintain good health, according to the website sportpsychology today. Additionally, sport psychology involves not only the study and research of factors impacting these individuals, but in the application of the principles involved to help them achieve their goals. It also is the practice of imparting skills to the clients that help them self-regulate when in other environments besides sports. This makes them more “competitive” in the work arena or even just in interpersonal relationships.
The sport psychologist is an adjunct to the coach because he or she gets to the athlete’s “underlying beliefs” about himself and his abilities. Like an athlete who panics if he or she can’t wear a pair of lucky socks or chokes at the bat if he encounters a left-handed pitcher, all athletes have thoughts or beliefs that affect their performance. It is the job of the sports psychologist to help the athlete recognize and manage those patterns. His “toolbox” includes talk therapy, relaxation techniques, visualization, stress management techniques, biofeedback, self-talk and other methods of connecting with the mental aspects of sports performance.
History of Sports Psychology
In 1897, Dr. Norman Triplett wrote a scientific paper on sports psychology. The title of the work was “Social Facilitation of Bicyclists.” Doctor Triplett had noticed that the cyclists performed better when they competed with other bicyclists than if they were cycling against a clock in a timed practice run. This resulted in the theory of social facilitation. It is particularly valid in the Corona pandemic because teams are playing in empty or nearly-empty stadiums. The theory asks if they are playing as well as they might if the seats were full of fans.
In the early 1920s, Dr. Coleman Griffith started the first sports psychology laboratory, and became not only the first sports psychologist, but the first sports psychologist to work for a professional team. He was hired by the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
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Other Careers in Sports Psychology
While the sports psychologist is perhaps the first profession people think of when they consider this arena, there are other areas of sports psychology careers that pay well, and some even involve the allure of working and traveling with professional teams. Here are some other careers to ponder.
This is the job title in an opening listed for the US Army. The position involves supporting volunteer coaches and program directors in Army Youth Services organizations. The specialist would organize practice games and make certain local branches of the organization are in compliance with health and other regulations. It requires a bachelor’s degree in physical education with courses in child and adolescent psychology and experience working with children in sports. The pay scale is from $35,289 to $39,500.
These professionals work with athletes and those in hobby sports assessing things like biometrics and motivation for sports like mountain biking and others. They can work for private corporations such as ski resorts to amplify the customer experience through brain training and neurofeedback. This profession requires at least a master’s degree and one opening for a facility in Bozeman, Montana noted a salary of $55,000 to $75,000.
Integrative Health Coach
A career as a health coach involves working directly with athletes or hobbyists to promote healthier lifestyles. They also work through hospitals and rehabilitation clinics to help people with pain or other conditions to manage their lives. These professionals use technology along with behavioral modification to address health problems and chronic conditions. They can be employed at a workplace or virtually through phone contact. The health coach should have at least an associate degree (preferably a bachelor’s degree) in psychology and experience in sports medicine or related fields. The BLS listed a salary of $46,910.
Sport Psychology Educator
This professional may be involved in direct teaching as a professor or may work as adjunct faculty developing courses, online materials and other materials in applied sport and performance psychology. The salary depends upon where the educator is employed, but the BLS statistic is $79,540.
While some sport research scientists work in laboratories studying the physiology and psychology of sports or exercise activity, others work in industry. The psychologist involved in corporate research uses psychology and physiology together to help corporations design new products. Nike recently listed an opening for someone in sport research. The position involved doing regular research and also applied research on performance with athletes, developing new tools and procedures that will facilitate the research and gaining insights that will help the company design footwear and apparel that will improve athletic performance.
Sports Performance Coach
Like the health coach, this professional works with individual athletes to teach skills and to assess performance with the goal of implementing strategies for developing abilities. The sports performance coach uses a knowledge of “fitness, injury prevention, sports psychology, nutrition and sports science” to increase performance and safety in athletes.
Cognitive Performance Specialist
These professionals work with athletes and others to control pain, manage stress and to perform well. One opening recently was for a specialist to work for Bering Global Solutions to assist with pilot training. The position required addressing fatigue, problem solving and critical thinking skills and emotional resiliency. The BLS listed salaries of $52,000 to $69,000.
A fitness professional may work for a corporation or own a company that specializes in helping people develop and maintain physical fitness. Those in this profession evaluate clients for certain exercise programs, motivate them to continue, challenge them through increased performance levels and help people manage chronic conditions. The median salary is $40,340.
Insert after text: but for clinical psychologists and applied psychologists with doctoral degrees, the demand is much higher.
A Golfer’s Perspective on Sport Psychology
According to sportpsychologytoday.com, there is scarcely a college, national or professional sports team that doesn’t have a sports psychologist on its payroll. Additionally, the athletes that play on these teams often employ psychologists or performance coaches for themselves. This is especially true of golf. Some of the big-name golfers that regularly use these professionals are Davis Love III, Retief Goosen, Nancy Scranton and others. Here are some of the reasons these athletes use sport psychologists and sport coaches:
• Self awareness: Sport psychology can help athletes become aware of “mental strategies” to address weaknesses. This is especially true in golf, which is largely a “mental game.”
• Communication skills: Utilizing these professionals can help athletes in their relationships with coaches and other team members.
• Career mapping: Using an understanding of goals and abilities can help athletes plan realistically for professional sports careers.
• Mental Preparation for practice : Sports psychology can be valuable for developing mental readiness for practices and performances.
• Resilience: The sports psychologist can help athletes come back from injuries and even “bad days.”
• Motivation: Athletes can stay motivated and excited about performance.
• Stress management: This involves dealing with limitations from injuries, and other setbacks as well as stress from increased success.
People seek sports psychologists because they are having difficulty keeping their temper, motivating themselves to exercise, to maintain their focus during competition and to avoid the pressure that keeps them from enjoying the game. They also learn things that help them off the playing field. They gain skills at setting goals, rehearsing appointments or tasks before tackling them and even developing routines that relax them.
What is the Specific Role of the Sports Psychologist?
A sports psychologist plays a critical role in helping give their clients a mental edge instead of a physical edge. While you might assume that psychologists only work with patients when they are having issues, but in the world of sports a professional will help athletes come up with mental strategies so that they can get past a plateau or overcome challenges so that they can perform well and handle the pressure.
In professional sports, trying to appease the audience while you compete to win critical games can be extremely stressful. For some, that stress and anxiety can affect an athletes performance and even affect their mental health. Since being an athlete can actually lead to some psychological issues, having a sports psychologist that a team can access is very important for their current life and their future.
Is There Demand in Sports Psychology?
Not everyone is athletically gifted enough to become professional basketball or football players or competitors who make it to the Winter Olympic games. While it takes more than just a passion for sports to be an athlete that does not mean that you cannot work somewhere within the industry. If you are driven to help athletes, you may be a great fit to work in psychology.
Before you start to study for your degree it is important that you find out if there is a positive job outlook. As a hot career, you might expect there to be a large projection for growth. As a whole, the demand for psychologists is at 12%, but for clinical psychologists and applied psychologists with doctoral degrees, the demand is much higher.
What Are the Educational Requirements to Work in Sports Psychology?
You must decide if you want to be a clinical or applied psychologist before you decide which type of educational path to take. If you want to work in clinical psychology, you will need to work your way up to a doctoral degree in sports psychology. If, however, you want to work as a applied psychologist, you can study for a master’s degree in exercise psychology, kinesiology or counseling.
The doctoral degree is a mandate in all states to become a licensed sports psychologist, along with post-doctoral specialization in sports or performance psychology. Some possible areas of specialization include applied sports psychology, clinical sports psychology and academic sports psychology.
According to Applied Sport Psychology.org, sports psychology is the practice of teaching coaches, parents, athletes, athletic trainers, fitness professionals and others about the psychological side of sports. Applied sports psychologists use individual and group sessions to “teach mental skills necessary to perform consistently in training and competition, increase adherence to exercise programs and to help individuals achieve their potential.” Certification in this field is as a Certified Mental Performance Consultant.
Clinical sports psychology is a holistic approach to the field. That is because the professional considers the performance aspect of the sport along with psycho-social and other factors. The other specialization in sport psychology is the academic sport psychologist. These specialists are educators in colleges and universities.
Other areas of sports psychology careers such as health or sports performance coaching require less formal education. Generally, jobs in sports psychology require at least an associate degree with specialized sports psychology courses and some experience. The preferred level of education for most jobs in this sector, however, is a bachelor’s or master’s degree along with certification. For instance, there are several certification programs for performance coaching that require only a few months to complete. Cognitive performance specialists are certified through the International Board of Credentialing and Continued Education Standards.
If a license or certification is required to work in the field in the state you plan on working in, be sure to review the licensing requirements. You should also consider getting certified through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology to show how committed you are to the field.
You may feel very fulfilled if you help with performance enhancement or if you can help treat psychological issues that athletes face. It can be a high-pressure career to work playing a sport. With the right training and continuing education focused on sports medicine and kinesiology, you can get qualified to pursue careers in sports psychology.