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What Does a Sports Psychologist Performance Coach do?

A sports psychologist performance coach is a person who uses psychological techniques to work with athletes to improve their performances. A degree in sport psychology is one way a person would prepare for this career although there are other avenues as well.

What They Do

Sports psychologists may focus in certain areas such as academics and research or clinical sports psychology, which usually involves dealing with athletes who are also struggling with mental health issues such as eating disorders. A specialty in coaching as part of sports psychology would involve a focus on improving the performance of an amateur or professional athlete by working on mental techniques that increase endurance, motivation and and performance. The field may be referred to as “applied sports psychology.” A sports psychologist might also work with an athlete who is struggling with stress or burnout or with athletes who are recovering from injuries. Techniques used might include meditation, visualization, and identifying various sources of internal and external motivation.

How to Become a Sports Psychologist Performance Coach

According to the American Psychological Association, there is no clear career path in most cases. There will not be many jobs available for someone with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and a specialty in sports psychology is usually pursued at the master’s or doctoral level. A few universities offer a specialty in sports psychology or a sport psychology degree. Typical classes offered in such a program include applied sport psychology and exercise psychology. However, students at universities that do not offer this specialty can still pursue a graduate degree in psychology along with classes in subjects such as sports medicine, physiology, and kinesiology. The person might also add business classes such as marketing. There is an Association for Applied Sport Psychology that can connect students with mentors.

People who are already working in the field of psychology who want to transition into becoming a performance coach in sports psychology will probably need to return to school and take additional classes or even get another degree to make the shift.

Career Outlook

This is a promising career, and as a new field, it is likely to grow. A psychologist working with athletes as a performance coach might work with individuals, in a school or for a team. The job can be a high-profile one with a major team, or the coach might work with student-athletes. According to the APA, the largest employer of sports psychologists is the U.S. Army. The military hires coaches to work with military who are going into combat as well as with families and other civilians. The earnings in this field vary widely according to the population served. While a coach in a university program may earn $60,000 or more annually, earnings can easily top $100,000 for people working for top teams or athletes or for those who set up a private practice.

Whether a person pursues a sport psychology degree or studies psychology with a concentration on sports, a variety of career opportunities are available. For people who combine a passion for understanding how and why people behave in certain ways and how to motivate them with a love of athletic pursuits, a career as a sports psychologist performance coach may be the right choice.

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