What is a Sports Psychologist?

When pursuing an accredited graduate degree in psychology, an increasing number of students are interested in becoming a sports psychologist. Despite being one of the diverse field’s youngest disciplines, there are many hot careers in sports psychology that are growing in demand as the U.S. sports market generates over $400 billion in revenue each year. As our society’s passion for sports grows deeper, athletes are faced with increasing pressures to achieve consistent peak performance and remain in top physical form. Luckily, sports psychologists are trained mental health professionals who use their expertise to assist athletes in overcoming problems, enhancing performance, coping with pressures, recovering from injuries, and achieving their goals for success.

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What Sport Psychologists Do

Many sport psychologists work directly with athletes to improve their overall performance by providing client counseling services as well as athletic consulting. Applied sports psychologists often will focus on teaching athletes mental training strategies to improve their motivation and well-being to stay sharp both on and off the field. Academic sports psychologists have slightly different duties, which may include teaching new psychologists at the university level and conducting research to study psychological issues related to athletics. While popular belief suggests that sport psychologists focus on working with professional and amateur athletics, these practitioners may also work with non-athletes to increase mental well-being through the use of exercise science.

Where Sport Psychologists Work

Sport psychologists can find work in many diverse employment settings with clients ranging from children and student athletes to professional players and Olympians. A large number of sports psychologists are employed by colleges or universities to maximize the overall well-being of sport participants as well as educate others about sports psychology. Other sports psychologists find employment in recreation centers, rehabilitation facilities, professional sports teams, fitness centers, research firms, and private practices. As part of a collaborative team, sports psychologists often work closely with athletes, coaches, athletic directors, physical therapists, doctors, and other healthcare professionals to fully enhance performance. Some sports psychologists earn sizeable six-figure salaries for their work in consulting professional athletes, but the majority make a more modest yearly income around $55,000 on average.

How to Become a Sports Psychologist

Since entry-level positions with only a bachelor’s degree are extremely rare, it is typically required that sports psychologists have a master’s or doctoral degree to find success. In most cases, aspiring sports psychologists will receive an advanced graduate degree in clinical, counseling, or educational psychology and pursue direct internship experience specifically related to sports or exercise. Sports psychologists must be licensed as psychologists as well as have extensive experience in applying psychology in sports settings to build the skills needed for managing performance and motivation within athletics. For further credentials, it is also highly recommended that sports psychologists pursue professional certification as Board Certified Sports Psychologists through the American Board of Sports Psychology.

Overall, choosing a career in sports psychology can be a great decision for qualified graduate students seeking a way to utilize their professional skills in strategic problem-solving and in-depth knowledge of psychological principles within the athletics arena. If you make the choice to join this growing discipline of psychology as a sports psychologist, you will have the rewarding opportunity to help athletes remain in good mental health and stay at the top of their game.

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