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What is Performance Psychology?

If you’re considering a career as a psychologist, then you may be interested in studying performance psychology, a specialty focus that relates to how people under pressure perform. Athletes, professional singers, dancers, heads of state and others in important roles take on a great deal of physical, mental and emotional stress. Performance psychologists seek to better human performance through specially designed techniques and clinical counseling, whether it’s assisting an athlete after a major accident or helping a public speaker reclaim her confidence.

The Role of a Performance Psychologist

Performance psychologists are also called sport and performance psychologists, and according to the American Psychological Association, their primary objective is to use the principals of psychology to help facilitate peak human performance for people in certain positions. There are several ways in which performance psychologists achieve this goal. They include:

  • Teaching strategies to maximize physical aptitude
  • Clinical counseling for issues related to anxiety or trauma
  • Ongoing therapy to build confidence or to foster communication skills

You may think of a sport and performance psychologist as working primarily with athletes, but that isn’t always the case. Anyone involved in a high-performance career or role would benefit from performance psychology. Surgeons, actors, CEOs and others under serious pressure to perform could see a performance psychologist to manage the stress of everyday life.

How to Specialize in Performance

In order to pursue a career as a sport and performance psychologist, you need specialized training along with the standard education and credentialing that comes from being a psychologist. For starters, consider the character traits demanded of someone in this position: good listening skills, the ability to mediate tough situations, problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, focus and compassion, among others.

You’ll also need a master’s degree at minimum, and many practices now require a doctoral degree because psychology is such a competitive field.

Several schools in the United States offer specialized degree paths for sport and performance psychologists. Specialties in this area may be listed under sports, such as applied sport psychology, clinical sport psychology or academic sport psychology. Psychologists also need to be licensed by the state in which they practice, and many states require ongoing education to maintain licensure.

Job Outlook and Benefits

In general, psychologists can expect much higher demand for their skill set over the next decade according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychologists earn an average of $75,580 per year without any specialization. High-performance jobs continue to be a major part of modern life, which means that there’s a greater demand for psychologists who specialize in this field. In addition to the monetary benefits and job security, sports psychologists can also expect to play a large role in shaping contemporary culture. Since they work with athletes, entertainers and key political figures, performance psychologists can encourage future leaders, thereby making an indirect impact on popular culture.

Psychology welcomes a wide range of interests, covering everything from marriage and family issues to rehabilitation after an accident. Sport and performance psychologists specialize in helping people succeed in high-performance areas, such as sports, medicine or politics. If you’re interested in a career that makes a substantial impact on not only your patients but the fans and supporters behind them, then performance psychology may be right for you.