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What is Sports Psychology?

Sports psychology is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses both psychology and sports science. The high rate of sport-related injuries and the emphasis on good conditioning and morale have resulted in sports psychologists being heavily used in the sporting industry, particularly with professional sports. To work as a professional in this field, an individual must have a graduate degree and licensure as a psychologist. Sport and exercise psychology involves more than just knowledge of the game and some counseling.

What is Sport Psychology?

Sport and exercise psychology focuses on the psychological factors that are linked to performance and participation in physical sports. The field focuses on teaching athletes how participating in sports can be beneficial to their emotional, mental and physical well-being their entire lifespan. It also teaches them how having good mental and emotional health can make them play better physically.

Sports psychologists often work with athletes who have become injured while playing a game. While one doctor helps the athlete heal physically, the sports psychologist may work with the athlete on an emotional level and help rebuild confidence and eliminate the fear of being reinjured or not playing up to potential. Because this area of psychology involves not just sports science and psychology but various other disciplines, graduates of a sports psychologist program work in areas other than just as a psychologist, including research, coaching, teaching, counseling, and therapy.

How to Become a Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists are required to be licensed, which requires completing a master’s or doctorate degree program in sport psychology, clinical psychology or counseling. Because most colleges do not typically offer sport psychology programs at the undergraduate level, students interested in earning a bachelor’s degree may choose a double major in exercise science or psychology. Completing a graduate degree program is generally the most common path towards this career.

The student will complete courses in kinesiology, exercise science and clinical psychology as well as several laboratory classes. Some schools may also require the students to complete a one-year, supervised internship working in a setting approved by the American Psychological Association. The student must complete all requirements before he or she can take the licensing examination. It generally takes at least eight years to become a sports psychologist. Licensure can be maintained by keeping up with training and completing continuing education courses.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that psychologists, all other, which includes sports psychologists, should experience a job growth of 11% during the decade of 2016-2026. Sports psychologists who have a doctoral degree in their specialty should see the best career opportunities. Sports psychologists earned an average wage of $93,440 as of a May 2017 BLS report. Wages ranged from $40,210 to $126,140.

Several factors can affect sport psychologist wages, including experience, the psychologist’s area of specialty, the employer and the amount of training and education. A sports psychologist working in a research or academic setting may earn wages typical to those reported by the BLS while sports psychologists working for professional organizations or athletes may earn six-figure salaries.

Sports psychologists are often individuals who have knowledge of a specific sport but not the ability or interest to actually play the sport. They play a very important role in the sporting industry because it is their dedication and work that helps athletes work at top emotional and physical capacity, which is probably why sports psychology can be such a rewarding career.