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Sport psychologists play a vital role in athletes’ mental health and well-being. Sport psychologists give athletes the support they need to maintain their peak performance and cope with their mental health challenges.
If you enjoy sports and helping people, a career as a sports psychologist may be a good fit for you. Education, licensing and certification requirements vary by state. Make sure to research your state’s requirements as you learn how to become a sport psychologist.
Sport Psychologist Job Outlook
According to the American Psychological Association, demand is growing for sport psychologists as the industry becomes more aware of the importance of mental health. Sport psychologists are extending their reach outside of the athletic realm as well, which also contributes to increased demand.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track sport psychology specifically. However, the BLS does offer collective data for all types of psychologists. According to this data, demand for psychologists overall is expected to increase by 8% from 2020 to 2030.
What Does a Sport Psychologist Do?
Sport psychologists work with professional or amateur athletes to help them manage mental health challenges that affect their athletic performance. If athletes struggle with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, staying focused, managing anger, staying motivated or communicating with coaches or teammates, they may not perform at their best levels. Sport psychologists help athletes address these issues and in turn improve their performance.
In addition to working directly with athletes, sport psychologists may work with coaches or youth sports organizations to teach skills that help athletes stay motivated and maintain healthy self-esteem.
Below are a few things that sport psychologists do to support athletes.
- Help athletes manage the stress and pressure that comes with competition
- Teach clients visualization and relaxation techniques to help them stay focused and perform at their best
- Motivate athletes to help them stick to their exercise programs and maintain their fitness goals
- Teach strategies to help athletes recover from injuries and any pain or stress caused by those injuries
It’s not uncommon for sport psychologists to work in areas other than athletics. Sport psychologists may also work with others with high-stress jobs, such as firefighters, paramedics, police officers, surgeons, performance artists and military personnel.
Workers in these high-stress fields may need counseling to cope with challenges and act quickly in difficult situations. The US Army is currently the largest employer of sport psychologists in the country.
Sports Psychologist Salary
According to Payscale, the average sports psychologist’s salary is around $75,000 annually. Compensation for sport psychologists varies, with salaries ranging from around $49,000 on the low end to around $103,000 on the high end.
Steps to Becoming a Sport Psychologist
If you want to become a sports psychologist, you must take a few specific steps. Sport psychologist education requirements typically include bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Each state sets its own licensing requirements, so you should find out what your state’s specific requirements are. In most cases, you need a doctorate to practice as a sport psychologist.
Some universities offer dual-degree programs for graduate work, which allows students to earn their master’s and doctoral degrees concurrently. If you choose this option, you may complete your educational requirements more quickly than you would in a traditional program.
Read on for more detailed information on the educational requirements for becoming a sport psychologist.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
A graduate degree is required to become a sport psychologist, and in order to attend graduate school, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree. Ideally, you should plan to major in psychology, sport psychology or a related field.
Not all universities offer a sport psychology major for undergraduate students, but many offer some sport psychology courses or other relevant courses that you could take as a general psychology major. Such courses may include psychological testing, research methods, organizational psychology, behavioral psychology, psychology of teams and psychological treatment options.
Earn a Master’s Degree
Earning a master’s degree is your next step after completing a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree in sport psychology teaches sport psychology theories, research methods, data analysis, ethics and strategies to improve athletic performance. It also prepares you for graduate work in the field of sports psychology.
Earn a Doctoral Degree
You can choose from two types of doctoral degrees if you want to become a sport psychologist: a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. Both degrees cover the subject matter that is required for a career in sport psychology, and both degrees require internships. Specific internship requirements vary among programs.
And Ph.D. is a doctorate of philosophy. This degree covers a variety of subjects with an emphasis on research and academia. If you choose to complete a Ph.D. in sport psychology, your potential career paths include teaching, scientific research, patient care and clinical practice.
As a graduate student working towards a Ph.D. in sport psychology, you expand your knowledge of sport psychology principles and practice advanced research methods that help you become a scholar in your field.
A Psy.D. is a doctorate of psychology. This degree focuses on working directly with people in clinical settings. It takes less time to complete than a Ph.D. since it involves fewer requirements for coursework in research and statistics.
As a graduate student working towards a Psy.D. in sport psychology, you learn scientific psychology principles, data analysis and interpretation, performance enhancement strategies and theories, counseling and screening skills and decision-making principles.
As you determine which degree to pursue, you should consider your career goals and which of these degrees will help you meet those goals.
Gain State Licensure
Each state has its own licensing requirements, so as you plan for your education, check with your state to make sure you are on track to become licensed. Most states require a doctoral degree and two years of supervised practice. You also need to pass an exam.
Find more information through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, which maintains a directory of state and provincial licensing boards in the United States and Canada.
Obtain Board Certification
You can obtain board certification through the American Board of Sport Psychology (ABSP). To become board certified, you need to meet the following requirements.
- Hold a doctorate in psychology from an accredited university or a master’s degree in an allied field that qualifies you to reach licensed professional status.
- Complete the ABSP training. Meet all of the organization’s requirements, including completing a final project and scoring a minimum of 80% on a pre-practicum knowledge test.
- Perform 75 complete or partial athlete assessments with testing and intervention. This includes approximately 750 hours of work.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sport Psychologists
What does a sports psychologist do daily?
Sport psychologists typically work with athletes to teach them strategies to improve their mental health and/or maintain their peak athletic performance. These strategies could include confidence building, focusing techniques, anger management, mental recovery from physical injuries or development of pregame routines.
What is the difference between a psychologist and a sports psychologist?
Psychologists and sport psychologists both work with people to provide them with coping strategies and help them improve their mental health. The difference is that psychologists work with many different groups of people, and sport psychologists typically focus on athletes or others in high-stress jobs, such as firefighters and military personnel.
Do sport psychologists travel?
Yes, it’s common for sport psychologists to travel. This often happens when they work with sports teams and sports industry professionals who may need assistance while on the road.