According to Division 47 of the American Psychological Association, sports psychology encompasses a series of topics, including “motivation for persistence and achievement, psychological considerations in sports injuries and rehabilitation, counseling skills for athletes, assessment skills, sports persistence and well-being, Views related to self-achievement, sports expertise, youth sports and performance improvement, and self-regulation skills.”
Although popular belief usually assumes that sports psychology is only related to professional sports, the field of expertise includes a wide range of scientific, clinical, and applied topics, involving sports and exercise.
Sports psychology has two important areas of interest: understanding how to apply psychology to improve motivation and performance, and understanding how sports can improve mental health and overall well-being.
Sports psychologists can also choose to specialize in specific areas. Some examples of major professions in this field include:
- Applied sports psychology focuses on teaching skills that improve sports performance, such as goal setting and imagery.
- Clinical sports psychology involves combining the psychological training strategies of sports psychology with psychotherapy to help clients experiencing mental health problems, including eating disorders and depression.
- Academic sports psychologists teach in colleges and universities and also conduct research.
What does a sports psychologist do
Sports psychologists usually perform a series of tasks related to sports performance and education. Some choose to teach in universities, while others work directly with athletes to increase motivation and improve performance. Other options include customer consulting, scientific research and sports consulting.
In addition to working with professional athletes, sports psychologists also use their expertise to improve the mental health of non-athletes. They may work with a range of non-professional clients, including children and teenagers involved in track and field sports, and injured athletes struggling to return to the field.
The salary range for sports psychology varies greatly according to training, education, and professional fields. According to 2018 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of clinical, school, and consulting psychologists ranges from $44,040 to $129,310.The median annual salary of university faculty and staff ranges from $60,000 to $80,000. Some top sports psychologists earn six-figure salaries as consultants to professional athletes, but most people have lower annual incomes.
Entry-level positions with a bachelor’s degree are rare and usually take the form of internships. Most positions require a master’s or doctorate in clinical, consulting, or sports psychology, as well as direct training and experience in applying psychology to sports and exercise.
The American Board of Sports Psychology provides professional certification for licensed psychologists who want to pursue this profession. The committee certification indicates that the holder has advanced training and experience in sports psychology, and has a particular understanding of the ethics, methods, and research issues related to the application of methods to improve athletes’ mental performance. In order to obtain this certification, applicants must have a PhD and a license to practice in at least one state.
Since there are few graduate programs offering professional degrees in sports psychology, it is difficult to determine which exact combination of training and experience makes professionals qualified to be called “sports psychologists.” Part 47 of the APA recommends that sports psychologists should be licensed psychologists with “experience in applying psychological principles in sports environments.”In addition, it is recommended to have a broad educational background and training in sports, motivation management, performance and sports.
Is a career in sports psychology right for you?
Only you can decide whether a career in sports psychology suits your needs, interests, talents, and goals. If you don’t like sports or exercise, this career may not be for you. However, if you like to help people reach their full potential, solve complex problems, and work as part of a team, then this field may be your ideal choice.
Pros and cons
Like all occupations, sports psychology has its advantages and disadvantages. Before you decide whether this career is right for you, take some time to learn more about sports psychology. Explore your options by taking an introductory course on the subject, and carefully weigh your options before making a decision.
Benefits of a sports psychology career
- Sports psychologists often work as part of a collaborative team.
- There are multiple career paths and professional opportunities (ie teaching, youth sports, professional sports training).
- It can be a fun, challenging and exciting job.
Disadvantages of sports psychology career
- For people with independent thinking, emphasizing teamwork can be difficult.
- It requires extensive education, training and experience.
- Opportunities for holders of bachelor’s and master’s degrees are usually more limited.