Sports Psychology Careers

What is Sports Psychology?

For many people, playing sports is a fun way to stay fit, and compete with friends and peers. A select few might also make a pretty decent living by playing professional sports. But what makes some strive to play sports, to compete? What makes some push themselves to their limits for nothing more than the satisfaction of winning? How does playing sports affect people mentally and emotionally?

Popular Sports Psychology Degree Programs

  1. Capella University
  2. University of the Rockies

These are just a few of the questions that sport psychologists try to answer. Sports psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on how individuals are affected by playing sports as well as how to improve a person’s mindset in order to excel at sports. A sport psychologist understands that individuals who play sports must be healthy in both their bodies and minds in order to succeed. At times, some athletes need help overcoming psychological issues that do not allow them to play to their full potential. Reducing stress and extreme anxiety before events often leads to better performances by athletes.

Sport psychologists often work with several different types of athletes, from amateurs to professionals. Athletes might seek out these professionals on their own, or coaches might seek the help of these types of psychologists when they notice that the athletes under their tutelage seem to be off. According to one study, the majority of Olympic athletes have used several different types of psychological treatments to reduce anxiety before performances.

Athletes aren’t the only ones that can benefit from sport psychology, however, although they are the most likely. Some individuals who are in the middle of high stress and highly competitive careers might also benefit from a few counseling sessions with sport psychologists. This can include professionals such as business people, performing artists, and politicians.

The history of sport psychology began back in the late 19th century, with Norman Triplett. Triplett was a psychology professor at Indiana University during this time, and he conducted research on cyclists. The results of his research showed that the cyclists in his experiments typically performed better when they were riding with others in a group, compared to when they were riding alone. In 1920, the first sport psychology laboratory was founded by Carl Diem in Germany. Coleman Griffith, who worked with athletes from the Chicago Cubs, soon followed suit and founded the first sport psychology laboratory in the United States. It wasn’t until 1987, though, that the American Psychological Association created the sport psychology division, Division 47.

Today, the branch of sport psychology is still going strong and advancing. Competitive sports are very popular, to both play and watch. Sports fans love to see their favorite sports stars do well, and sport psychologists are in demand to help make this happen.

Why Do We Need Sports Psychology?

Sport psychology can be used to help understand what motivates athletes and what makes them perform better. Professionals in this field are very knowledgeable and compassionate regarding the challenges and pressures that most athletes face today. Athletes that take advantage of counseling from a sport psychologist will often be better contenders and have more fulfilling careers.

So, what’s that mean for the Average Joes glued to their television sets every Sunday afternoon? Well, it gives us more reasons to cheer on our favorite athletes and sometimes makes us want to get up and compete ourselves.

What are the Education Requirements for a Sports Psychology Career?

Below is the complete educational path for the Psychologist in this State
Psychologist Educational Track
School Programs Average Education Length Choosing Online or Campus
1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree View Programs 4 Years Online or Campus
2. Earn A Master's Degree View Programs 2 Additional Years Online or Campus
3. Earn a PHD or PsyD View Programs 2-4 Additional Years Online or Campus

A combination of physical education and psychology is essential for starting a sport psychology career. Some colleges and universities might offer sport psychology bachelor degree programs, which includes a blend of psychology courses and physical education courses. A sport psychology career, however, can also usually be started with a bachelor’s degree in general psychology. A few aspiring sport psychologists, however, may even be able to begin their careers with a bachelor’s degree in physical education.

Because there are very few permanent sport psychology positions available for those with bachelor degrees, most individuals pursuing sport psychology careers also usually earn advanced degrees as well. Many universities offer master’s and doctoral degree programs in sport psychology.

If you are serious about pursuing a career in sports psychology visit the Find a School Page and request information from universities in your area.

What Does a Sports Psychologist Do?

A sport psychologist might spend his time in two different aspects of this field – research or counseling.

Research in sport psychology involves studying and observing athletes in order to find out what motivates them to keep pushing on, and what gives them the thirst for landing in the winner’s circle. A sport psychology researcher might also try to find ways for athletes to perform better and with fewer obstacles. The knowledge gained through this research can then be applied during counseling sessions with athletes.

In order to help an athlete, a sport psychologist must be able to first identify the problem that the athlete is facing. An athlete might benefit from a counseling sport psychologist in a number of situations. Some athletes, for instance, may be having trouble concentrating due to a number of personal issues, such as family problems or relationship problems. Contrary to what some may think, athletes also suffer from such things as confidence issues, low self-esteem, and body image. Performance anxiety and burnout are other common problems faced by many athletes, no matter how talented they are.

Depending on the situation, a sport psychologist might work with athletes one-on-one or in groups. Teams, for instance, will often benefit from group therapy, since the members of the team must work together in order to win.

A sport psychologist might use a number of different methods to help athletes who need to overcome certain problems. For instance, they will often lend a non-judgmental ear to frustrated and overwhelmed athletes; sometimes, just the act of talking about certain negative situations can be all that’s necessary to overcome them. Most times, however, a sport psychologist will offer advice and guidance on how to overcome these problems. He may recommend a little rest and relaxation for the burnt out athlete, or he might teach an overly anxious athlete several different relaxation exercises to perform before each game or match. He might teach an athlete visualization techniques or how to tune out distractions.

Some sport psychologists might also work closely with once enthusiastic athletes that have suffered injuries as well. Depending on the severity of the injury, a sport psychologist may attempt to help a recovering athlete segue back into his career with as little stress as possible. Some athletes don’t have this choice, however, and they may need the help of a sport psychologist to help them deal with the fact that they may not be able to play their sport with as much talent and drive as they had at one time.

Where Do Sports Psychologists Work?

Sport psychologists typically work in facilities that cater to and accommodate athletes of all different shapes, sizes, and ages.

High schools and colleges might hire a sport psychologist to talk with and counsel their student athletes, for instance. Some sport psychologists may even work exclusively with professional sports teams and other professional athletes. Sport psychologists can also usually find employment at hospitals, physical rehabilitation centers, and gyms.

Sports psychologists can also choose to open their own practices, much like most other psychologists. The Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) provides an excellent resource section on professional development.

What is the Median Salary for a Sports Psychologist?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a general psychologist was $90,010 in 2010. Psychologists that worked in hospitals earned a median salary of $91,810 and those in private practice earned a median salary of $90,220.

Salaries for sport psychologists can vary, though, depending on a number of factors, such as location and demand. Those in larger metropolitan areas with a proven track record of getting results, for instance, will usually be able to command a higher wage.

Additional Resources and Further Reading

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