Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Sports Psychologists

Sports Psychologist OutlookContrary to popular belief, sports psychologists are not bound to work solely with professional athletes, and within this growing field, psychology graduates and professionals can look forward to a broader range of employment opportunities that include scientific, clinical and applied psychology positions that involve sports and exercise. Sports psychologists find work in a variety of job settings, including educational institutions and private clinics, as they strive to motivate, enhance mental health, and improve the performance level of patients and clients.

What Type of Positions Can a Sport Psychologist Hold?

According to the book, Exploring Sport and Exercise Psychology, only a few psychology departments (such as Springfield College, University of Denver) offer specialties in sport psychology. This requires students with an interest in the field to become proactive in planning for their career development. Identifying faculty who might be able to support an interest in sport and exercise psychology is helpful, and on the graduate level, most interested students wind up earning a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in clinical or counseling psychology due to the absence of a sports psychology major. Learn more about how to become a sports psychologist.

When entering the workforce, sport psychologists typically focus on one of three primary specialties:

  • Applied Sports Psychology: Concentrates on teaching the skills necessary for enhancing athletic performance, which includes goal setting and imagery.
  • Clinical Sports Psychology: Blends mental training strategies and psychotherapy as a way to assist clients suffering from mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and/or eating disorders.
  • Academic Sports Psychology: Involves conducting research, and teaching on the college or university level.

"Currently, sport psychology positions are limited. Sport psychology is a growing field and hasn't come fully to public awareness. People seeking sport psychology degrees need to obtain skills to do clinical work and gradually build a sport psychology practice. Only Division 1 sport teams employ full or part-time sport psychologists. Some professional teams do as well. Private practice is another option."

Michael D. Zito, Ph.D., AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant

Some of the career options available to a sports psychologist include:

  • Becoming a mental training consultant, working with athletes and teams to teach mental training techniques and team-building strategies.
  • Providing consulting services to coaches and support staff to help create a team environment that achieves a maximum level of healthy motivation and trust.
  • Working at a high school or college as an Academic Counselor (or Academic Coordinator) for student-athletes.
  • Assuming a position that works with athletes at a sport medicine clinic.
  • Educating the public as a Sport Psychology Lecturer.
  • Pursuing a Doctorate in Sport and Exercise or Clinical Psychology, and becoming a staff sports psychologist at a sports organization or university.
  • Establishing a private practice to counsel athletic clients on how to set goals, stay focused, better manage their energy, and develop effective pre-performance routines.

"Our alumni also work in other professional settings such as Master Resilience Trainer/ Performance Expert with the U.S. Army, head coaches at various colleges, and Program Coordinator through the national First Tee youth golf program, to name a few."

– Judy L. Van Raalte, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Springfield College

"Some start their own private practice which can be a pretty big undertaking and takes a lot of hard work and patience…[find] a niche that separates [you] from others in the field. Find an area of specialization that expresses your love and passion for sports and being of service to athletes." 

-Robert B. Andrews, M.A., LMFT, CSC Founder and Director of The Institute of Sports Performance in Houston, TX.

"I was contacted by a professional sports team to help with selection. They were looking for the intangibles associated with success. The process included developing a personality measurement as well as looking at the belief system of successful athletes. We even added a measure of sociopathy to make sure they were not selecting people who would ruin the clubhouse atmosphere. This process goes beyond motivation and visualization commonly associated with Sports Psychologists."

– Dave Popple Ph.D., President of Corporate Insights

Ways for Sport Psychologists to Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate

Keeping abreast of the latest therapy techniques and research related to sport psychology is a good way to increase desirability as a job applicant, as well as help during the interview process. Subscribing to professional journals, reading books, and attending professional meetings are excellent ways to further expand one's knowledge regarding the field. A few journal suggestions include Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology; Journal of Applied Sport Psychology; and The Sport Psychologist.

As a sport psychology student, pursuing an independent study with a sports team provides hands-on observational experience and valuable insight regarding how athletes and teams work.

Andrews, who specializes in helping injured athletes recover from the mental and emotional impact of sports related injuries, gives the following suggestions:

  • Demonstrate the willingness to learn: Taking CEU courses relevant to an area of expertise and interest is one way to highlight a desire to continue growing as a professional.
  • Conduct timely research: Andrews gives an example on how he chose to stay in touch with someone who contacted him about conducting research on concussions. He said that if he makes room for another practitioner in his practice, this is a person he'd first contact to fill the position.
  • Become visible in the field: Attending conferences, participating in workshops, and word-of-mouth advertising is beneficial for sports psychologists looking for work.

"Get involved. I always pay particular attention to the students who contact me and have experience in the field in some way. They are pursuing a degree in psychology, participating in sports at the college level, working with little league organizations in their area as a volunteer, public speaking on topics that they have interest and passion about, etc."

–Robert B. Andrews, M.A.

"Becoming licensed can be valuable as employers tend to like hiring those who can work with sport and other personal issues. Also, it may be good to become a Certified Consultant, AASP."

-Judy L. Van Raalte, Ph.D.

Ways for a Sport Psychologist to Increase His/Her Salary

From assisting teens involved in athletics to helping injured athletes regain mental strength for their return to competition, sport psychologists may establish a private practice to counsel clients within their own office setting. Beyond working with athletes and coaches, it is also not uncommon to provide counseling services to parents, children, and significant others of athletes.

Sports psychologists can also augment their potential earnings through amplified exposure within their field, which can lead to an increase in the number of clients for a private practice, as well as create a higher demand for their expertise and services.

A few ways to achieve this includes:

  • Hiring a PR firm is an excellent way to increase a psychologist's visibility on a national level, as athletes, coaches and teams are constantly seeking professional assistance.
  • Being active on social media is also beneficial for 'getting the word out' about the accomplishments and capabilities of both budding and seasoned sports psychologists.
  • Public-speaking is another way to get out in the field, stir interest, and increase exposure to potential clients and employers, which includes teams, parent groups, coaches and athletes.

"The more experience you have, the more leverage you have with pricing of your services. If you have a particular area of specialization that not many people are focusing on, then there is value in that service."

–Robert B. Andrews, M.A.

Advanced training related to sports psychology, such as mental skills training, adds an attractive feature to a resume, and also increases a job candidate's desirability to a potential employer. According to Bob Neff,Ph.D., founder and CEO of Mental Training, Inc., earning credentials, such as becoming a Certified Mental Trainer, also expands the number of possibilities to increase a salary through promotion, or by earning extra money by training others.

"There are hundreds who graduate annually with Master's degrees or higher in this industry, but only a handful survive trying to work full-time with athletes... it should be no surprise that without specific guidance, very few last long and their degrees go unused."

Bob Neff,Ph.D.

"Sport psychologists in research positions may increase their salaries by grant funding for their research."

–Judy L. Van Raalte, Ph.D.

Read about a sports psychology degree.

Featured Online Sports Psychology Master's Degree Program:

Networking Opportunities and Organizations

Sports Psychology NetworkingAttending professional conferences is an effective way to meet and network with niche-related colleagues, including students, educators, and other psychology professionals – through workshops, lectures, athletic presentations, keynote speakers,  and symposium. Many conferences also provide a way for psychologists to earn continuing education credits.

Joining the Association of Applied Sports Psychology (AASP) is quite beneficial, as this national organization not only hosts yearly national conferences, but also offers CEU credits, sends out newsletters, and has an accreditation process for certification in sports psychology.

Professionals can also join local sports psychology-related groups that provide access to regional networking opportunities, such as meet-and-greets, luncheons, fundraising events, and seminars.

Organizations that provide additional networking opportunities for sport psychologists include:

  • American Board of Sport Psychology
  • American Psychological Association Division 47 (APA)
  • International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP)
  • American Journal of Sports Medicine
  • North American Society for Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA)

"Information about sport psychology organizations around the world is online at the Sport Psychology Council website (the sport psychology council is an organization of sport psychology organizations) at: SportPsychologyCouncil.org"

–Judy L. Van Raalte, Ph.D.

"I never would have said this four or five years ago, but social media is such a huge part of my successful practice. I use Constant Contact, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and have built a really great website."

–Robert B. Andrews, M.A.

Sports Psychology Continuing Education (CE) Sources

In addition to state-approved CE programs for psychologists, the APA also offers continuing education options for sport psychologists. In addition to providing an opportunity to develop as a professional, individuals can expand their overall knowledge of the field by earning CE credits in topics such as Body Image, Eating Disorders, and Obesity in Youth: Assessment, Prevention, and Treatment; Human Aggression and Violence: Causes, Manifestations, and Consequences; and Motivational Interviewing.