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How to Become A Sports Psychologist

Psychology is an academic and professional field focusing on treating people with mental and behavioral disorders. Psychologists study social, emotional and cognitive processes and human behavior. These professionals may use a number of approaches such as observation, interpretation and more to find possible treatments for psychological disorders.

Psychologists may specialize in various fields such as school psychology, clinical psychology, criminal psychology and more. Clinical psychologists, for example, diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders while school psychologists apply psychological principles and techniques in educational settings.

What is a Sports Psychologist?

The history of sports psychology dates back to the 19th century with Norman Triplett, a professor, who conducted a research on cyclists. The research showed that the cyclists mostly performed better in groups, compared to when they were riding by themselves. The first sports psychology laboratory was established by Carl Diem in 1920. Today, the branch of sports psychology is advancing. Sports enthusiasts are keen to see their favorite sports stars perform well, and sport psychologists are required to help athletes reach their best potential.

Sports psychologists are types of psychologists that are responsible for helping athletes maintain top performance. They may work with all kinds of players, from baseball to boxers, and help them deal with sports-related physical, mental and emotional stress, thus enabling them to discover the best in themselves.

Simply put, sports psychologists perform a number of duties including helping athletes deal with issues such as:

  • Sports injuries
  • Aggression
  • Nerves and anxiety
  • Self-confidence
  • Concentration
  • Motivation
  • Focus

Most sports psychologists work as consultants while others work for professional sports teams and university athletic departments. Those who are into private practice consult with athletes on individual basis and help them work through issues that might be affecting their performance.

Studies reveal that the majority of Olympics athletes have taken help from sports psychologists in order to reduce anxiety prior to performance. However, athletes are not the only ones that may benefit from the services of these psychologists. In fact, some individuals with high stress professions may also take counseling sessions with sport psychologists. This may include businessmen, politicians as well as performing artists.

Becoming a sports psychologist can be a suitable option for those with interest in sports as well as interest in helping people.

How to Become a Sports Psychologist?

Sports psychologists typically hold a master’s or a doctoral degree in psychology.  Besides, they may also need to earn a license to practice. Master’s degree may take 2-3 years to complete while the doctoral programs generally span over 5-6 years.

Students may pursue a PhD in psychology, a research based degree that culminates in an examination and dissertation. Or they may enroll in the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program, a clinical degree based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. Some doctoral degree programs require students to hold a master’s degree in psychology while others accept candidates with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

PhD programs in psychology train students to become independent psychologists who have the knowledge, skills, and experience to work with athletes, teams, and sports organizations. These programs cover courses in general psychology, counseling psychology, exercise and sports psychology, social psychology of sport, sports psychology and applied sports psychology as well as the exercise sciences. Besides, candidates also get an opportunity to gain hands on experience during the course of their studies.  

Master’s degree programs in psychology generally instruct students in industrial-organizational psychology, statistics, and research design. While an undergraduate degree in psychology may not always be the prerequisite, those who want to enroll in the master’s program must have completed courses in introductory psychology, experimental psychology, and statistics, as noted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Skills for Sports Psychologist

Communication Skills – Sports psychologists should have strong communication skills as they need to deal with athletes from different backgrounds. They should have good listening skills so that they can understand the concerns of athletes and help them accordingly.

Analytical Skills – Analytical skills are also important for sports psychologists. They should be able to examine the information they gather and also draw conclusions from it.

Interpersonal Skills – It is essential for these psychologists to deal with athletes in an effective manner. Besides, they should also be able to work effectively with other medical experts.

Observational Skills – Sports psychologists study attitude and behavior and therefore must have good observational skills. They need to observe people and understand the possible meanings of their expressions, body positions, and interactions.

Problem-Solving Skills – Problem-solving skills are also crucial for these psychologists as they may find possible treatments or solutions for the mental and behavioral problems of athletes and help them perform to the fullest.

An interest in sports, science and math as well as the ability to motivate people are also critical to this line of work. Having an accurate, logical and methodical approach and IT skills may also be useful for sports psychologists.

Employment Opportunities

Sports psychologists generally work in the following capacities:

  • Clinical Psychology – Clinical sports psychologists work individually with athletes and coaches.
  • Academic Positions – Sports psychologists may also work in colleges and universities where they teach and conduct research.
  • Applied Psychology Jobs – Professionals employed in these positions train and motivate teams and athletes.

Overall employment of psychologists is projected to grow by 12% from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all other occupations, according to the BLS. Employment growth may vary by specialty.

How Much do Sports Psychologists Earn?

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for psychologists in 2012 was $69,280. However, factors such as location, area of specialty and experience may determine the exact pay.

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