Sports Psychology Career Information and Education Requirements
The field of sports psychology draws from several disciplines, including psychology, physical fitness and sports science. This allows students to take various educational pathways based on the career track they wish to pursue. Career options for sports psychologists may include counseling and therapy, teaching and research.
Clinical and Applied Sports Psychologists
Clinical sports psychologists typically counsel athletes facing personal and career crises such as anxiety, performance issues, behavior modification and mental responses to physical injuries. Applied sports psychologists instruct individual athletes and sports teams on the various methods of mental conditioning, including visualization, concentration and relaxation techniques. Many sports psychologists work onsite with sports teams alongside coaches, trainers and managers. Others practice independently and perform consulting services on an as-needed basis.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for most psychologists, including sports psychologists, is $86,380 per year. The employment rate for all psychologists is expected to increase by 22% between 2010 and 2020, which is actually faster than the national average for all careers (www.bls.gov). Salaries vary based on the psychologist's area of specialization and experience, the employing organization and the amount of advanced training received. Experienced psychologists working for professional sports teams or professional athletes may earn six-figure salaries, while those working in educational or research settings receive more modest salaries.
The BLS reports that the job outlook is best for sports psychologists with a doctoral degree in their specialty. Positions for potential psychologists with master's degrees are limited and candidates may face intense competition for the available jobs. Sports psychologists with master's degrees may expect to work as assistant counselors or in research positions, directly supervised by licensed psychologists. Time spent volunteering with sports teams or interning under the supervision of sport and exercise psychology professionals may also be helpful in obtaining full-time positions.
Entry-level positions for licensed sports psychologists typically require a master's or doctorate degree in clinical psychology, sports psychology or counseling. Very few schools currently offer full sports and exercise psychology programs at the undergraduate or graduate level. Undergraduate students may consider pursuing double majors in psychology and exercise science, or a major in one discipline with a minor in the second.
Graduate and post-graduate students typically complete advanced coursework in exercise science, kinesiology and clinical psychology. A one-year internship through a program approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) may be an additional requirement for graduation. Continuing education and training is available through several professional organizations, including the APA and the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, once state licensing or certification as a psychologist is obtained.
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