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What is a sports psychologist?

A sports psychologist works to help support and develop the psychology of high-level competitive athletes and sportspeople.

Many people may find this surprising. After all, often athletes are very well paid, very well motivated, and incredibly successful! Why would someone living this sort of lifestyle need a psychologist?

The truth is that mental health issues can affect ANYONE, regardless of age, wealth, or any other external or internal factor.

High-level sport is incredibly unforgiving, particularly in a world where criticism and scrutiny are often public and very loud, in online spaces and elsewhere.

Sports psychologists help athletes deal with the stress and mental rigors that high-level sport puts on the psyche.

Career Outlook/Demand

The career outlook for sports psychologists is an interesting one, with a lot of room to specialize, learn and grow, developing as a clinician while also developing contacts and the business side of the profession.

It’s also quite varied, as you can work with athletes in various different sports, at varying levels, assisting with everything from depression, trauma, stress, or PTSD to assisting in building confidence and improving on-field performance.

It’s important to note that while there are similarities, sports psychologist sessions won’t look much like a clinical psychology session, as you will be working with coaches and athletes to deal primarily with stressors and difficulties as they relate to performance, which is an interesting and very specific focus, setting this profession apart from the other niches of psychology.

In terms of supply and demand, it’s important to understand this, as picking a career is really important and needs to be considered and a well-researched decision.

A low supply and high demand is the best for job seekers, and will often mean it’s easier to find work and get paid well for your efforts.

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In terms of sports psychology, it’s actually a relatively good market for job seekers, as more sports take mental health seriously, and many athletes seek to improve and learn more about the importance of the mental side of the game.

Sport is essential, and the amount of money being made in professional sport is very high, and there are also a lot of different sports and leagues to choose from, meaning you will have a lot of opportunities to work and the ability to work in various areas of the country or world, with opportunities for travel too.

Sport is also continuing to grow, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in psychology, including sports psychology, will grow 14% from 2018 to 2028 so there are definitely opportunities available!

How to become a sports psychologist

Education Requirements

The first step is graduating with an undergraduate degree. It is best to major in psychology, education, or a related field, as this will help you gain the knowledge and skills necessary for pursuing your graduate degree in sports psychology.

These majors require different classes. If you are a psychology major, you will take classes in psychology, such as cognitive psychology, abnormal psychology, and developmental psychology.

Some of the best schools for these programs include Harvard, Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, Stanford University, and Duke University.

In addition to your undergraduate coursework, pursuing internships or volunteer experiences in sports psychology is a good idea. These experiences will give you a greater understanding of how to work with athletes and how to support them behaviorally and emotionally. You can find internships with sports teams at the collegiate or professional level.

It may also be helpful to have your own experience as an athlete or coach to understand better how athletes think and respond to certain situations. Leveraging your expertise in pressure-filled athletic cases and sharing how you navigated them with your clients may be beneficial.

Once you have completed your undergraduate degree, the next step is to pursue a master’s degree in psychology. The application process for graduate programs is intense and requires specific requirements, including the GRE, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

The GRE is a standardized test that all graduate programs require. It tests how well you can analyze and evaluate written material, how well you understand verbal material, how well you can problem-solve, think abstractly, and understand quantitative data.

Letters of recommendation are also important. Letters of recommendation should be from people who have seen your work, how you interact with others, how well you communicate, how reliable and conscientious you are, how creative and innovative you are, how organized you are, how well you work with others, and how well you respond to criticism. 

Securing a letter of recommendation from the internship or volunteer work is a great way to differentiate yourself from other applicants.

Typically, it takes two to three years to complete a master’s degree in psychology. You will take courses in psychopathology, intervention, and research methods during this program.

The best schools for a master’s degree in psychology are the University of Southern California, the University of British Columbia, the University of Denver, and the University of Minnesota.

Some sports psychologists decided to pursue a doctorate. A doctorate typically takes an additional four years. During this program, you will take advanced courses in sports psychology, such as how to work with athletes, develop performance plans, and assess and treat psychological issues related to sports performance.

Certification and Licensing

Once you have completed your education, the next step is to become certified and licensed. To become a sports psychologist, you must first pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

The EPPP is a nationally administered exam that tests how well you can apply and interpret psychological knowledge. Once you have passed the EPPP, you must obtain a license from your state’s psychology board. Each state may have different licensure requirements, and it is crucial to ensure you meet them.

Continuing Education Requirements

The final step in becoming a sports psychologist is to maintain licensure. To maintain licensure, you must complete continuing education requirements. These requirements vary from state to state but typically include courses, workshops, conferences, and seminars related to sports psychology.

It would be best to stay current on the latest research and technology in the field. Becoming an active member of professional organizations, such as AASP, will help you stay informed and connected with sports psychologists around the country.

Continuing your education after your licensure is essential to provide the best service to athletes and their teams.

By following these steps, you can become a sports psychologist and provide invaluable support to athletes throughout their journey. With the proper education, dedication, and hard work, you can become a successful sports psychologist who makes a difference in children’s lives.

How much do sports psychologists make?

One of the most important aspects of any career is remuneration, and it’s a big motivator for people even if you’re passionate about the particular subject matter.

There are a lot of variables as with any pay scale and can be affected by the experience, location, and the level at which you are practicing.

However for sports psychologists in a university athletics department can expect to earn around $60,000 to $80,000, with some even surpassing $100,000. In private practice, it’s much harder to give precise salary figures but it can be incredibly lucrative, as can consulting and freelance work.

How much do NFL sports psychologists make?

It’s difficult to give precise figures, as naturally, salaries are personal information which isn’t often shared very freely.

Generally, at the highest level, sports psychologists can expect to make over $100,000 a year when dealing with NFL franchises that have a large roster of athletes, state-of-the-art facilities, and incredibly lucrative and high stakes competition.

How much do NBA sports psychologists make?

The same can be said for NBA psychologists, who will likely often make in the vicinity of $100,000 a year or more when dealing with the highest level of athletes. It’s possible the amount may be less for someone less experienced, but these roles are some of the biggest and most rewarding for sports psychologists so they are competitive, highly sought after, and well paid too.

A day in the life of a sports psychologist/what do they do for athletes?

Sports psychologists can work for athletes, coaches, and referees, from the amateur level all the way up to the professional level. Their work is focused on supporting these athletes and sportspeople in their roles and dealing with the psychological stresses of the profession, as well as researching how sport affects psychology, and how psychology influences sports performance.

They attempt to prepare athletes as well as possible using all these factors and may use aspects of medicine and psychology in the performance of their duties.

Latest Sports Psychologist Jobs Listings

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Position Company Location Posted
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