Sports psychology consists of a broad range of topics such as: motivation, persistence, achievement and psychological factors, in relation to sport injuries and rehabilitation. Sports psychology also involves counseling and coaching athletes (assessing their psychological and emotional well-being, examining their exercise regimen, understanding their self-perceptions, in regards to winning and losing, and improving their self-control when participating in sports). In other words, sports psychology focuses on the mental and psychological factors associated with sports performance. Sports psychologists motivate athletes so that they can improve their athletic performance.
What is a Sports Psychologist?
According to the American Psychological Association (2013), sports psychologists are licensed mental health professionals that use their knowledge and experience to apply psychological principles in a sports environment. Sports psychologists typically perform tasks related to sports education and performance.
As a sports psychologist, you may decide to work at a college or university or you may choose to work directly with athletes to enhance their sports performance and improve their psychological, emotional and physical health. You may even opt to focus on sports-related counseling, research and/or consulting.
You may work with a variety of clients – from children and teens to adults and sports teams. You may work with professional athletes or you may work with amateurs. Regardless, your main goal is to help your clients improve their performance and rehabilitate injured athletes.
As a sports psychologist you may perform the following duties:
- Assisting coaches and working with athletes to improve their performances.
- Teaching sports psychology at colleges and universities.
- Providing sports education and suggesting ideas that will maximize the health and well-being of the athletes and those participating in physical activities.
- Teaching goal-setting and visualization strategies to athletes as a way to enhance their performance.
Sports Psychology Training Programs
The first thing you want to do is earn a bachelor’s degree in a psychology field. Before entering graduate school you need to decide the career path you want to take. For instance, do you want to work directly with athletes? If so, then you need a master’s degree in sports psychology. If your primary career goal is to consult, teach at a college or university or conduct research studies, then you need to obtain a doctorate (Ph.D.) in sports psychology. Earning a sports psychology degree takes persistence, dedication and patience.
The following courses are normally covered in an undergraduate school psychology program:
- General Psychology
- Behavior Analysis
- Clinical Psychology
- Child and Adolescent Development
- Counseling Psychology
- Educational Psychology
- Evaluation, Research, and Measurement
- Leadership Coaching Psychology
- School Psychology
- Sport Psychology
Undergraduate Degree Requirements
Sport psychology examines the relationship between psychological factors and sports performance. It also takes an in-depth look at how exercise and sports affect an individual’s psychological, emotional and physical health and well-being. As a sports psychology student, you are required to take a variety of courses in nutrition, human development, psychology, sports mentality, sports performance and physical education.
The sports psychology undergraduate degree program may provide you with the knowledge needed to pursue a graduate degree in exercise psychology, sports psychology or sports sociology. Earning a bachelor’s degree takes approximately 4 years to complete. You are required to successfully complete all coursework in order to earn a bachelor’s degree in this field.
The following courses are normally covered in a graduate school psychology program:
- Sports Medicine
- Orientation to Graduate Learning in Psychology
- Learning Theories in Psychology
- Tests and Measurements
- Inferential Statistics
- Research Methods
- Biological Basis of Behavior
- Ethics and Multi-Cultural Issues in Psychology
- Performance Enhancement in Sports
- Principles of Sport Psychology
- Applied Sport Psychology
- Current Issues in Sport Psychology
Graduate Degree Requirements
While in your graduate sports psychology program, you learn how to address sports-related issues like: stress management, performance enrichment, individual and team motivation, sports-related recovery and rehabilitation. You also learn the principles of psychology, sports psychology practical applications, sports psychology theories and research methods.
In addition, you learn how to customize your methods to fit different populations. Earning a master’s degree in sports psychology takes approximately 2.5 to 3 years to complete. It consists of coursework, an internship and a thesis (an extensive research paper).
Doctoral Degree Courses
The following courses are normally covered in a doctoral school psychology program:
- Measurement in Human Movement
- Research Methods
- Research in Human Movement
- Motivation in Physical Activities
- Lifespan Sport Psychology
- Psychosocial Factors in Physical Activities
Doctoral Degree Requirements
This field of psychology also examines the relationship between social and psychological factors and participation and performance in physical activities, like sports. Moreover, it explores the relationship between physical activity and psychological health and well-being. The sports psychology doctoral program emphasizes: self-perceptions, motivation, leadership styles, group dynamics and behavioral changes–related to sports participation.
Earning a Ph.D. in sports psychology can take between 5 and 7 years to complete. Most programs allow 7 years to complete the program, although you may be able to complete it within 5 years. You are required to successfully complete coursework, an internship and a dissertation before receiving a doctorate in sports psychology.
- Advising: Once enrolled in a sports psychology doctoral program, you are assigned a temporary advisor who helps you plan your first year of study and select courses that correspond with your desired career path. At the end of your first year, you have an opportunity to choose a permanent advisor. This advisor helps you plan the rest of your program and select courses and guides you through the dissertation (extensive research paper) process.
- Supervisory Committee: During your doctoral sports psychology program, you and your permanent advisor select a four-person supervisory committee. This committee consists of: your permanent advisor, one member from the educational psychology program, one member from the sports psychology program and one member from a discipline outside of psychology. Your committee approves your dissertation topic, guides you through the dissertation process and recommends graduation (upon completion and approval of your dissertation).
- What is Sports Therapy?
- Difference Between Exercise Psychology and Sport Psychology
- How to Become a Sports Counselor
References and Further Reading
- American Psychological Association. (2013). Exercise and Sport Psychology
- Capella University. (2013). Master of Science in Psychology
- Sachs, M. L., Burke, K. L., & Schrader, D. C. (2000) Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport Psychology (6th ed.). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
- Association for Applied Sport Psychology
- American Board of Sport Psychology