How to Become a Sports Psychologist


Playing sports is a popular lifestyle choice in the United States. Every day, people throughout the nation are hitting the gym, running through their neighborhoods, climbing rock walls and keeping in shape in order to tackle their sport. People will go to great lengths in order to be the best athlete possible.

Increasingly, sports psychology is a vital part of keeping the athletic lifestyle intact. Sports psychology involves a variety of areas, such as: motivation (i.e. the ability to persevere and accomplish goals), counseling services with athletes and their families, assessing mental health and well-being, following a sport’s injury, and the subsequent rehabilitative process, along with talent evaluations, self-perceptions, in regards to excelling in life and at sports, self-regulatory behaviors, athletic performances, and exercise protocols.

What is the Role of a Sports Psychologist?

Sports psychologists counsel clients in order to enhance physical performance, focusing on the mental factors that contribute to better athleticism including subjects like team communication, toughness, coaching methods. With background in kinesiology as well as psychology, sports psychologists are experts in mental strategies and methods that improve athletes.

Both professional and non-professional athletes have big demands being placed on them in all directions. Day in and day out, they need to deal with a rigorous schedule that requires concentration, motivation, and commitment. At the same time, they are only human. Added pressures from such sources as personal or family problems, academic work if they are still in school, and poor team morale can make it hard for an athlete to focus despite knowing how important it is to do so.

Sports psychologists are specially trained to help athletes at all levels put the various obstacles they are facing in perspective so they can go out on the playing field with the confidence and determination to put forth their best effort. The following are some of the specific ways a competent sports psychologist can help athletes:

  • Offer practical strategies like visualization, self-talk, and relaxation techniques.
  • Help injured athletes set realistic goals, better tolerate pain, and motivate them to follow the recommended course of physical therapy or other regimen prescribed for them. If their injury forces them to be sidelined, help them deal with the setback and understand it is only temporary.
  • In theory, every game on a team’s schedule is important, but it is only natural for teams to be more “up” for certain opponents than others. Not just at the high school and college level, but in major professional sports, too, this phenomenon happens frequently. A team can be looking past a relatively weak opponent with a bigger game on the horizon, or following an intensely fought game against a long-standing rival, it can have a subpar performance in the next game. The sports psychologist can help the players stay more consistently focused.
  • Some sports organizations hire a sports psychologist to encourage youngsters to participate in competitive sports, not only because it is fun, but to build their self-esteem.

Where Do Sports Psychologists Work?

Sports psychologists work in a variety of settings, most commonly with amateur and professional sports teams. For example, a professional baseball team might employ a sports psychologist to work with the team’s players to develop strategies for being calm and focused when they’re up to bat so as to improve the batter’s performance.

Likewise, sports psychologists can find employment with national sports teams, like a country’s Olympic team or World Cup soccer team, or within agencies that govern sports, like the International Olympic Committee.

Some sports psychologists work in the private sector, as consultants that are contracted to work with specific athletes. They might also work in private practice, much as traditional psychologists often do, and meet one-on-one with clients to help them work through issues that are negatively impacting their performance as an athlete.

Yet other sports psychologists work in settings like public or private secondary schools, colleges or universities, medical clinics or physical therapy clinics to work with young or amateur athletes on improving the mental aspect of sports performance.

What are the Requirements to Become a Sports Psychologist?

It is important to genuinely enjoy athletics before pursuing sports psychology. The profession is perfect for those who played sports throughout their formative years – cheerleaders, little leaguers, pop warner football players and high school athletes. Those with a love of sports as well as the human mind can thrive in this field.


How can one begin down the path towards the sports psychology profession? Like any psychologist, a Ph.D. is necessary. Because of this, becoming a sports psychologist takes years of challenging course work as well as hands-on learning experience. But with the correct attitude, the right academic learning and doctoral training, the goal is within reach.

The first step towards any type professional psychology is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. A degree in psychology is ideal, although any degree is acceptable as long as a student can gain entry to a graduate school with the chosen major. A degree in Kinesiology would be an amazing asset if the student’s goal is to be a sports psychologist.

Related: What is a Sports Psychology Training Program?

Picking a grad school is an important step for those who wish to be sports psychologists. Universities and colleges often specialize in certain programs – some specialize in school psychology, criminal psychology, child psychology, etc. It is important to do research when choosing where to pursue an advanced degree.

Talk to professors or professionals: Asking favorite professors where they gained an advanced degree is an easy way to get started. Professors can offer advice based on personal experience and insider knowledge, especially if familiar with sports psychology. Professionals who are already in the field can offer information concerning their own schooling and career.

Search the internet: Find out which schools offer specialized doctorate programs for sports psychology. Online degrees will be common in search results, but try to focus on traditional graduate schools as they offer more individual attention and a better learning environment.

Talk to admissions counselors: Once good schools with sports psychology programs have been identified, make contact with admissions counselors or professors at the school. They can offer information about letters of reference, GRE scores and other information that could give certain students an edge.


Programs that help place students in internships may benefit the student greatly – many students that are pursuing clinical psychology, such as sports psychology doctorates, find it challenging to procure an internship. Internships seem to be few and far between – you must use to find an internship– the recovering economy still allows little room for the hiring of interns and there are usually more candidates than there are internships. Internships can be found at non-profit agencies, research agencies, schools, community organizations and hospitals.

Licensure Hours

Licensure requirements vary from state to state. However, generally, to become a fully licensed, a sports psychologist must eventually complete 3,000 supervised hours of practice. Graduated doctoral students gain these hours through a combination of internships and entry level positions.

Training and Self-Development

Even after completing all the elements – degrees, internships, entry level jobs – sports psychologists should continue the trend of self-improvement.

According to the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, continued self-improvement or “sharpening the saw,” is an important practice. Attending professional trainings, symposiums and conventions are great ways to continue learning. Likewise, continuing physical activity or playing sports on community teams are both great ways to stay connected to the lifestyle of potential clients.

What Skills are Required for a Sports Psychologist?

Sports psychologists need to have many key skills to carry out their job effectively. First of all, having to work with athletes from a particular sport means that it is essential to have knowledge about the game and be able to integrate principles of psychology with the sport itself. This is important, so that sports psychologists are able to offer something of practical value to an athlete, which is relevant and can be applied to help them.

Apart from knowing the game, sports psychologists need to be likable and have a strong motivational ability. Because they work on such a personal level alongside athletes, having a good relationship is important. Sports psychologists should have good interpersonal skills and have the ability to build a solid rapport with athletes. It’s not merely a matter of handing down advice, but being able to relate to the athlete and work together with them. Along with this, sports psychologists need to have the capacity to motivate, drive and encourage confidence in athletes to help them overcome the issues they face.

Sports psychologists also need to have the skill of being flexible. They should be able to address the specific individual needs of the athlete. While there are common problems amongst athletes, each athlete is unique in the problems that they face as well as having different goals, desires and abilities. A sports psychologist needs to take into consideration the unique position and circumstances of an athlete in order to devise and adapt a therapy strategy that best works for them.

What are the Career Opportunities for New Graduates?

Getting a foot in the door is important, many times recently graduated PhD students or PhD candidates begin careers working for the county or state.  Some lucky sports psychologists will be retained from their internships. A freshly graduated sports psychologist can gain employment with family doctors or chiropractors that service local athletes. Some luxury gyms will have sports psychologist on hand to counsel members.

Eventually, sports psychologists aim to work for a professional team or start a private practice – but that takes a few years of grunt work first.

How Much Does a Sports Psychologist Make?

According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA), sports psychologists working in university athletic departments can earn $60,000 to $80,000 per year. Individuals in the top salary bracket can earn over $100,000 annually. As Americans are becoming more and more health conscious the outlook for sports psychology professions is only getting better.

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