What is Sports Counseling?
Sports counseling is a specialized field of work in which counselors are concerned with the wellbeing, mental functioning, and physical performance of athletes. There is particular emphasis on the mental component of athletic performance. As a result, sports counseling often engages clients in activities that revolve around solving problems, overcoming mental barriers, increasing confidence, and improving motivation.
Although the name sports counseling implies a focus only on individual or team sports, this is not the case. Sports counseling can be applied to a variety of settings and endeavors, from boosting performance of student-athletes in the classroom, to enhancing the teamwork of dancers or other stage performers, to educating individuals and families about the underlying psychological mechanisms of optimal physical performance.
What Does a Sports Counselor Do?
Much of the focus of this job is on improving the physical performance of athletes. This might involve helping athletes set goals for improved health that will help them perform better, such as eating healthier or adhering to a more rigorous exercise schedule. Motivating athletes is a common duty as well, which can be done through imagery exercises in which athletes envision themselves performing at an optimal level. Developing pre-performance routines, helping athletes develop their focus, and employing strategies to help individuals manage their energy are common tasks as well. These duties are typically associated with applied sports counseling.
Some sports counselors focus their time on working with athletes in a clinical setting. Clinical sports counseling involves more typical counseling duties such as therapeutic work in a one-on-one setting with a client. Athletes that suffer from anxiety, depression, or another common mental health issue might seek out individual counseling services with a sports counselor. Likewise, sports counselors may work with small groups of athletes, or even entire teams, in order to provide insight into the connection between good mental health and improved athletic performance.
Still other sports counselors work in an academic setting. This might include teaching at the university level and training future sports counselors. It might also involve working with athletes in an educational capacity, such as offering trainings to help alleviate stress, develop improved communication skills, or improve their ability to deal with adversity. Leading team-building activities is a common duty of academic sports counselors as well. Some sports counselors will take on academic coordinator duties as well, and oversee the academic growth and development of student-athletes in a public school or collegiate setting.
Where Does a Sports Counselor Work?
The most common employment setting for a sports counselor is in the athletic department of a college or university. These jobs are fairly low profile, with sports counselors working behind-the-scenes with individual athletes. Some sports counselors work at the high school level as well, although this is quite uncommon and usually only occurs in very large secondary school systems. Although much higher in profile, sports counselor jobs with professional teams are even less common.
Most sports counselors that work with professional athletes do so through a private practice. This is a popular option, particularly because the field of sports counseling is growing so quickly and can generate an excellent income. Sports counselors in private practice aren’t locked in to working with one team, and can offer their services on a contractual basis. This might involve working one-on-one with clients in a therapeutic setting, such as the counselor’s office, or at the athlete’s training facility.
Some sports counselors are employed by the military as well. In this context, sports counselors typically work in an office environment on a military base, meeting with service members or their families. Military sports counselors may also work with groups of soldiers to develop ways to improve their physical and mental performance in the face of difficult circumstances.
Why Do We Need Sports Counselors?
Sports counselors play an integral role in helping athletes perform at their optimum level. This is done through various means, including developing an understanding of each athlete’s motivations, strengths, and weaknesses.
Helping athletes overcome the rigorous schedule involved in athletics, as well as helping them find ways to handle the stress and pressure related to athletics, can help improve the way in which athletes perform. For example, a sports counselor might work with a professional baseball player who is not hitting well to help him understand and effectively address the mental barriers that are preventing him from performing at his best. The end result of sports counseling services is a better individual or team performance, which, in turn, improves the experience for the millions of sports fans who watch athletic events on TV and in person.
What are the Requirements to Become a Sports Counselor?
It is most advisable for undergraduate students to major in psychology and minor in sports or exercise science, or double major in both fields if pursuing a career as a sports counselor. Undergraduate studies, though extremely broad in scope, will provide prospective sports counselors with a solid foundation of knowledge and skills related to sports performance and understanding of human behavior. Four years are typically needed to complete a bachelor’s degree program, although students that choose to major in both psychology and sports or exercise science may need an additional year to complete their studies.
In order to break into the sports counseling field, one must continue their education and get a master’s degree at the very least. Pursuing a doctorate is advisable in order to open up the most job opportunities. Graduate programs in sports psychology are fairly new. However, those that have been established include advanced studies in the theory, practice, and application of sports counseling techniques. There is generally a strong applied focus of graduate programs, meaning, students take the knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom and use them in real-world situations, such as on practicum and internship assignments. Some graduate programs in this field are quite lengthy, with upwards of 70 semester credits required.
Sports counselors that offer clinical or counseling services generally must be licensed in the state in which they practice.
Sports counselors may need to participate in continuing education courses in order to retain licensure. Further trainings are necessary for sports counselors who wish to be certified. Certification as a Certified Consultant is available through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. In order to be eligible for certification, sports counselors must have a doctorate with a specialization in sports counseling or psychology and must complete 400 hours of mentorship activities. Approval by a certification committee is required as well.
What Skills are Needed for a Sports Counselor?
In addition to the typical skills needed for counseling, such as a capacity for empathy, an ability to communicate effectively, and the ability to develop rapport with others, sports counselors must have the following skills:
- Interest in sports – Because they deal exclusively with athletes, an interest in sports is necessary in order to establish rapport with clients and understand their unique needs.
- Ability to motivate others – Sports counselors must be able to effectively motivate athletes of all ages and ability levels to work harder, practice more, and overcome mental barriers in order to improve their performance.
- Excellent problem–solving skills – Sports counselors need the capacity for analyzing and evaluating client performance data, combining it with therapeutic information, and using that information to develop an effective treatment plan for improved performance.
- Ability to work in a high–stress, fast-paced environment – Much like their clients, sports counselors must be able to work under immense pressure with many deadlines and with a variety of stakeholders, from athletes to managers to agents.
What is the Salary for a Sports Counselor?
According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a licensed counselor is $47,959, as of May 2020. However, sports counselors can make far more than that due to the increasing demand for counselors in this specific field. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that sports counselors working for collegiate athletic departments can easily earn between $60,000 to $80,000 per year. At large universities, that income can even exceed $100,000.
Sports counselors in private practice earn the most money, especially those that work with professional athletes who can pay a premium for sports counseling services. In fact, according to the APA, the income for sports counselors in private practice “has no ceiling.”
In addition to the level of athlete one works with, income for sports counselors will vary greatly depending on the proximity to a metropolitan area. Public school systems and colleges in large cities tend to be large as well, with budgets that support sports counseling services for athletes. Likewise, metropolitan areas are home to professional sports clubs with money to spend on sports counseling for their athletes.
What is the Career Outlook for Sports Counselor?
According to the APA, sports counseling is among the fastest growing sectors of counseling and psychology. This is due in large part to the love of sports in the United States. Athletes of all ages and levels of skill are facing increased pressure to perform and perform well, thus fueling the need for more and more counselors with a specialization in working with athletes. The APA does not provide an exact figure for the expected growth in this area of work. But based on the need for qualified sports counselors in a variety of work settings, one can expect that the field will grow faster than average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the average rate of growth to be 22 percent over the next few years.
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