Sports psychology is a unique, fun, and interesting field of work. It affords you the ability to apply your psychological knowledge and skills in a setting that is quite different from more typical psychology subdisciplines.
And, like any career, there are benefits and detriments to consider. Part of the process you should undertake before getting a degree in sports psychology and starting a career is to consider the pros and cons of the job.
Below is a list of some of the best features of being a sports psychologist. A few of the characteristics to be wary of are listed as well.
Pro No. 1 – There are Many Career Options
When you think of a sports psychologist, you might first think of a psychologist that works with professional athletes. And while this is certainly a possibility, most sports psychologists work with amateur athletes – such as those in high school and particularly those in college.
You might use your psychological training to go into private practice, where you provide psychological services to clients. You might also use your sports psychology background to become a personal trainer, a psychology researcher, or perhaps even a professor of psychology.
Some psychologists with a background in this field go on to work for the armed services and apply their knowledge of enhancing performance in stressful situations to the training of troops. Yet others work as applied sports psychologists, who evaluate the abilities of athletes. Another possibility is to work as a team counselor and provide individual and team-based interventions that help athletes improve their on-field performance.
Pro No. 2 – You Can Specialize
Related to the previous point is that sports psychology offers ample opportunities to specialize in an area that’s of interest to you.
For example, if you are a big fan of baseball, you can develop specialized skills that allow you to apply sports psychology principles to coaching, teamwork, and individual performance of baseball players. As another example, you can specialize in a certain age group, such as working with youth athletes.
You might even specialize in certain techniques. As an example, you could become an expert in relaxation and offer relaxation training to athletes that experience anxiety before, during, or after a game.
Pro No. 3 – Opportunities to Help Others
As with any job in psychology, an advantage is that you have a real opportunity to help someone else through a difficult time.
Whether you work with an athlete that has a problem with self-confidence, one that needs to work through the mental anguish of an injury, one that is having trouble with teammates, or something in between, your expertise can have an immediate and long-lasting effect on an athlete’s life and career.
Pro No. 4 – This is a Growing Career Field
Athletics has always been popular in the United States, and it stands to reason that this will continue in the future.
With big bucks at stake, amateur and professional sports teams are doing everything they can to ensure their athletes perform at an optimal level. As a result, sports psychology has been a growing career field for quite some time.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of psychology is expected to grow at an eight percent rate through the end of this decade. While this is an average rate for all occupations, it still portends of a future in which sports psychology jobs will be available.
Pro No. 5 – The Opportunity to Travel
Many sports psychologists – particularly those who work for collegiate and professional sports programs – have the opportunity to travel with the team.
Traveling with a sports team allows you to see the world and to travel to places you might not otherwise get to see.
And in the case of working for a professional sports team, you might find that the travel circumstances (e.g., flying on a chartered plane, staying at nice hotels) are additional perks!
Pro No. 6 – Insider Access
As a sports psychologist, you’ll likely have insider access to team facilities. This means that you might be able to be on the sidelines or even meet with athletes in the training room or team room.
While being able to watch sports from the sideline isn’t the point of becoming a sports psychologist, it is certainly an excellent perk! What sports fan wouldn’t want to hang out with the players on the sideline and watch the game unfold from just a few feet away?!
Pro No. 7 – This Can Be an Exciting Job
Psychology as a whole can be very exciting, but many people find that sports psychology is even more compelling.
Whereas you might work with a client for years as a psychotherapist before seeing significant progress, sports psychologists often see results in the performance of their clients in relatively short order. Seeing improvement in the way a person feels, thinks, and performs can be wildly exciting – especially when that improvement leads to on-field performances that enhance an athlete’s ability to win games.
Pro No. 8 – Excellent Income Potential
On average, psychologists earn $84,180 per year, according to the BLS. This is an excellent wage, particularly if you can find a sports psychology job with just a master’s degree.
Granted, since this is the average wage, there is a much wider range of wages for sports psychologists. In fact, the BLS reports that the lowest ten percent of earners in sports psychology make around $46,270 per year. But, the highest ten percent of earners make nearly $140,000 per year.
Your level of education and experience certainly play into how much money you can make as a sports psychologist. The level of athletes with which you work (amateur or professional) will also have a heavy influence on your potential salary.
Pro No. 9 – Opportunities to Work as Part of a Team
Being a sports psychologist often means that there are other professionals involved in trying to help an athlete or a team reach a higher level of performance.
As a result, this career offers you the chance to work with other professionals, learn new skills, share your knowledge, and build collegiality.
Of course, there are many opportunities to work autonomously, too, which also has its advantages. But contributing to a team and seeing the fruits of the team’s labor can be very satisfying.
Pro No. 10 – Join an Exclusive Club
Though sports psychology has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, it’s still a fairly new discipline, all things considered. That means that there aren’t as many people practicing sports psychology as there are in other disciplines, like clinical psychology or counseling psychology.
With a relative few sports psychologists in the country, you might find that this leads to additional opportunities to expand the footprint of your work. This is especially important for sports psychologists that have a private practice or work as a consultant.
Con No. 1 – There Might Be a Lot of Travel
While the opportunity to travel can be an advantage of this job, at some point, it might be too much!
If, for example, you work for a professional baseball team, there are 81 road games during the season, which lasts six months (not including spring training or the postseason). That’s a lot of time away from home, and it can become exhausting.
Con No. 2 – A Heavy Emotional Toll
Inherent in any psychological work is the potential that your clients are struggling with very raw, emotionally-destabilizing issues. Whether it’s death or divorce, health issues or a psychological disorder, or something in between, the experiences you have to work through with your clients can take an emotional toll on you, too.
This can be a stressful job as well. Typically, athletes want results now, not later, so you might place undue stress on yourself to find interventions that quickly help your clients so they can quickly improve their on-field performance.
Con No. 3 – A High Educational Threshold
At a minimum, a sports psychologist needs to have a master’s degree, which takes two to three years to complete after finishing an undergraduate degree. But when you factor in additional training, internships, and certification and licensure processes, you might add another year or two to that timeline.
Additionally, some careers in sports psychology (e.g., working in academia) usually require a Ph.D. Getting a doctorate can add several more years to the process, so you could very well be in school for the better part of a decade.
Con No. 4 – There’s a Lot of Competition
The most lucrative jobs in sports psychology are with professional sports teams. However, these jobs are few and far between, which means the competition for those positions is extremely competitive.
If you want to stand out from the pool of applicants, you’ll need impeccable educational credentials, which, as was pointed out above, takes time.
You’ll also need to have extensive relevant work experience, which means taking on internships, job placements, and other experiential activities to boost your resume. Again, this takes time and effort that can delay the start of your career.