Sports Psychologist: What they do and how to become one

Sports psychologists help athletes perform at peak levels. They may function as trainers, consultants, or therapists. Sports psychologists may offer therapy for issues like eating disorders or career transitions. In some cases, the job includes helping athletes work through off-field problems and assisting them with rehabilitation after injury.

Psychologists may offer therapy for issues like eating disorders or career transitions. This can entail helping them with group dynamics, social perception, and leadership issues.

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Sports psychologists may be researchers as well as service providers. They may explore the effects that athletic participation has on individuals, the factors that contribute to success on the field, or the psychological consequences of physical injury.

Sports psychologists are hired by athletic teams and schools. A sampling of employers posting on the Association for Applied Sport Psychology website in late 2013 reveals a wide variety of organizations: Western State Colorado University, Bridgewater State University, K-State Athletics, the New York Mets. Perusing postings gives a sense of what top facilities are looking for (

Education and Training for Sports Psychologists

Sports psychology can be offered as a concentration within a counseling or clinical psychology program. A student in an applied branch of psychology will have coursework in biological, cognitive-affective, and social bases of behavior. The program will also provide a foundation in understanding and treating psychological disturbances, utilizing psychology methodologies, and adhering to professional standards. In addition, a sport psychology program typically includes coursework in the physiological or biomechanical bases of sport.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an online Bachelor’s w/ an emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology. SNHU also offers online Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

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There are print resources to guide academic decision making. The Association for Applied Sport Psychology recommends that students pick up a copy of the Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport Psychology (

Students may wish to become student members of Division 47 of the American Psychological Association: Sports Psychology. Membership may provide them with leadership as well as networking opportunities. They will receive a newsletter and a journal, Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. The dissertation provides an opportunity to distinguish oneself in the field. Division 47 has an award competition for dissertations.

Clinical and counseling psychologists typically do a year of predoctoral internship and a year of residency or other postgraduate supervised employment.

Sports psychology is recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a postgraduate specialty ( The APA has published a list of competencies for licensed psychologists who practice as sport psychologists.

Sports Psychologist Credentialing

Sports psychologists who provide therapy (for example, helping athletes work through eating disorders) need licensing. In some cases, other individuals who work directly with athletes may need licensing or be in a more comfortable position if they have it.

Individual states not only set the scope of practice for psychologists but determine who is allowed to use the title. In some cases, an individual would be allowed to perform some duties associated with sports psychology but would not be able to use the “psychologist” title. All states license psychologists, but they may exclude some settings (for example, academic settings).

Sports psychologists may also pursue voluntary certification. This does not confer the legal right to practice, but does demonstrate expertise in a specialty area. Sports psychology professionals at both the master’s and doctoral levels are eligible to become Certified Consultants (CC-AASP) through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (

Experienced doctoral level sports psychologists who have made significant contributions to the field are eligible for fellowship status in the APA.

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) does not offer a certification in sport psychology, but practitioners may be eligible for certification in a broader category, for example, clinical psychology.

Many sports psychologists will fall under the clinical, counseling and school psychologist reporting category. The average wage was $34.72 an hour, or $72,220 a year, in 2012.