The field of sports psychology continues to grow at a rapid pace. As more and more athletes publicly discuss mental health and the challenges that come with performance, more professionals are beginning to understand the importance of this practice.
St. Francis College’s Master of Science in Exercise and Sport Science program is currently offering a concentration in sports psychology. The goal of this particular emphasis is to provide students pursuing a career in the exercise science field with a solid foundation in the psychology behind it. Knowledge in sports psychology can be vital to success in sports-related professions. However, sports psychology is also becoming a profession in its own right, and not just in the realm of organized sports. There are many career options available for students who choose this path.
What is Sports Psychology?
According to the American Psychological Association, sports psychology is a “proficiency that uses psychological knowledge and skills to address optimal performance and well-being of athletes, developmental and social aspects of sports participation, and systemic issues associated with sports settings and organizations.”
In its most basic form, sports psychology helps athletes improve their physical performance by focusing on the mental. Subject matters like motivation, stress management, teamwork, and visualization all factor into the mental well-being of an athlete and can greatly impact their level of performance. Sports psychologists use varying aspects from the study of psychology to work with athletes or entire teams. The goal is very similar to the one shared by everyday mental health therapists: to help patients break through mental blocks and live a more peaceful life. With sports psychology, the emphasis is primarily placed on the patient’s performance on the court, track, field, or arena.
Career Opportunities for Sports Psychologists
Careers in sports psychology can vary greatly, depending on the level of education candidates pursue and the experiences they acquire. However, here are a few of the most direct career paths available to sports psychologists, or careers where a background in sports psychology would be immensely useful.
Licensed Sports Psychologist
Licensed professionals work directly with clients, whether they be a single athlete or an entire team, to help them break through mental blocks and achieve their highest performance potential. This aspect of the career is very similar to what is considered traditional therapy. The psychologist works one on one or in groups, in a very open, conversational setting. Together with the athletes, the therapist works to confront individual challenges, ranging from eating disorders, depression, PTSD, anxiety, and any other issues the athletes may be facing. Currently, the need for psychologists is high: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 8 percent growth rate in careers for psychologists in the next decade.
Certified Mental Performance Consultant
A mental performance consultant is similar to a licensed sports psychologist, with the exception of education levels. A consultant is not required to obtain licensure or complete a PhD. Most consultants are hired onto the staff of professional and college teams, being available for all athletes within the program.
Candidates for professional coaching careers can have higher chances of employment if they have experience and education in sports psychology. Coaches who understand the mental aspects of the game and the potential challenges their players face can lead their team much more effectively. Coaching salaries tend to increase with the success of the team, so understanding the psychology of sports can potentially lead to greater career fulfillment.
Sports Research Specialist
Research specialists gather and analyze data in the sports world. Working with athletes and teams, they measure performances based on their own specified metrics, studying what works and what doesn’t. They use their insights to improve team performance.
Sports psychiatrists are medical doctors who assess mental issues and prescribe treatments. Unlike psychologists, they rely more on hard medical data and medication. However, a background in psychology is still necessary for this career; in order to understand what to prescribe and how, a psychiatrist must have a keen understanding of the brain and how it functions, specifically when it comes to sports and competition.
Athletic trainers provide physical support to athletes, working to prevent or heal from sports-related injuries. Although this career specifically focuses on the physical aspects of sports, industry leaders are finding that the physical and mental often go hand in hand. Having knowledge of the mental aspects related to sports helps athletic trainers provide better, more individualized support to their athletes.
Sports Psychology Careers Outside of Sports
As the field of sports psychology grows in popularity, many industries outside of the sports arena are adopting its uses. People in business, military and first responders are finding the assistance of a sports psychologist helps greatly with overall performance and in dealing with the stressors of their respective industries. For those with a background in sports psychology, this means that the career options available to you widen every day.
Performance psychologists often work with professionals in the corporate world and in arts and entertainment. They are also becoming popular in high-risk fields such as public service. Careers like law enforcement and firefighting regularly have mental blocks that performance psychologists can help them overcome, particularly PTSD.
Many sports psychology students can find substantial upward mobility in the armed forces. The military operates under similar conditions as professional sports—but with a much higher level of intensity. High stress and extreme physical demands can take a huge mental toll, and military leaders are finding the application of sports psychology to be helpful. The military has begun hiring sports psychology consultants to work with entire units. In fact, the U.S. Army is currently a leading employee of sports psychology professionals.
Skills and Requirements
Nearly all sports psychology-related careers require a master’s degree in some form of psychology or sports-related course of study. However, the highest paying careers require a PhD in psychology. Your level of education will depend on your unique goals and aspirations.
In addition to a degree, most careers in the psychology field require licensure. Each state has its own methods to obtain a license in psychology. However, a general rule of thumb is a degree and at least two years of supervised practice. You must be licensed in the state in which you plan to work.
Although certification by the American Board of Sport Psychology is not required to practice sports psychology, many employers will prefer candidates who have it. The training that comes along with board certification is comprehensive and extremely beneficial to a successful career in the field.
On top of these requirements, candidates for sports psychology-related careers should have proficient knowledge in the following areas, according to the APA:
- Theory and research in social, historical, cultural, and developmental foundations of sports psychology
- Issues and techniques of sport-specific psychological assessment and mental skills training
- Clinical and counseling issues with athletes
- Organizational and systemic aspects of counseling
- Biobehavioral bases of sports
- Developmental and social issues related to sports participation
St. Francis College’s Sport Psychology Concentration
If a career in sports psychology sounds right for you, consider the Sports Psychology concentration within the Master of Science in Exercise and Sport Science program at St. Francis College. The program is 100 percent online, designed to meet the needs of working students.
The ten-course concentration in sports psychology will prepare you for an exciting career in this budding field. With 24/7 access to our online learning platform, you’ll be educated and trained in every skill necessary in sports psychology. In such a quickly expanding field, this degree will bring you one step closer to your dream career.
Apply for the MS in Exercise and Sport Science program today.