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Sports Psychology Degree Programs - How to Become a Sports Psychologist

A sports psychologist has expertise in sports and psychology

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Updated May 16, 2014

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Sports psychology is a growing profession and many athletes seek the services of psychologists, trainers and coaches who can help them with the mental aspects of sports training. Elite athletes, professionals and Olympians all have tremendous physical skills and research is finding that at these levels mental training skills (focus, relaxation, goal-setting and reducing anxiety) are critical in separating first from second place. More recently, recreational athletes are finding the mental training benefits them as well. Motivation, concentration and focus are helpful for anyone wanting to achieve a goal – sports-related or not.

Becoming a sports psychologist is now a recognized career choice and sports psychology degree programs are growing. The biggest indication of this is the glut of online degree programs and certificates that are available. These programs offer varying levels of quality and may or may not offer the ideal combination of education and training for those seeking to pursue a career in the filed.

Anyone looking at the field as a career should talk to people in the field; especially professors at Universities that offer degrees in Sports Psychology before committing to any program. You need to make sure the program provides not just a degree, but the education, knowledge and experience to allow you to be successful in the field.

Acedemic programs that may prepare you for a career in Sports Psychology include:

  • Specialized Training in Sports Psychology (Master / Doctoral programs)
    There are several hundred programs that offer training in sport psychology, but very few that train students to become practicing sports psychologists who see clients. Those that do offer such programs are graduate level courses (masters / doctoral). You need to do a lot of searching to find specialized programs.
    Find Graduate Degree Programs in Sports Psychology.

  • PhD in Counseling or Clinical Psychology with additional training in sports psychology
    This is a long career path, but allows you to learn a great deal about all aspects of the field. You can also work as a Psychologist in a variety of settings.
    Find Graduate Degree Programs in Psychology.

  • Master’s level Counselor or Therapist with additional training in sports psychology
    Find Master's Level Degree Programs in Psychology.

  • Advanced Training in Exercises Science/Fitness with additional training in Psychology
    Entrepreneurs in the field also come from the exercise science field and work to obtain more experience in counseling and coaching.
    Find Graduate Degree Programs in Exercise Science.

For those seeking to work with athletes, a Masters degree is ideal. A PhD. is the way to go if you desire to work in academics, continue research or pursue high-level consulting roles. Once you locate the schools that you are interested in you need to apply and get accepted. This is fairly competitive at the larger schools often requiring prerequisite coursework, undergraduate degree, 3.0 GPA, and 1500 or better GRE score and experience in sports training, coaching, participation or counseling work.

You should know if the school focuses on academics (science & research) or developing practitioners. Because there is no set career path for the sport psychologists once they graduate, it’s important to decide if you have the enthusiasm to pursue the career on your own. You need to have an entrepreneurial spirit and be open to variations of the ‘sports psychologist’ moniker.

Most importantly, a career in sport psychology requires some creativity and vision along with optimism, mental focus, goal-setting and concentration – which is exactly what a good sports psychologist is providing to clients.

Recommended sports psychology associations, organizations and journals:

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