Sports Psychology: Unlocking Performance

The Requirements and Benefits of a Career in Sports Psychology

While the cliche that says that athletic performance is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical may not be entirely accurate, the fact that many athletes take advantage of sports psychology suggests that attitude, visualization and focus come together with physical ability to create strong athletes and winning teams. Much like those who give their all to succeed on the court or field, those psychologists who work with athletes must also possess the drive to succeed and a devotion to the ongoing success of their clients.

Sports Psychology: Unlocking Performance

Understanding the Duties of a Sports Psychologist

Depending on the setting in which a sports psychologist chooses to work, his or her duties can vary. From clinical practices to research settings, a sports psychology career differs depending on personal preferences, educational level and the availability of jobs when a professional begins his or her search.

Clinical sports psychologists typically counsel athletes as they strive to become stronger competitors and reach personal bests. Whether a client cannot focus because of personal problems, struggles with performance anxiety or is suffering from burnout, a psychologist’s desire to work with athletes often shapes his or her entire career.

Those sports psychologists who choose to work in research generally study the habits, motivation and commitment of athletes to better understand their thinking and passion for their sport of choice. While this branch of a career in sports psychology does not allow the professional to connect with athletes in the same fashion as their colleagues, it unquestionably creates the common techniques used by clinicians.

How to Start a Sports Psychology Career

Although individuals who are considering a career that will allow them to work with athletes to unlock their performance potential have a long road ahead of them, it is an unquestionably rewarding field. Future sports psychologists begin their careers by obtaining a bachelor’s degree; undergraduate students typically major in psychology, although the specifics tend to depend on the graduate degree a student is planning to pursue. Some schools do offer an undergraduate degree in sports psychology, but these are usually in preparation for a graduate program. The undergraduate minor or second major should be in physical education.

Once a future sports psychologist has completed his or her undergraduate work, it will be time to begin the process of selecting and getting admitted to a graduate program. While each institution of higher education will have its own specific requirements for entrance, students applying to a sports psychology graduate program will face a set of minimum standards, which may include a:

  • Minimum score the GRE
  • Minimum GPA of at least 3.0
  • Series of references in applicable areas

Of course, simply deciding to attend graduate school is not the final decision that a student must make; while some will be content with a master’s degree, others will choose to pursue a doctoral degree. While either option will qualify a student to work in a variety of settings, a doctorate may create better paying job opportunities and offer more flexibility in where the student may seek employment.

Sports Psychology: Building the Internal Athlete

Because hard work, dedication and a willingness to practice factor into the careers of both sports psychologists and their clients, members of each respective profession often connect in a way that allows them to have a symbiotic relationship that is equally beneficial to each party. Simply put, sports psychologists help athletes overcome internal blocks that impact their performance, and athletes provide their psychologists with the opportunity to meet their goal of using their training and make a difference in the lives of others.