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Careers in Sport Psychology

by Karlene Sugarman, M.A.

Updated 08/25/11

Here are some examples of different areas within the field:

  1. Applied: This area emphasizes teaching performance enhancement/mental training skills such as goal setting, focusing, imagery, positive self-talk, energy management and pre-performance routines. Within this area people often work in a sport or performance environment educating on mental training techniques and team building strategies.
  2. Clinical: Clinical sport psychology can combine both performance enhancement/mental skills training and clinical work. Training in both sport and clinical/counseling psychology is needed. Examples of such clinical issues would be depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Expertise in working within both of these areas increases your scope of practice.
  3. Academics: Here there is a primary focus on research and teaching.

If you are seriously considering a career in sport psychology I would suggest joining the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). This will allow you to receive their newsletters and journals and to become aware of new things going on in the world of sport psychology.

Next, I would recommend getting the Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport Psychology (9th ed) edited by Burke & Sachs and published by Fitness Information Technology, Inc., of West Virginia. This directory lists all the schools that have sport psychology programs. It tells which ones offer a Master's degree or PhD and which have internships, plus areas of specialization and other useful information.

If you are still at the undergraduate level, I would suggest looking into doing some sort of independent study. For example, get involved with one of the sports teams (observing how teams work). Even if your school does not offer courses in sport psychology (which are still somewhat rare at the undergraduate level) you might be able to do a "directed study" type of course with a faculty member. Keep in mind, you could only observe and volunteer your time as a student, because until you have a degree or certification you are not qualified to do any sort of consulting or direct sport psychology work

To be able to call yourself a Sport Psychologist you must have a doctorate, sport psychology training and the proper licensing your state requires.

If you are still at the undergraduate level, I would suggest looking into doing some sort of independent study. For example, get involved with one of the sports teams (observing how teams work). Even if your school does not offer courses in sport psychology (which are still somewhat rare at the undergraduate level) you might be able to do an independent study type of course with a faculty member.

I would also suggest that you do some reading to see what areas are of the greatest interest to you. Some journals you might want to look at are:

Some books that might be helpful and informative if you are interested in sport psychology are:

Hopefully, this has given you some helpful resources if you are considering going into the field.

Karlene is a Mental Training Consultant in California and works with athletes and teams teaching mental training techniques and team building strategies. She works with athletes and teams in all sports and levels. She has worked with the University of San Diego baseball team since 2000. Karlene is the author of the book, Winning the Mental Way: A practical guide to team building and mental training. She is a Professor in the Sport Psychology Program at John F. Kennedy University. She is a member of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), and co-presented at the 2009 conference in Salt Lake City, UT; and the 2011 conference in Honolulu, HI. She is also a member of IDEA Health & Fitness Association.

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