Many athletes thank their mothers, their coaches and even their religion for their success in their chosen sport. Fans don’t tend to think much of it when this sort of platitude is offered. However, watch an athlete publicly thank their sports psychologist for their achievements, and the reaction is likely to be a lot different.
In 2010, when NBA player Ron Artest credited his sports psychologist with helping him to keep his head in the game and therefore to be a successful team player, people thought he was even crazier than usual. Known for his off-kilter behavior and lifestyle, the sports world just assumed it was Ron Artest being his usual off-beat self. Sports magazines and news outlets talked about it all year, inadvertently shining the spotlight to an oft-overlooked subset of the practice of psychology.
Sports psychologists, like their peers in other specialties of psychology, provide therapy services to their clients. The only difference is, sports psychologists focus solely on athletes – both amateur and professional – to help them overcome problems, enhance their performances and meet goals.
According to the American Psychological Association, sports psychologists can be helpful to athletes during more than just the difficult times. They are trained to help athletes deal with the pressure of competition; enhance their performance by using mental strategies and self-help techniques; provide motivational tools to continue a diet and exercise program; and recover from injuries.
There are many degree options within this subset of psychology.
Some online sports psychology programs offer an associate’s degree, but those who possess only an associate’s degree in this field will find it difficult to find work. Even those who possess a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology find the job market lean. As with other subsets of psychology, in order to provide the most job options and the best salaries, a graduate degree – master or doctoral – is required.
There are 14 brick-and-mortar graduate programs for sports psychology in the United States. According to a special report issued by U.S. News and World Report on the top graduate schools for psychology programs, the following are the top 10 schools in the nation for earning a degree in psychology: Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, Harvard, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Michigan, Yale, University of Illinois, Princeton, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin.
Those who pursue a graduate degree in sports psychology will be earning a Ph.D. Students who wish to pursue this level of psychology degree can plan on taking five to seven years of graduate-level study beyond their bachelor’s degree. Some students who are earning a graduate-level degree may take additional courses in sports medicine or health and physical education due to the sports component of this degree.
At present, there are no graduate-level online schools available. Most online programs offering degrees in sports psychology only do so at the Bachelor of Science degree level.
Where to Work
Sports psychologists can – as indicated by their very name – work with amateur and professional athletes. This can include athletes in high school, college and the pros. They also may work with the parents and spouses of athletes to help them cope with a family member’s involvement in sports.
But they aren’t just limited to the world of sports and athletes. The kind of mental-preparation techniques taught to athletes also can be beneficial in the workplace. A popular technique used by sports psychologists is to have their clients visualize what they are going to do in advance – be that hitting a ball into the outfield, or learning to better communicate with team players. That same technique can prove beneficial in a regular workplace setting in helping to reduce stress, building confidence and providing increased productivity among workers.
Future Outlook and Job Growth
As with other health careers, qualified sports psychologists are expected to be in high demand over the next decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for trained professionals in this field is expected to increase by 22 percent by 2020. As of March 2012 – when the most recent salary figures were available – sports psychologists were averaging $67,880 annually.
Article by Shari Berg, PsychologyCollegeFinder.org