How to Become a Sports Psychologist

Written by: Psych Degree Starter Editorial Team   •  Jan 12, 2024

Sports Psych (1)

The field of sports psychology represents a dynamic intersection of psychological principles and athletic performance.

As a sports psychologist, one delves into understanding and applying psychological aspects to enhance athletic performance, improve exercise participation, and comprehend the overall mental well-being of athletes and teams. This role is pivotal in today’s sports industry, offering invaluable support to athletes who strive for peak performance both in and out of the competitive arena.

This article aims to guide aspiring sports psychologists through the fundamental steps to enter and excel in this fascinating profession, highlighting the blend of educational, practical, and personal development required to succeed.

Steps to Become a Sports Psychologist

Step 1: Research the Profession

Before embarking on becoming a sports psychologist , it’s crucial to understand the multifaceted nature of the job. Sports psychologists work with athletes to enhance performance, cope with the pressures of competition, recover from injuries, and manage team dynamics. Familiarizing yourself with the job’s scope, challenges, and rewards is the first step towards a fulfilling career in this field.

Step 2: Meet Educational Requirements

The journey typically begins with a traditional or online bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. However, specializing in sports psychology often requires advanced education such as a master’s in sports psychology or doctoral degree in sports psychology or a related area.

These programs cover topics like motivation, performance anxiety, and the psychological benefits of sports and exercise.

Step 3: Gain Relevant Experience

Practical experience is invaluable. Internships or volunteer opportunities with sports teams, athletic departments, or private clinics provide hands-on experience.

This exposure is crucial for understanding the real-world application of sports psychology principles and for building professional networks.

Step 4: Obtain Certifications (if applicable)

While not always mandatory, certifications can enhance your qualifications. For instance, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology offers certification, requiring a combination of education, supervised experience, and a written examination.

Some states in the U.S. also require licensure to practice psychology, so it’s important to understand the regulations in your region.

Step 5: Build a Portfolio (if applicable)

Developing a portfolio showcasing your experience, such as case studies, strategies implemented, and outcomes, can be a significant asset. This portfolio serves as a practical demonstration of your expertise and approach to potential employers or clients.

Additional Steps

In some cases, sports psychologists might choose to specialize in a particular sport or focus area, such as injury recovery or youth sports. Pursuing additional courses or working closely with specialized sports organizations can be beneficial for these niche areas.

Why Become a Sports Psychologist


  • Impact on Athletes: Positively influence athletes’ mental health and performance.
  • Diverse Work Environments: Opportunities to work with different levels of athletes, from amateurs to professionals.
  • Growing Field: Increasing recognition of mental health in sports opens more career opportunities.


  • Educational Investment: Requires advanced degrees, which can be time-consuming and costly.
  • Emotional Demands: Working closely with athletes facing high pressure and potential mental health issues.
  • Irregular Hours: Work schedules can be irregular, especially when working with teams or during competitive seasons.

Where do Sports Psychologists Work?

Corporate Settings:

  • Sports Teams: Collaborating with professional or college teams.
  • Sports Gear Companies: Working on product development, focusing on mental aspects of sports gear usage.

Freelance Opportunities:

  • Private Practice: Offering services to individual athletes or teams.
  • Workshops and Seminars: Conducting sessions on sports psychology topics.

Government Organizations:

  • Military: Helping with resilience and mental preparedness in military athletes.
  • Public Schools: Implementing sports psychology programs in school athletic departments.

Other Venues:

  • Rehabilitation Centers: Assisting athletes in mental recovery post-injury.
  • Research Institutions: Contributing to academic research in sports psychology.

Specialized Workplaces:

  • E-Sports Organizations: Catering to the unique needs of e-sports athletes.
  • Performing Arts: Working with performers, like dancers, where performance psychology is crucial.

Sports Psychologist Salary

Average Salary:

The average salary for a sports psychologist typically varies depending on factors such as location, experience, and the type of organization they work for.

According to recent data, the average annual salary ranges from approximately $45,000 to $80,000. In comparison to other psychology roles, sports psychologists often earn more than general practitioners but may earn less than those in high-demand specialties like clinical psychology.

Highest Sports Psychologist Salary:

At the upper echelons, experienced sports psychologists, especially those working with elite professional athletes or teams, can earn upwards of $100,000 to $150,000 annually.

These higher salaries are often a result of additional roles, such as consulting, research, or holding high-profile positions in prominent sports organizations.

Highest Paying States:

Geographical location plays a significant role in salary scales. States with a higher concentration of sports teams and a greater focus on athletics, like California, New York, and Texas, typically offer higher salaries for sports psychologists. Additionally, states with a higher cost of living also tend to pay more.

Sports Psychologist Career and Job Growth

The demand for sports psychologists has been steadily increasing, reflecting a greater awareness of the importance of mental health in sports.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth in psychology jobs, including sports psychology, at a rate of about 3% from 2019 to 2029, which is as fast as the average for all occupations.

The expansion of the field into different areas such as e-sports and performing arts also contributes to this growth.

Sports Psychologist Degrees

Bachelor’s Degree:

A bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field is the first essential step. Common courses include general psychology, sports psychology, kinesiology, and exercise science. These programs usually take four years to complete.

Master’s Degree:

A master’s degree in sports psychology or a related field often includes specializations in areas like athlete counseling or sports science.

This advanced degree, which typically takes two to three years to complete, provides a deeper understanding of the psychological aspects of athletic performance and is often essential for higher-level positions.

Further Studies:

Pursuing a doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in sports psychology, can lead to opportunities in academia, research, and high-level practitioner roles. Graduate certificates or additional training in related areas like counseling can also be beneficial for career advancement.

Sports Psychologist FAQ

What degree do I need to become a Sports Psychologist?

To become a sports psychologist, you typically need a master’s or doctoral degree in sports psychology, psychology, or a related field. A bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related discipline is the foundational step.

What do Sports Psychologists do?

Sports Psychologists focus on the mental and emotional aspects of athletic performance. They work with athletes to enhance performance, manage stress, cope with competition pressure, recover from injuries, and deal with team dynamics.

How long does it take to become a Sports Psychologist?

The educational journey includes:

  • Bachelor’s Degree: 4 years.
  • Master’s Degree: 2-3 years additional.
  • Doctoral Degree (optional): Additional 3-5 years.

Additional time for required experience or internships should also be considered.

How much do Sports Psychologists make?

  • Average Salary: $45,000 to $80,000 annually.
  • Higher-end Salaries: Up to $100,000 - $150,000 for experienced professionals in elite settings.

What Skills do I need to be a Sports Psychologist?

  • Soft Skills: Empathy, communication, problem-solving, patience, and resilience.
  • Hard Skills: Knowledge of psychological theory and practice, research skills, and understanding of sports dynamics.

Are there internship opportunities for Sports Psychologists?

  • Yes, internships are crucial for gaining practical experience. They can be found in:
    • University athletic departments.
    • Sports teams at various levels.
    • Private clinics focusing on sports psychology.
    • Research projects related to sports psychology.

Internships provide invaluable hands-on experience and are often a key component of educational programs in sports psychology. They offer a glimpse into the real-world applications of sports psychology and an opportunity to start building a professional network.

In conclusion, becoming a sports psychologist is a journey that combines a passion for sports with a deep understanding of psychological principles. It requires dedication to education, practical experience, and ongoing personal and professional development. As the field continues to grow, those equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge will play a vital role in shaping the mental resilience and success of athletes around the world.

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