Americans love sports – and the economy is proof. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, sports industry revenue will rise by about 4.8 percent annually through 2017, when it will total nearly $68 billion.
Meanwhile, industry analyst Plunkett Research estimates that the U.S. sports market, including revenue from sources such as ticket sales, advertising and endorsements, generates as much as $470 billion a year.
With so much money at stake, there is immense pressure on athletes to consistently perform at high levels.
Just as coaches develop players’ physical abilities, sports psychologists develop athletes’ minds, helping them achieve their goals by utilizing a variety of methods. They may help athletes overcome performance anxiety or challenges from an injury, or assist them in modifying behaviors that are hurdles to success.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), sports psychologists teach amateur and professional athletes how to stay motivated, and provide them with coping skills, stress control strategies and relaxation techniques. They may also help athletes set achievement goals and use visualization to improve self-confidence.
“Sport psychology is a multidisciplinary field spanning psychology, sport science and medicine,” the APA notes.
Career Outlook and Salary Range for Sports Psychologists
Sports psychologists work with college and professional teams, as well as with individual athletes, and their work may combine elements of clinical psychology, counseling, research and motivational speaking.
Applied sports psychologists typically focus on goal-setting, visualization and other motivational skills. Clinical sports psychologists help identify, diagnose and treat mental disorders that may be associated with athletes, such as depression, eating disorders and performance anxiety.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that jobs for all types of psychologists will increase by 12% from 2012 to 2022, although there will be variations based on the specific discipline.
As of 2012, psychologists earned an average salary of more than $86,000 a year, the BLS reported. An individual’s educational qualifications and employment history affect salary potential and career opportunities, as do local market conditions.
Education and Training for Sports Psychologists
The path to a career in sports psychology can begin with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or exercise science. A graduate degree in a discipline such as sports psychology, counseling or clinical psychology generally is a minimum requirement for employment in the field and some positions may call for candidates with a doctoral degree.
Coursework may include subjects such as exercise physiology and sports medicine, as well as research and theory.
Licensing laws for psychologists vary by specific state, although an internship is a common requirement for licensure candidates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Volunteering with a local sports team or athletics organization can provide candidates with hands-on experience.
The BLS identifies several qualities that psychologists in all disciplines should possess, including patience and trustworthiness, and analytical, problem-solving and communication skills.
Professional development opportunities and other resources are available through organizations such as the American Psychological Association’s Division of Exercise and Sports Psychology, and the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, which offers a certification process.