Sports psychologists work to understand the psychological factors that influence athletic performance, as well as study the effects that exercise and physical activity can have on an individual's mental health and conditioning. Unlike those in other practitioner careers, their focus may also be to work with athletes to help them though the psychological difficulties of injury, rehabilitation and competitive stress.
To do that, sports psychologists may be responsible for the following tasks.
Enhancing athletic performance through strategies such as visualization, self-talk and relaxation techniques.
Motivating individuals to maintain or improve an exercise routine.
Helping athletes cope with performance pressure and adjust to setbacks, such as being sidelined.
Educating coaches on how to help athletes perform their best.
It's a profession the American Psychology Association says is a hot career, and jobs are popping up everywhere from youth leagues to professional teams.
How Much do Sports Psychologists Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the mean annual salary for psychologists in general in 2014 was $89,810. The range of salaries recorded was quite large, with the bottom 10 percent of earners making less than $42,230 annually and the top 10 percent taking home more than $120,670.
Sports psychologists tend to be employed among a relatively narrow selection of industries. Here are the 2014 mean annual salary figures reported by the BLS for a few industries where sports psychologists might find jobs:
- Outpatient care centers: $170,930
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $92,930
- Offices of physicians: $83,230
- Colleges, universities and professional schools: $64,490
The BLS data isn't specific to sports psychologists and includes other professionals in the field as well. According to the American Psychology Association, sports psychologists may be able to command higher incomes than those listed here. The association notes university athletic departments typically pay psychologists between $60,000-$80,000 a year, with some in the field making as much as $100,000.
Geographical location can also factor heavily into a sports psychologist salary. Here are the five states where psychologists were paid the highest mean annual salaries in 2014, according to BLS data:
- Illinois: $125,230
- Minnesota: $120,500
- Maryland: $100,710
- Virginia: $99,410
- Wisconsin: $98,910
Of these, Virginia may be a particularly good choice for aspiring sports psychologists, according to a cost of living index produced by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. Not only is the state reported as one of the top five highest paying states for psychology professionals, but Virginia is also listed as 20th on the cost of living index, making it the most affordable state of those listed above.
Occupational Requirements and Job Types for Sports Psychologists
The APA notes sports psychology training is evolving, but those who want to work in the field typically enter in a clinical or counseling doctoral degree program. The curriculum offered in sports psychology programs tends to differ from institution to institution, but many programs include similar approaches to the core concepts of the discipline. Here are a few of the topics that may be covered in sports psychology degree programs:
- Mental training
- Talent development
- Psychology of injury
- Exercise psychobiology
- Counseling techniques
- Abnormal psychology
- Motor learning
- Coaching concepts
Once you've graduated and completed an internship or residency, you should be ready to begin work. The Association for Applied Sport Psychology says they have three focus areas, and you may find these reflect the type of jobs available to you.
- Performance psychology: This area focuses on improving athletic performance and explores how sport psychology interventions can help improve a person's well-being.
- Health and exercise psychology: Rather than concentrating on performance, this area is concerned with how leisure, playing and structured exercise can positively impact a person's health and reduce disease, stress and injuries.
- Social psychology: The final area is concerned with how social interactions, such as those among teammates, coaches and fans, can affect participants.
Individual states or employers may require candidates be licensed before employment can be considered, and independently practicing sports psychologists must obtain a license from their state or provincial licensing board before beginning their practice.