Sometimes, winning is about mind over matter, and sports psychologists are the ones who help athletes harness their inner power.

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.

What's the Job Outlook Like for Sports Psychologists?

The BLS projects that job opportunities for professional psychologists will increase by 12 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, leading to around 18,700 new jobs in the field. A growing appreciation for the value of psychological services is cited as a main driver of the increase in career demand. Most employers prefer candidates who have completed a doctoral program, and those with specialist degrees or postdoctoral work experience are expected to have the best job opportunities.

Some states employ more sports psychologists than others, though statistics aren't widely available for this specialization yet. The APA indicates colleges and universities are major employers of sports psychologists so areas with prominent college teams may provide the best job prospects. In addition, here are the five states that employed the most psychology professionals overall in 2014, according to the BLS:

  • Florida
  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • Texas
  • New York

The Boston metropolitan area was the top interurban region for psychologists in 2014, followed by the Tampa, Florida metro region and the greater Washington D.C. area.

Sports psychologists often have fast-paced jobs working alongside top athletes, and they can be an integral part of a team's success. If you love sports and exercise and want to help others maximize their athletic abilities, request information from sports psychology degree programs to learn more about this emerging field.

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Article Sources

1. Master of Arts Degree in Kinesiology, Sport Psychology Option, California State University, Fresno,
2. Cost of Living Data Series, First Quarter 2014, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development,
3. Psychologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
4. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Psychologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
5. Sports psychologists help professional and amateur athletes, American Psychology Association,
6. Hot career: sport psychology, American Psychology Association,
7. Association for Applied Sport Psychology Fact Sheet,