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How to become a sports psychologist

sports psychology

Many people like to play sports because it is fun. But why are sports important? What drives many people to compete and play games? Why do people crave the excitement of winning in sports? What is the mental and emotional satisfaction that people get from playing sports?

If you want answers to such questions, ask a sports psychologist. Sports psychology is a branch of psychology that determines how and why sports affect athletes. Sports psychology also determines how sports affect the mindset of individuals who play sports, as well as how to improve that mindset.

A sports psychologist will work with different types of athletes, whether professional or amateur. Individuals who are in highly competitive careers can also benefit from the expertise of a sports psychologist.

In this article, we will show you how to become a sports psychologist. But first, here is the history and the importance of sports psychology.

Find out what a sports doctor does.

History of sports psychology

The history of sports psychology started as far back as the 19th century. Norman Triplett, a psychology professor at Indiana University, first researched a group of cyclists. From his research, Norman determined that the cyclists who participated in his study performed much better when they were in groups.

The results were tabulated in comparison to the performance of the cyclists when they were riding individually. (Fun fact, there are many benefits of playing team sports). Following the research done by Norman, the first sports psychology was founded in Germany in the year 1920 by Carl Diem.

In the United States, the first sports psychology laboratory was later founded by Coleman Griffin. Coleman had been working with athletes from the Chicago Cubs. Nevertheless, it was not until 1987 that the American Psychological Association was created as the first sport psychology division.

This branch of sport psychology is still present today. Its advancement has led to the popularity of competitive sports both to play and watch. Now, sports psychologists are in demand. Their work is to help sports teams make their fans happy through excellent performances.

The Importance of sports psychology

race track psychology performance

So, why is sports psychology important?

It is the job of the sports psychologist to ensure that a person is healthy both mentally and physically. Therefore, in cases where individuals are not attaining their full potential, the sports psychologist will determine the psychological issues that are the root cause of such limitations.

Moreover, sports psychologists can determine the things that motivate athletes. They can also determine the things that improve the performance of athletes.

Besides, a sports psychologist can reduce the anxiety and stress that athletes face before their games. These treatments are there to ensure that every sports individual performs to their full potential.

Also, many professionals in the field are compassionate about all things athletes. Therefore, they are very knowledgeable when it comes to the challenges and pressures that athletes face. Once athletes take advantage of sports psychologists, they become more fulfilled with their careers since they increasingly improve on their performance.

As for the fans, sports psychologists are the reason why people stay glued to their television sets every time there is a game. They ensure that there is much to cheer about, be it for individual athletes or an entire sports team.

How do athletes benefit from sports psychology?

women running track performance

  • They get improved focus. This makes it easy for the athletes to deal with distractions by being present in the moment and not focusing on the result.
  • They develop the necessary skills to help them cope with errors and setbacks. This also helps the athletes to stay focused under pressure and to address their expectations appropriately.
  • They develop more confidence.
  • They can channel the right density for the sport they play in. For instance, different games require different levels of mental activation for each individual. Sports psychology helps athletes to stay charged but remain grounded.
  • They can maintain a healthy belief system. This helps the athletes to let go of any irrational thoughts that prevent optimal performance.
  • Athletes develop cohesion and communication skills.
  • They get specific plans and strategies for their sport.
  • Athletes can balance their motivation every day and reach peak performance levels.

How to become a sports psychologist 

If you are wondering how to become a sports psychologist for professional athletes, you must first determine whether the field is the right one for you. Then, you will be required to fulfill specific education requirements and after get state license to practice.

Generally, the American Psychology Association requires a master’s level degree or a doctorate for any individual to qualify to be a sports psychologist. There are two main paths that you can take if you want to practice in this field.

One, you can earn a PhD. with a specialization in sport psychology. This will give you a license to practice as a sport psychologist. Two, you can obtain a master’s degree as well as an optional certification. This will lead you towards non-clinical jobs in the field.

If you want to know how to become a sports psychologist, here are the steps that need completion:

1. Undergraduate Degree

The first step that you should take after completing your high school is enrolling in a university for a bachelor’s degree. The degree does not necessarily have to be in sports psychology. Nevertheless, you can select a degree that has a specific field in psychology.

Taking a degree such as the Bachelor of Arts in Sports Psychology will introduce you to the psychological factors that influence sports performance. You will also acquire the psychological techniques that can improve said performance.

2. Graduate Degree

Unfortunately, merely obtaining a bachelor’s degree is not sufficient to make you a sports psychologist. Hence, the next level of education that you should attain is a graduate degree. This is the level of education that will offer you a practicing license.

While a master’s degree is a sufficient level of education for practice, some positions will require the education of a professorate. Look at the area that you are interested in. It will guide you on the minimum level of education you should attain.

3. Professional Experience

Just like education, it is essential to gain some professional experience before you can attain your license. The best place to start is through internships. You can enroll in a work-study program where you work as an intern while you are still in school.

Sports psychology internships will open a typical path towards becoming a full-time sports psychologist. Therefore, ensure that you complete your course in tandem with your graduate or your undergraduate program.

4. Board Certification

Now that you have completed your education and you have some working experience, the next step is to obtain a board certification. Before starting your role as a sports psychologist, you will need to satisfy the license requirements.

Areas of expertise

We have already mentioned that to become a licensed sports psychologist, one requires a doctorate in addition to a specialization in sport and performance-related topics. Hence, individuals who are training to be in this field commonly specialize in:

  • Applied sport psychology
  • Clinical sports psychology
  • Academic sports psychology

In case one obtains a master’s degree, it is common to pair it with a certification as a Certified Mental Performance Consultant. Individuals who are training to be in this field commonly specialize in:

  • Coaches
  • Trainers
  • Athletic directors
  • Business professionals

How Long Does it take to become a sports psychologist?

Are you wondering how many years of school to become a sports psychologist you will need? It depends on the level of study you choose to pursue.

Getting a Bachelor’s degree is the first step in becoming a sports psychologist. The least hours of psychology classes required for progression to a master’s degree are 12 to 15 credit hours. Nevertheless, full-time degrees take four years to complete.

A master’s degree is the minimum level of education that a practicing sports psychologist can obtain. This is because most of the coursework for sports psychologists are found on this level. Hence, a full-time master’s degree program will take two to three years to complete.

Most doctorate programs take between four to seven years, depending on the specialty. Additionally, the length of the program will depend on whether you have a master’s degree or not.

Therefore, the lowest amount of years that you can take to finish a doctorate in sports psychology is ten years.

Benefits of a Sports Psychology Career

  • You get to work as part of a collaborative team
  • Your work will be fun and exciting as well as challenging
  • You have diverse opportunities and career paths when you enter this field


Now that you know how to become a sports psychologist, you must talk to a professional in the area before you pursue this career path. The field is still relatively new. Therefore, getting advice from someone with experience can be very invaluable.


Make sure to read also:

What Are the Benefits of Team Sports?

Why Sports Are Important

Is It Safe To Wear A Sports Mask?

Richest Owners in Sports: Who Are the Top 10 Richest Sports Owners?



Sources: Prospects, APA