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Cool Career: How to Become a Sport Psychologist

From Olympic champions to professional sportsmen, athletes of all levels are hiring sport psychologists to give them a mental edge.
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   07-01-2016

Psychology is one the most popular bachelor’s degrees in America. It ranks among the top three majors at the undergraduate level and offers students cool new career paths. Many U.S. colleges now offer advanced degrees and courses in sport psychology.

"I discovered my passion for sport psychology when I became a runner. I eventually refined my psychology course to focus on sports," says Rahul Sood, who competed in the New York and California Surf City marathons, while studying at the University of North Texas.  

"There's tremendous job satisfaction when you can help an athlete overcome a stressor that is blocking top performance," adds the sport psychologist who now counts Olympic champions, pro boxers and college athletes as his clients.

Why it's Red Hot

"The United States is sports-mad and anything to do with sports is growing gangbusters," says Sood.

Industry analyst Plunkett Research, estimates that the U.S. sports industry everything from NFL League revenue to ticket sales for major league games, health club revenues to equipment sold in sporting goods stores generated $498.4 billion in revenue in 2015.

With so much money riding on sports, even the best athletes feel intense pressure before a big game so coaches rely heavily on sport psychologists to help players manage their pre-game anxieties and consistently achieve consistent peak performance.

"Everyone is trying to figure out how to maximize talent," says Scott Goldman, PhD, director of clinical and sport psychology at the University of Arizona.

Sport psychology is here to stay as it's all about players achieving top form and a positive outlook despite setbacks, losses or distractions.

How Do You Become a Sports Psychologist?

There are roughly 40 U.S. colleges and universities offering accredited degree programs in sports psychology.

Students who want sport psychology careers pursue specific training in sport psychology (typically this occurs at the Master's level) and a doctoral degree. A handful of schools have taken the guesswork out of doctorate-level training by developing concentration areas in sport psychology.

For example, students at the University of North Texas can choose a specialization in sport psychology within the PhD program in counseling psychology. Requirements include three courses — exercise and sport psychology, social psychology of sport and applied sport psychology — as well as a sport psychology practicum, one research project in sport psychology and a one-year internship.

At Florida State University, the doctoral program in educational psychology has a sport psychology major. Students and their advisors select a four-member supervisory committee that approves a course of study in the major.

West Virginia University located along the Monongahela River in the city of Morgantown offers a B.S. in Sport and Exercise Psychology, a M.S. in Sport and Exercise Psychology and a PhD in Kinesiology  — Sport and Exercise Psychology

Good Pay and Job Prospects

Sport psychology is an ever-expanding field, with performing artists and even the U.S. military seeking the expertise of these very specialized behavioral health professionals.

Sport psychologists work in a wide range of environments, from university athletic departments to hospitals to professional sports teams, and their salaries reflect this diversity. Although the data is sparse, the salary range is from about $60,000 to $85,000 and the highest salaries can exceed $100,000 annually with experience and education being the determining factor.
 

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