What is a sport psychologist?
First and foremost, a psychologist is an individual
who has completed graduate training in the field of psychology and
is licensed by a specific state. The requirements for this vary
from state to state. Generally speaking, licensing occurs after
a specified amount of graduate coursework and direct patient contact
hours have been completed. In some states individuals with a Masters
Degree can become licensed psychologists while in others a Doctoral
degree is required. You should check the requirements for licensing
by your state.
Given the above, a sport psychologist is an individual
with expertise in the following areas:
- Performance enhancement through the use of psychological skills
- Issues that are specific to the psychological well-being of
- Working with the organizations and systems that are present
in sport settings
- Social and developmental factors that influence sport participation
Ethically, psychologists only practice within their
scope of expertise; therefore, it is necessary to have a good working
knowledge of the above factors if you are going to be working with
athletes or athletic personnel. If you feel that something is beyond
your area of expertise, you should either refer your client(s) to
another individual or seek out supervision.
While sport psychology is recognized as a specific field
of study within the Kinesiology and Physical Education departments,
it is not one of the traditional fields of practice offered by psychology
graduate programs. For example, while one can obtain a graduate
psychology degree with a concentration in children or substance
abuse, the same can not be said of sport psychology. Although many
psychology departments offer single courses in sport psychology,
the opportunities for graduate level degrees are few and far between.
See the Becoming a Sport Psychologist section below for more information.
What credentials are needed?
At the present time, no credentials beyond a state license
are needed in order to practice sport psychology. Ethically and
practically speaking, you should have expertise in the above mentioned
areas. However, there is no need for a specialized accreditation
certificate from any organization. This may change in the future.
Division 47 (Sport and Exercise Psychology) of the American Psychological
Association recently submitted a proposal for the establishment
of a proficiency to the CRSPPP (Commission for the Recognition of
Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology). Individuals
offering sport psychology services would have to adhere to the standards
set forth in this proficiency. Otherwise, they would risk being
in violation of ethical guidelines which could result in the suspension
and/or termination of one's license to practice.
Although accreditation is not necessary, it does not
mean that there are no benefits to becoming a certified sport psychologist.
There are many organizations offering to certify individuals. Typically
this involves completing an application and submitting it with your
payment. After this, there is a review of credentials to insure
that minimum standards are met - depending on the organization,
this may include an examination. The most reputable of these organizations
is the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology
(AAASP). Designation as a Certified Consultant, AAASP carries the
benefit of the possibility of being listed on the United States
Olympic Committee (USOC) Sport Psychology Registry. This is a listing
of individuals who are approved to work with Olympic athletes and
National teams. The benefits of this should be obvious. For more
information, you should visit the AAASP web site.
How do you become a sport psychologist?
Two basic qualifications are needed in order to becoming
anything in life: education and experience. This holds true for
becoming a sport psychologist as well.
EDUCATION: The educational opportunities for
working as a sport psychologist are limited. As you may have noticed
in the above sections, a graduate degree is often necessary. Before
we discuss graduate programs, undergraduate programs should be discussed
since they frequently provide the stepping stone necessary for graduate
work. Perhaps the best way to get into a top flight graduate program
is to go to a school that offers some formalized experience in the
field. The list below is not exhaustive but it gives an indication
of how few schools offer sport psychology concentrations or minors.
Sport Education Available
Sport Psychology, Major
Sport Psychology, Minor
Texas Christian University
Psychosocial Kinesiology, Major
Towson State University
Sport Psychology, Concentration
Truman State University
Psycho-Social Aspects, Concentration
University of Evansville
Sport Psychology, Minor
University of Northern Iowa
Sport Psychology, Major
University of Utah
Sport Psychology, Concentration
Western Washington University
Sport Psychology, Concentration/Minor
West Virginia University
Sport Psychology, Major
If you are not attending one of the above schools, we
recommend that you stick with a psychology major and try to get
experience however you can (see the advice for graduate students
below). Perseverance will pay off!
Although most graduate program in psychology do not
offer a concentration in sport psychology, some do. To see a listing
of these, you may want to consider purchasing Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport
Psychology by Michael Sachs. This book offers a comprehensive
listing of those graduate programs that focus solely on sport psychology.
If you are in a graduate program at a school that offers
only an introductory sport psychology course but it is something
that genuinely interests you, I would recommend that you speak with
your department chair. Ask if there is any independent study classes
or independent research classes that you can take to gain further
knowledge of this field. The independent research class is specially
useful since it will bring you into direct contact with athletes
for the purposes of performance enhancement.
EXPERIENCE: Perhaps one of the most difficult
things to get in the field of sport psychology is the direct contact
with athletes. In order to get it, you should work with a supervisor
with an expertise in sport psychology and find a population to work
with. Basically there are three populations that use sport psychology
- The Willing Consumer is the athlete who recognizes the need
for psychological intervention and actively seeks out a sport
psychologist in order to improve some aspect of his/her performance.
An established supervisor should have a sufficient number of referrals
to help you gfewt experience with this population.
- The Suspicious Consumer is the individual who thinks that they
could perform better but is unsure of what to do. Although they
will not actively seek out a sport psychologist, they are willing
to listen when one approaches them with a SPECIFIC plan of how
- The Unwilling Consumer is the individual who refuses to let
any one else dictate how to improve performance. Although they
may be willing to talk to sport psychologists, they will resist
having you work with them.
There are different ways of getting experience. One
way is to meet with the athletic director or their assistant at
our college or university and tell them what you are interested
in doing. They may be able to give you leads on which coaches are
willing and unwilling. Another source of experience is your supervisor.
He/she may have a list of already identified willing candidates
who you could then contact to begin working. Finally, some internship
sites offer sport psychology training as part of their formal curriculum.
While the list is not extensive, perhaps your internship site will
allow you to use your out reach time to conduct services for athletic
The following is a list of internship sites that offer
a formal sport psychology rotation. The list is not intended to
e exhaustive but is rather a starting point. Another good place
to look is college counseling centers since it will be much easier
to make connections with the athletic department. If you know of
other sites or would like us to add your site, feel free to contact
us at email@example.com
University of Delaware
Center for Counseling and Student Development
Newark, DE 19716-6501
Training Director: Richard S. Sharf, Ph.D.
George Washington University
University Counseling Center
Washington D.C. 20052
Sport Psychology Contact: Lori A Lefcourt, Ph.D.
Training Director: William G. Pinney, Ph.D.
Kansas State University
University Counseling Services
Manhattan, KS 66506-3301
Sport Psychology Contact: Fred B. Newton, Ph.D.
Training Director: Sherry A. Benton, Ph.D.
Pennsylvania State University
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
University Park, PA 16802-4601
Sport Psychology Contact: Dennis Heitzmann, Ph.D.
Training Director: Joyce Illfelder-Kaye, ph.D.
Thomas E. Cook Counseling Center
Sport Psychology Contacts: Gary T. Bennett, Ph.D. & Robert C.
Training Director: Robert C. Miller, Ed.D.
Washington State University
Counseling & Testing Services
Pullman, WA 99164-1065
Sport Psychology Contact: Mark T. Summerson, Ph.D.
Training Director: Robert H. Ragatz, Ph.D.
One last point about obtaining experience needs to be
made: BE REALISTIC! While many individuals dream of working
with elite athletes, this is not realistic when you start out. Many
professional athletes and teams have realized the value of sport
psychology and regularly make use of the services. However, they
tend to use the well established individual. When you start out,
working with amateur and collegiate athletes is good experience.
In addition, writing is a great way to develop additional experience
and to tell others about YOUR accomplishments and areas of
Is Athletic Insight a peer reviewed journal?
Yes, all article submissions other then commentary submissions
undergo a blind peer review process. Articles are first examined
by the Editor to determine their appropriateness for the journal
and are then distributed to Associate Editors and Peer Reviewer's
with the author's name and affiliation removed. Staff are selected
to review articles based on their expertise in a given area of sport
psychology. Submissions are judged using a four point rating system
which is as follows:
- Accept Unconditionally - This classification is for all
manuscripts that reviewers feel should be published as is. Authors
will receive notification if their manuscript falls in this class
along with a timeline for publication.
- Accept Conditionally - This classification is for manuscripts
that reviewers feel should be accepted with minor changes which
will be passed on to authors along with a timeline during which
these changes should be made.
- Reject Conditionally - This classification is for manuscripts
that reviewers feel need major reworking. Suggestions from reviewers
will be forwarded to authors.
- Reject Unconditionally - This classification is for manuscripts
that reviewers feel are not at all appropriate for publication
in Athletic Insight. Rationale for this decision will be forwarded
The editor is ultimately responsible for the designation
that a paper receives. Once a decision is made, feedback and recommendations
are forwarded to authors.