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Athletic Insight - The Online Journal of Sport Psychology

Due to the large volume of mail that we receive, Athletic Insight has created this page to answer the questions that are most frequently asked by our readers. You can of course contact us if you need any further information.


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 training
  • Issues that are specific to the psychological well-being of athletes
  • 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

Drexel University

Sport Psychology, Major

Stamford University

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 services:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 to improve.
  3. 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 teams.

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

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.

Virginia Tech
Thomas E. Cook Counseling Center
Blacksburg, VA24061-01058
(540) 231-6557
Sport Psychology Contacts: Gary T. Bennett, Ph.D. & Robert C. Miller, Ed.D.
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 expertise.


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 to authors.

The editor is ultimately responsible for the designation that a paper receives. Once a decision is made, feedback and recommendations are forwarded to authors.