Below are a number of questions that I get asked with great frequency about sport and performance psychology training. Click on the relevant question(s) to see my thoughts in response.
Please note: The responses that I give here are North American-centric. Training, labeling, licensure, and various other aspects may vary in other parts of the world. The International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP) is a good starting place outside of North America.
How can I become a sport psychologist?
The answer to this fundamental question depends on two elements: (a) what you are interested in doing as a sport psychologist and (b) what your formal, academic background is and where you are in your training.
The brochure, Graduate Training & Career Possibilities in Exercise & Sport Psychology spells out four different options, each of which has its own training path. If after reading it you’re pretty clear that you are interested primarily in becoming a practitioner, here are some further thoughts, categorized in relation to the level of training that you have already completed. Please note: both because I am a psychologist (and think that’s an excellent field of knowledge, training, and service delivery) and because this field is still growing and it may be challenging to find full-time steady employment just doing sport psychology, my personal perspective is that receiving a doctoral degree from an accredited program in psychology will give you the maximum flexibility for future options in your learning and work.
I have a Bachelors degree.
If you are planning to get a Masters degree, you should consider a program specializing in applied sport psychology. If you are considering a doctoral degree, some people do a “mix and match,” getting a Masters in sport science/physical education/kinesiology (the label varies by university and program) followed by a doctoral degree in clinical or counseling psychology.
How can I get a doctoral degree in psychology that includes training in sport psychology?
There are a few routes you might take:
- Choose a graduate school/program that includes specialized training in sport psychology
- In choosing the graduate program, even if in clinical or counseling psychology, see if there are options for coursework in the kinesiology department
- Do your internship in a setting that includes sport psychology. A number of university counseling centers, for example, work specifically with athletes. The Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport Psychology includes a listing of internship sites with sport psychology opportunities.
I am a psychology (or other mental health practitioner) and want to do applied sport psychology. What do I do now?
One of the benefits of having been in practice for a while is that you may have a clearer sense of direction and a desire for the development of a niche practice. One of the challenges, however, is hubris, the Greek term that refers to our sense that we, mere mortals, know as much as the gods. Translated into English, it’s the problem of not knowing what you don’t know. As a psychologist or other mental health practitioner, you may not have even known that there is a whole separate field of sport psychology with more than 100 years of history and research.
One place to start is to review the criteria for Certified Consultant, AASP and the characteristics of APA’s definition of proficiency in sport psychology. Whether or not you intend to become a certified consultant of AASP, the criteria show you what the standard is for best practice.
- Take courses, whether online or in person, in aspects of kinesiology or sport science that you have not learned before
- Do your own learning, whether self-directed or with the support of a consultant or mentor
- Take courses or workshops in the practice of applied sport psychology
What are the most important resources in my quest?
If you are interested in graduate programs involving sport psychology, you will find the book Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport Psychology an invaluable resource. Updated every few years, it contains not only program descriptions but additionally, it is a current functional guide to the field, offering detailed information regarding career options, licensure and certification, and relevant readings, etc.
What are the most important organizations I should know about?
- Division 47 (Division of Exercise & Sport Psychology) of APA. If you are a member of APA, you can join Division 47 as one of the divisions of interest to you; if you are not a member of APA, you can join Division 47 as an affiliate. Student membership is also welcome. Along with newsletter, journal, and presentations within the annual APA Convention, Division 47 ties in with the larger organization of psychologists through APA.
- Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). This free-standing organization is composed of sport scientists as well as psychologists, with a strong graduate student contingent as well. Membership includes newsletter, journal, and an annual conference focused exclusively in this field.
NOTE: (a) The information within each of these websites is invaluable; (b) each has an active and open email list (see below). You can subscribe to each list whether or not you are a member of the respective organization.
How do I subscribe to the email lists?
- Division 47 email list:To join the list and receive email posting from list members, send an email message to: email@example.com. Leave the subject line blank. In the body of the message type: “subscribe div47” and send the message. If you use a signature file with your message, please remember to remove it for this message. You will receive acknowledgement from the email list when your subscription has been approved. Subsequently, to send a message to the list, simply address your message to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- SportPsy [loosely affiliated with AASP]: send an email directly to Dr. Michael Sachs of Temple University < email@example.com>, indicating your interest in joining the list.
What should I read?
The short version is: anything and everything! In addition to coursework, there is a tremendous amount that you can learn through basic textbooks and journal articles.
Some of the best standard basic textbooks:
Andersen, M. B. (Ed.) (2000). Doing sport psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Andersen, M. B. (Ed.) (2005). Sport psychology in practice. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Etzel, E. F., & Watson, J. C. (Eds.). (2014). Ethical issues in sport, exercise, and performance psychology. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
- Murphy, S. M. (Ed.). (1995) Sport psychology interventions. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Van Raalte, J. L., & Brewer, B.W. (Eds.) (2014). Exploring sport and exercise psychology (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2010). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (5th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Williams, J. M. & Krane, V. (Eds.). (2014). Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (6th ed.).
Check the websites of two publishers devoted specifically to sport and sport psychology:
Fitness Information Technology http://fitinfotech.com/
Human Kinetics http://www.humankinetics.com/
Familiarize yourself with articles in these journals:
The Sport Psychologist
Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology [a member benefit of Division 47]
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology [member benefit of AASP]
There are two standards in the field of sport psychology, one that applies to individuals and one that is more conceptual in nature.
- CC-AASP: One of the first actions that the Association for Applied Sport Psychology took was to create a set of standards for individuals to label themselves applied sport psychologists. To become a “Certified Consultant, AASP,” one must have completed certain areas of coursework related both to sport (kinesiology, motor learning, physical education) and psychology as well as completing a relevant internship.
- The Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology (Division 47) of the American Psychological Association set out a list of criteria that describe the field of sport psychology from the perspective of psychology. Although this does not directly apply to individual psychologists, there are implied areas of competency. Dr. Jack Lesyk has developed a checklist that individuals can use for self-rating purposes, based on the proficiency criteria.
Can I call myself a sport psychologist?
It depends. First: can you call yourself a psychologist, that is, are you licensed as a psychologist in your jurisdiction? If the answer to that is yes, then, again, a legal consideration is whether your jurisdictional Board or College allows one to specify the type of psychologist you are. If not, you may be best advised to describe yourself as “Dr. Mary Smith, practicing sport psychology.”
The other consideration to take into account, obviously, is competence: Even if you can legally use this modifier, are there ways that, if questioned, you could demonstrate competence in the field? We all vary in our risk tolerance for legal action. Caveat venditor!
I’m a therapist (or therapist-in-training) who knows about the tremendous mental benefits of physical activity. How can I offer therapy that includes exercise or the value of exercise to clients’ well-being?
You’re right. Increasingly, scientific information supports the therapeutic value of physical activity in relation to a variety of mental or emotional problems, from minor to severe. In terms of training, as with sport psychology training (but perhaps more so), the information tends not to be part of regular graduate training curricula. You most likely will need to do your own “cross-training,” whether during graduate school or thereafter.
The challenge is that most programs that train one to become a psychotherapist don’t include much if any information regarding this aspect of the mind-body relationship; most programs in clinical health psychology focus on a career in research rather than practice; programs in exercise psychology (in departments of physical education, etc.) don’t in and of themselves offer coursework and internship sufficient to become licensed on graduation.
The options appear to be:
- become trained as a psychotherapist who can be licensed in your jurisdiction, whether that’s as a licensed professional counselor, social worker, or psychologist, and develop at least some basic knowledge in exercise physiology and exercise prescription. Minimally, this would be knowledge that you pick up along the way; it may range from there to coursework on up to a graduate degree in kinesiology.
A few graduate programs are beginning to offer some options to graduate students. For example, East Carolina University’s PhD program in clinical health psychology offers a class on the psychology of physical activity, taught by a professor from ECU’s Kinesiology Department.
- Obtain graduate training in kinesiology/sport sciences/physical education, with additional training in counseling. Make sure that the training in counseling results in eligibility for licensure within your jurisdiction.
If this is an area of interest to you, it will also be important to:
- Recognize and appreciate the value of inter-disciplinary engagement and networking
- Work collaboratively, for example, by referring clients to a local certified personal trainer for implementation of an exercise “prescription.”
I want to be a performance psychologist or consultant, helping performers toward optimal performance through mental skills. What kind of training do I need?
The field of “performance psychology” is an emerging one. As with sport psychology, practitioners come to it via a variety of paths. Most typically, one has obtained initial/degree training in sport psychology, or in psychotherapy, or in industrial-organizational psychology. Often one needs additional knowledge in the particular performance area of focus (sport, performing arts, business leaders, or professionals in high-risk occupations).
Interestingly, some have suggested that the broader field is actually performance psychology, of which sport psychology is really just a particular subset. (See http://www.apadivisions.org/division-47/about/resources/defining.pdf)
Some graduate programs are now offering courses in performance psychology. See for example, University of Denver’s Masters’ degree in Sport and Performance Psychology.
Please note that FAQ responses are short answers. For more information regarding performance psychology, I’d encourage you to read You’re On: Consulting for Peak Performance (written by Kate F. Hays and Charles H. Brown, Jr.) and Performance Psychology in Action (edited by Kate F. Hays). Also note that I offer tele-consultation groups regarding performance psychology.