How to Become a Sports Psychologist (Including Definition)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published October 21, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

For individuals interested in both psychology and sports, becoming a sports psychologist can be a suitable career path. These professionals help athletes cope with or overcome various mental health challenges that may prevent them from performing their best. If you're considering a career as a sports psychologist, learning more about this profession and the steps you can take to become one is beneficial. In this article, we discuss what a sports psychologist is and explain how to become a sports psychologist in nine steps.

What is a sports psychologist?

A sports psychologist is a professional who helps athletes cope with mental health challenges through psychological assessment, routine counselling, and specialized treatment plans. While many sports psychologists focus on supporting athletes as they overcome mental health issues that can affect their performance, they may also help them with mental health concerns unrelated to sports. These professionals often work with professional athletes, but can also work with students, amateur athletes, and individuals in sports therapy. While general and sports psychologists have similar clinical duties, sports psychologists work primarily in an athletic environment. Some responsibilities of a sports psychologist include:

  • communicating with athletes' coaches and families

  • helping athletes psychologically prepare for competition

  • educating athletes about various relaxation techniques they can use

  • meeting with athletes for consultations and evaluations

  • mentoring coaches about ways they can improve their players' mental states

  • researching how sports affect an athlete's mental state

  • writing detailed reports

Read more: What Does a Behavioural Psychologist Do? (With Requirements)

How to become a sports psychologist

You can learn how to become a sports psychologist by following these nine steps:

1. Complete undergraduate studies in psychology

The first step to a career as a sports psychologist is to attend university to pursue a bachelor's degree in psychology. Each university has unique admission requirements, which you can determine by researching the institution you're interested in attending. During your time as an undergraduate, it's essential to work hard and earn high marks, so you're a competitive candidate for master's programs. Most students take four years to complete an undergraduate program in psychology. Relevant courses you might take while an undergraduate student studying psychology include:

  • abnormal psychology

  • cognitive psychology

  • developmental psychology

  • experimental psychology

  • general psychology

  • history of psychology

  • personality psychology

  • physiological psychology

  • social psychology

  • statistics

Read more: 10 Top Bachelor's in Psychology Jobs (With Definition)

2. Enrol in a master's program

Once you've earned a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field, you can enroll in a master's program. Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories require individuals to earn a master's degree to use the psychologist's designation. Depending on whether you're studying full or part time, earning a master's degree may take you two to three years. Although you can become a sports psychologist by earning a master's degree in psychology, some universities offer specialized master's programs. Courses you might take in a sports psychology program include:

  • advanced experimental problems

  • advanced statistics

  • inferential statistics

  • intermediate statistics

  • physical activity psychology

  • research methods

  • sport psychology

Read more: What Is a Master's in Educational Psychology? (With Jobs)

3. Consider working to gain experience

Most provinces and territories require supervised practical experience to become a licensed sports psychologist. Determining what you want to focus on as a sports psychologist can help you choose an entry-level position. For example, if you want to pursue a career in academic sports psychology, you might teach introductory courses for undergraduates. Conversely, if you plan to work in applied sports psychology, you might assist an experienced sports psychologist as they work with athletes. This experience can help you determine if sports psychology is the best career path for you, or if you might prefer working in a different specialization.

Read more:

  • Jobs You Can Do With a Psychology Degree

  • Internships for Psychology (Types and How to Pursue Them)

4. Develop valuable skills

You can develop valuable skills that can help you excel as a sports psychologist while pursuing the required degrees and gaining work experience. One effective strategy is observing other psychology professionals while they work and asking questions. You can develop many of the skills a sports psychologist requires by becoming more self-aware. For example, you might ask close friends and family members about how you communicate to gain a different perspective. You can then alter your communication techniques to be more effective when working with patients. Here's a list of skills you might develop:

  • ability to motivate others

  • ability to work under pressure and cope with stressful situations

  • active listening

  • analytical thinking

  • communication skills

  • decision-making ability

  • empathy

  • flexibility

  • interpersonal skills

  • methodical approach to work

  • observation skills

  • patience

  • problem-solving skills

  • research skills

Read more: How to Become a Psychologist in Canada (With Duties)

5. Pursue a doctorate in psychology

If you plan to work as a sports psychologist in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, or Quebec, it's essential to earn a doctoral degree to use the psychologist's designation. Depending on whether you're studying part or full time, it's likely to take three to five years to earn this degree. While you can earn a Ph.D. in psychology, some universities offer programs in sports psychology. If you pursue a Ph.D. in sports psychology, you may be responsible for:

  • taking graduate-level courses in psychology, anatomy, computer science, and mechanical engineering rehabilitation therapy

  • attending graduate seminars

  • written comprehensive examination and oral defence

  • written thesis proposal and oral defence

  • written thesis and oral defence

Read more: PhD vs. Master's: What's the Difference between Them?

6. Take the necessary exams

The last step before applying for your licence that allows you to practise sports psychology is to pass the necessary exams. Which exams you take depends on the province or territory in which you live. For example, in British Columbia, individuals take the Written Jurisprudence Examination (WJE) and the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP). Conversely, in Ontario, individuals take the Jurisprudence and Ethics Examination (JEE) and the EPPP. It's vital to research which exams your province requires you to take to attain licensure.

The Association of State and Provincial Practice of Psychology Boards (ASPPB) administer the EPPP. This examination consists of objective multiple-choice questions that cover essential knowledge of the psychology practice. The purpose of this exam is to prove that you have a sufficient understanding of psychology and can practise responsibly. You might research effective study methods to pass the exam on your first attempt. If you don't pass, you can take the exam up to four times a year. Content areas on the exam include:

  • assessment and diagnosis

  • biological bases of behaviour

  • cognitive-affective bases of behaviour

  • ethical, legal, and professional issues

  • growth and life span development

  • research methods and statistics

  • social and multi-cultural bases of behaviour

  • treatment, intervention, and prevention

Read more: What Is a Master's in Educational Psychology? (With Jobs)

7. Apply for licensure

Once you've achieved all your province or territory requires to become a licensed psychologist, you can apply for licensure. An online search can inform you of the requirements for your province or territory and the application process. Although the details differ, such as years of supervised experience, most provinces and territories have the following requirements:

  • appropriate graduate degree

  • completion of supervised experience

  • pass all oral or written examinations

Read more: How to Become a Psychological Therapist (With Steps)

8. Update your resume

Once you've applied for your licence, you can prepare for your job search by updating your resume. If you find a job that you're interested in applying for, you can tailor your resume to the role. To achieve this, you might review the job description and identify keywords. Then, you can incorporate them into your resume. You can include the following sections on your resume:

  • Contact information: This includes your name, phone number, e-mail address, and the city and province or territory where you live.

  • Professional summary: In this introductory paragraph, you can explain why you're a suitable candidate for the sports psychologist role in a few sentences.

  • Work experience: In this section, you can include your job title, employment dates, the name of the organization you worked for, and its location, followed by a bulleted list of your primary responsibilities for each role.

  • Education: You can include the name of the university you attended, its location, and the degrees you earned.

  • Skills: In this section, you can list any hard and soft skills that you've gained that can help you excel as a sports psychologist.

  • Certification: You may share the names of any relevant certifications you've earned.

Read more: 10 Steps on How to Update a Resume (Benefits and Tips)

9. Apply for sports psychologist jobs

Once you update your resume, you can apply for sports psychologist jobs. It's often beneficial to consult with your professional network to see if any organizations are hiring sports psychologists. Your connections may help you get the job. You can also reference job boards. When you find a job opening that interests you, ensure you read the instructions for applying carefully. For example, the job listing might instruct candidates to attach their resume as a PDF to an e-mail addressed to the organization's hiring manager. Here are some types of employers to consider when applying for the role:

  • private practices

  • professional sports teams

  • rehabilitation facilities

  • military

  • university athletic departments

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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