Sports is fun and a good way to stay fit and enjoy a bit of competition. Some people, however, go beyond this and become professional athletes. Someone with a masters in sports psychology will look into what sets these people apart. Why do they strive for competition so much? Why do they go to their very limits? And what is the emotional and mental impact of this?
The branch of sports psychology looks into the effects of playing sports, but also at how the mental state of people can be improved so that they become even better. There is a strong focus on the importance of physical health, but it is connected to mental health as well, as this is necessary to perform properly. Often, athletes also have various psychological issues that need addressing, including extreme anxiety before a match and substance abuse, for instance.
Once you hold a master’s in sports psychology degree, you will likely work with a range of different athletes, be they professionals or amateurs. Your services may be required by individuals, or you may be enlisted by a coach who wants to improve the mental health of the entire team. It is a known fact, for instance, that Olympic athletes use a range of different psychological treatments in order to ensure they do not experience strong anxiety before they perform.
As a sports psychologist, you won’t just work with athletes either. Indeed, people who have highly competitive jobs may required your services as well. This includes performing artists, businessmen and politicians to name but a few.
Although sports psychology is often seen as a reasonably new discipline, it was actually developed by Norman Triplett in the 19th century. He worked at Indiana University as a psychology professor, and he spent time studying cyclists. His experiments demonstrated that performance would be increased if cyclists rode in a group, rather than alone. His research sparked a lot of interest and the first sport psychology lab was set up in 1920 Germany by Carl Diem. This was followed by Coleman Griffith in our own country, who focused specifically on the Chicago Cubs athletes. Interestingly, however, the American Psychological Association (APA) didn’t recognize sports psychology as a separate discipline until 1987, when it was created under Division 47. Since then, the discipline has been advancing rapidly. More and more people are interested in competitive sports, which has increased demand for knowledge around the psychology of not just athletes, but spectators as well.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that general psychologists earn a median annual salary of $90,010. Those who work in hospitals earn slightly more at $91,810, and those in private practices can expect a median annual salary of $90,220.
For sports psychology, the salaries vary greatly. A number of factors are of influence, such as where you work and how much demand there is. In the larger cities, there are proven track records of the importance of sport psychology, which leads to higher wages as well.
About Sports Psychology
If you want to become involved in sports psychology, you must have a solid background in both psychology and physical education. There are now a number of colleges and universities that offer a bachelor’s degree in sports psychology, where you will learn about both physical education and psychology. You could start your career with a general psychology bachelor’s degree or you could opt for a bachelor’s degree in physical education.
There are not many permanent positions on the market for sports psychologists with a bachelor’s degree. This is why the majority of people interested in this career will go for the more advanced master’s degree. This is becoming an increasingly popular area of study and many universities now offer the degree options. Furthermore, it may also be possible to take part in direct entry master’s programs, accelerated master’s programs and even online programs, although some practicum will generally be required. Finally, some universities now also offer doctorate degrees in sport psychology.
What Jobs Does This Lead To?
Once you hold a masters in sports psychology, there are two areas of work available to you, being research and counseling. If you choose the research option, your role will be to observe and study athletes to better understand their motivation and to grasp why they so badly want to win. You may also look into ways to improve performance and to reduce certain obstacles. The knowledge you will gain by doing this research will then potentially be applied by top athletes across the world.
Your role will be to help athletes, which means you must first be able to understand the problems they face. This is why counseling is also an interesting option. You could, for instance, counsel athletes who struggle to concentrate if they are dealing with any kind of personal problems. Furthermore, they may have low self-esteem, poor confidence and a bad body image. Many athletes also suffer from burnout or performance anxiety, which can all be addressed through counseling. No amount of talent makes people exempt from these issues.
Sports psychologists can work with individual athletes or with groups. They may address entire teams, providing them with group therapy. This is very important, as team work goes beyond being able to pass a ball.
During your work, you will use various different techniques to help athletes overcome problems. This can be done simply by listening to an athlete who is feeling overwhelmed, or by providing talking therapy for certain negative situations. You will offer guidance and advice on overcoming problems, as well as teaching athletes about the various relaxation techniques that can help them reduce anxiety. You could instruct them on visualization techniques, for instance, which can help them to not be distracted.
You may also find yourself working with athletes whose careers have to come to an end due to injury. This can be significantly distressing, and you can help them overcome these problems. If there is any chance of them ever returning to their chosen sport, you can help them prepare mentally for this, particularly if their injury also left psychological trauma.
You can perform your job in a variety of different settings. Some options include:
- Colleges and high schools, where student athletes may need counseling.
- Professional sports team or individual professional athletes.
- Physical rehabilitation centers
- Private practices
There are a lot of factors that will influence how much you earn as a sports psychologist. In the athletic departments of universities, the median earnings are around $70,000 per year. However, the top 10% will earn $100,000 and above.
Private practices see the widest variation in earnings. Many still see sports psychology as an elite discipline, which means only those who have significant funds available will turn to a private practice. This means that there is no real ceiling in terms of how much you can earn, but there is no floor either. This is also due to the fact that you may see a surge in income before certain sports events, followed by a big drop during a less interesting season.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, salaries vary tremendously depending on education, training and specialization. For instance, a counseling or clinical psychologist could earn anywhere between $48,850 and $71,880. If you work in a university faculty, your median salary is generally around $55,000, although this is much higher if you hold a doctorate degree. According to the APA, the highest earners are the sports psychologists who work as personal consultants and they can expect six figure incomes.
Pychology jobs are set for significant growth, and it is expected that these will also include sports psychology. The more advanced your degree is, the better your job outlook will be as well. The highest paying positions will see strong competition and preference will be given to those who hold a doctorate degree. However, those who have a master’s and significant work experience will also be in high demand. Those with a master’s in sports psychology are recommended to take on voluntary positions with small town sports teams in order to further their experience and have better prospects at higher paid positions in the future.
If you have recently completed your master’s degree, it is likely that you will enter the job market as an assistant counselor, although analysis positions are also very popular. In both cases, you would be supervised by a licensed psychologist. The more experience you get, the higher your salary will be and the more interesting the potential positions you could hold will become. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has set the median wage for a sports psychologist at $66,810.