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 What Do Sports Psychologists Do?

Sports psychologists typically perform a range of tasks related to sports performance and education. Some opt to teach at the university level, while others work directly with athletes to increase motivation and enhance performance. Other options include client counseling, scientific research and athletic consulting.

In addition to working with professional athletes, sports psychologists also utilize their expertise to increase the mental well-being of non-athletes. They may work with a range of clients including children and teens involved in athletics, professional athletes and teams interested in improving their performance and injured athletes working toward returning to competition.

Is a Career in Sports Psychology Right for Me?:

Only you can decide if a sports psychology career is suited to your needs, interests, talents and goals. If you dislike sports or exercise, this career is probably not for you. But if you enjoy helping people achieve their full potential, solving complex problems and working as part of a team, this field might be an ideal match for you.

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What Are the Pros and Cons of a Career in Sports Psychology?

Like all careers, sports psychology has its advantages and disadvantages. Before you decide if this career is right for you, spend some time learning more about sports psychology. Explore your options by taking an introductory course on the subject and weigh your choices carefully before you decide.

Benefits of a Career in Sports Psychology

  • Sports psychologists often work as part of a collaborative team.
  • There are diverse career paths and specialization opportunities (i.e. teaching, youth sports, professional athletics training).
  • It can be a fun, challenging and exciting job.

How Much Do Sports Psychologists Typically Earn?

Pay ranges vary considerably within sports psychology based on training, education, and area of specialization. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor, average salaries for clinical and counseling psychologists range between $51,850 and $81,880. The median salary for university faculty positions was $55,000 in a 2001 salary survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) (Singleton et al., 2003). Some top sports psychologists earn six-figure salaries working as consultants for professional athletes, but most earn a more modest yearly income.

What Type of Degree Do Sports Psychologists Need?

Entry-level positions with a bachelor’s degree are rare, usually taking the form of internships. Most positions require a master’s or doctorate degree in clinical, counseling or sports psychology as well as direct training and experience in apply psychology to sports and exercise.

The American Board of Sport Psychology offers a few different professional certifications. The highest level credential is the Board Certified Sports Psychologist-Diplomat, which “…signifies that the holder has advanced training and experience in Sport Psychology and is especially aware of ethical, methodological, and research issues associated with the application of methods to enhance the psychological performance of athletes.” Many who hold this certification are also certified or licensed clinical, counseling or health psychologists.

Because there are few graduate programs offering specialized degrees in sports psychology, it can be difficult to determine what exact combination of training and experience qualifies a professional to be called a ‘sports psychologist.’ Division 47 of the APA suggests that sports psychologists should be licensed psychologists with “experience in applying psychological principles in sports settings.” Additionally, an extensive educational background and training in sports, motivation management, performance and athletics is also recommended.

Additional Options

Only you can decide if a sports psychology career is suited to your needs, interests, talents and goals. If you dislike sports or exercise, this career is probably not for you. But if you enjoy helping people achieve their full potential, solving complex problems and working as part of a team, this field might be an ideal match for you. The field of sports psychiatry is relatively new compared to sports psychology, but it’s a growing field so if you’re interested, you might want to consider speaking with someone from a psychiatry recruitment firm about your career options.


American Board of Sports Psychology. (n.d.) Credential and certificates: Description and Q and A. http://www.americanboardofsportpsychology.org/Certificates/tabid/581/Default.aspx

Cherry, K. (2012). Career profile – sports psychology. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologycareerprofiles/p/sportspsyc.htm

Sugarman, K. (2009). Careers in sports psychology. Psych Web. http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologycareerprofiles/p/sportspsyc.htm



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  4. Mr. Edger I have been following your work for the past three years and I must say I’m a big fan of your writing and what you do. This has encouraged me to pursue further education and training in this field. I have found that most sport psychologist are actually clinical psychologist from the mental health field who have an interest in athletics. It is refreshing you find a professional who has actually received training and education in sport psychology. This is the path I plan to take with hopes that one day training and education in the field of sports psych will be needed to be called sport psychologist, not training and education in clinical psychology. I’m interested in your thoughts on this and any challenges it has presented for you. I wish you great success and will continue to follow your work with hopes to one day share ideas with one another!

    Coach Mark Cole

    • Mark,

      I couldn’t agree more. It is common for clinical psychologist to branch out into different fields, which in my opinion hurts the integrity of the profession. Therefore, I believe you are on the right track by pursuing education in the field.

      The most challenging aspect of this issue is that only clinical psychologist can call themselves sport psychologist. Doesn’t seem right but that’s the way it is. People like myself who are far more educated in the field must go by sport psychology professionals, coaches, or consultants. I too hope this issue is addressed by the APA in the near future. Someone with a masters and phd in sport psychology should be able to call them self a sport psychologist. By not allowing us to do so and allowing clinical mental health psychologist to use the label only weakens the fields credibility in my opinion…

      Thank you for comment and sharing your thoughts. I will email you off-site in a bit to set up a time to answer any of your questions and discuss this further.

  5. Dear colleagues
    My name is Maciej Behnke. I’m PhD student at Institute of Psychology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland. I’m running my research and I’m kindly asking you for favour. I would like to invite you to participate in study that regards mental training in sports and subjective well-being. The completion of the survey takes about 10 minutes. http://goo.gl/forms/nmA1LHQblR
    Thank you for your effort and contribution. Your answers are very valuable for me.
    It would be very helpful, if you have helped me to promote this research among your students, friends doing sports (all age, sport type and mastery) or have given some ideas about the people that I should contact with.
    Best regards,

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