How to Become a Sports Therapist

Overview

At least $400 billion per year is generated in revenue from sports according to industry researchers (Plunket Research). But there are hundreds of people who work behind the scenes supporting athletes in their endeavors and sports therapists are one of them. Sports therapists are also called Sports Psychologists at the doctoral level. They have the enviable position of helping professional and competitive athletes improve their performance in sports as well as life.

Athletes work demanding schedules that require the best in both physical and mental performance. Sports therapists help to hone and polish this performance by helping athletes work on the way they think and to understand and overcome obstacles that keep them from playing at their best. This might include helping athletes change their thinking, get over fears, or supporting them in the difficult world of athletics. There are more than 20 Sports Psychologists working on staff with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the association responsible for almost all university level athletes in the U.S. And there are more than 100 Sports Psychologists that consult with professional and college level teams.

Sports therapists are also heavily employed with the U.S. military to help foster psychological and physical resilience, or help people overcome difficulty easier. Consulting and private practice is also a huge area of opportunity for Sports Psychologist as everyone from a high school athlete to the retiree who wants to up his golf game may consult with Sports Psychologists from time to time. Dancers, equestrians, and even Olympic athletes all go to Sport Psychologists for help in overcoming psychological obstacles to success. And the techniques that help athletes, such as stress management and visualization, can help athletes not only improve their game but improve their lives. Sports psychologists are fundamentally a type of psychologists that specializes in performance.

Work Environment

A sports therapist can be found working anywhere you find professional or competitive athletes. Sports therapists work in universities, with professional sports teams, with club sports, and they coach competitive racers including bikers, runners, canoers, sailors, and even car racers. They even work with performing artists, like dancers and acrobats, to help them improve their performance. Much of a sports therapists work is done one on one with a client in a private local, such as the psychologist’s office, especially for those working in independent practice who also have the freedom to set their own schedule. However, many professionals are taking their work to the field. For example, a staff psychologist for a university football team would most likely be found on the side lines at practice so that he or she can better understand the nature and needs of the team and its players.

Sports therapists’ help athletes prepare mentally for their sport as well as prepare for disappointment and defeat and how to overcome these obstacles quickly in order to reestablish athletic prowess so it is essential that they are available where and when the sport is played. They may also be called upon to travel with a sports team. And life can be difficult on the road. Additionally, they may also become academics and researchers in University settings. These individuals teach and research sports psychology rather than offering clinical consultation to athletes.

Requirements

Education

A Master’s degree or Doctorate degree in clinical, counseling, or health psychology is required for specialization as a sports therapist. Some universities offer undergraduate sports psychology courses, which would be a great head start on a graduate degree. But generally, a graduate degree is needed to become a Sports Psychologist/Therapist. Although you can practice Sports Psychology with a Master’s degree you will normally need to attain a doctorate in psychology in order to achieve certification as a “Sports Psychologist”. Few graduate programs specialize in sports psychology and even fewer doctoral internships are available in sports psychology (the doctoral internship is the last step required to be granted a doctorate in psychology). Because of limited formal opportunities most students forge their own path by taking additional classes which will help them with post-graduate certifications. These courses might include physiology, kinesiology, performance psychology, sports medicine, marketing, and business. Often, getting a mentor to guide you through the process is most effective. Mentors might include faculty, other Sports Psychologists, or students who are specializing in sports psychology.

Training

Training to become a sports therapists can occur either while attaining a graduate degree or can be accomplished after graduation through cultivated experiences working with sporting organizations and athletes. Internships and Practicums are completed during graduate education and often last from 6 months to 2 years and beyond.

Licensing and/or Certification

To become certified to be a practicing Sports Psychologist it is first essential to get licensed in the state in which you reside as a licensed professional counselor (LPC) or Licensed Psychologist. Laws vary from state to state but usually requires applicants to have post-doctoral experience supervised by expert professional staff and to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is required in all 50 states.

The American Board of Sports Psychology (ABSP) offers a specialization certification that demonstrates experience and advanced training in sports psychology called Board Certified Sports Psychologist. Requirements to become certified by the American Board of Sports Psychology include attaining a doctoral degree from an accredited institution, becoming licensed in psychology or identify as a research or academic psychologist. It also requires a thesis and/or dissertation with a sport psychology emphasis, a sport psychology emphasis within the graduate program, a least one professional publication about sports psychology, or completion of a certification program by the ABSP. It then requires a 6 month practicum in sports psychology, evidence of post-graduate work in sports psychology (1 year for doctorate, 3 years for Masters, teaching sports psychology for at least 1 year, doing post-graduate research on sports psychology, being an elite athlete, or providing some other significant contribution to the research in sport psychology. And passing the Board Certified Sport Psychologist Examination.

Additionally, the American Psychological Association Division 47 for Exercise and Sport gives recognition to the field of sport psychology and has developed recommendations and guidelines for proficiency and expertise which can be found on its website.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

It is important to be a trustworthy person in order to be a successful sports therapist. This is because working with clients requires that you keep their information confidential and instill trust and confidence in others. Good judgment, skill at solving problems, and the ability to be analytical are all required in order to figure out how best to help your clients, to be able to make decisions and recommendations in high pressure or difficult situations, and in order to keep up with the research literature on the subject. A high degree of skill with people is one of the most important aspects of being a sports therapist. You need to be approachable and people need to be willing to open up to you. Other skills which are essential are the ability to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing, being able to observe details such as a withdrawn player that doesn’t want to approach you, and to have patience since psychological treatment can take a long time to show results.

Opportunities for Advancement

A sports therapist that works for an organization or professional team should expect that they may be the lone professional and may not have much opportunity to move up. However, there is endless opportunity for growth in private practice and consultation. Additionally, academic sport therapists can work their way up through the university hierarchy and may be eligible to move into positions such as department head, dean, or vice president of the university.

Salary

According to American Psychological Association, salary range begins at around $60,000 annually, comparable with most other professional psychologists who earn an average of 68,640 per year according to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics. However, Sports Psychologist can earn well over $100,000 per year, especially in private practice, consulting, and working with professional teams. And those with a master’s degree can expect to earn about $10,000-$15,000 less than a doctoral level Sports Psychologist per year. Academic and research Sports Psychologists can look to earn the same amount as the average social science academic at around $62,050 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Outlook

The field of sports psychology is rather new. Because of this there should be large amounts of growth in the field as more teams and athletes recognize the need for the expertise of Sports Psychologists. The outlook for psychologists in general is good with a faster than average growth rate of 22% between 2010 and 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Related Reading

Further Reading and References

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