What is Sports Psychology? 

Sports psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on optimal athletic performance and mental health. Athletes consult a sports psychologist to improve their performance and optimize their mental health. Sports psychologists work with elite, professional, and amateur athletes to improve not only the performance but their overall well-being. Sports psychologists also work with the coaches, parents, and teams.

A Quick Overview of Sports Psychology and Why It’s Important

Sports psychologists differ from general psychologists in their specialized knowledge. To obtain this proficiency, the American Psychological Association requires a doctoral degree in one of the primary areas of psychology and licensure in the specialty. Those who have earned a doctorate in sports psychology but are not licensed are not considered sports psychologists. Both a degree in psychology and specialized licensing are required to work as a sports psychologist.

Sports Psychology Techniques 

Sports psychologists employ many different techniques to achieve peak performance and improve the mental health of athletes. Cognitive-behavioral skills training for performance enhancement uses goal setting, concentration strategies, confidence-building, and emotional management. A customized combination of these strategies is used with the athlete to enhance performance and mitigate the stress that comes with high-level competition.

Team building is another useful technique applied in sports psychology. System interventions involve parents, families, and coaches, and they’re particularly useful in youth sports. The education of coaches in this approach utilizes motivation, leadership skills, talent development, and team building to best achieve desired performance goals. This holistic approach emphasizes the role of parents and coaches in the performance of the individual athlete and the team.

Clinical Interventions

High performance often leads to increased stress. While many athletes utilize a sports psychologist to enhance performance and maintain a healthy mental state, they are also utilized to address more serious issues faced by athletes. Eating disorders, substance abuse, aggression and violence, injury and rehabilitation, and career transitions leading to identity crises are some of the most common examples of clinical interventions in sports psychology.

A specialized treatment approach may be used in sports psychology clinical interventions. For example, athletes may be referred to an in-patient program or be given a specialized diet and exercise plan. The benefit of seeking a sports psychologist over a general psychologist for serious issues is the level of expertise only they can provide. Understanding the specialized needs of athletes allows sports psychologists to provide more targeted interventions. 

Becoming a Sports Psychologist 

Becoming a sports psychologist requires a unique combination of training in medicine and psychology. Due to the unique nature of the specialty, sports psychologists must obtain an in-depth knowledge of psychology, medicine, physiology, kinesiology, and rehabilitation. Some sports psychologists specialize in rehabilitation and reintegration after an injury, while others focus on mental health or team dynamics.

To obtain your certification as a sports psychologist, you must first complete a doctoral program in sports psychology. This endeavor can take four to seven years of full-time study at an accredited university. You may also need a postdoctoral specialization to obtain licensure. Professional experience and board certification, in addition to education, are necessary to become a practicing sports psychologist. Most sports psychologists receive their education, experience, and licensure in about ten years.

Finding A Sports Psychologist

The best way to find a sports psychologist is by word of mouth. Speaking to other athletes and coaches who have experience with sports psychologists is a great way to ensure that an athlete, a coach, or a team receives the targeted and specialized help they need. Another good way to find a sports psychologist is through an online sports psychology directory. When searching directories, ensure that your Chrome JavaScript is enabled.

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