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If you ever watched sports, you probably marveled at how players can perform at such a high level under incredible amounts of pressure. It is because professionals practicing sports psychology help athletes ensure success in those critical moments during which they operate under pressure.
Athletes face the chance to win or lose the game with just seconds remaining. They pause, and focus, and succeed in winning the sporting match. Many people would not be able to perform to the best of their ability in such a situation. I mean, the crowd noise is deafening. The tension is high. And yet somehow the best athletes seem to excel under pressure and in these situations.
Coaches and trainers make sure these athletes have the physical attributes to succeed at their craft. It is the sports psychologist who prepares athletes for the mental game. They ensure that athletes are mentally focused and able to excel in the big moment. And successful individuals — including Olympic athletes, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and top celebrities in every field — note that it is the mental challenges that are the most difficult to overcome to achieve success.
What Exactly Is Sports Psychology?
Sports psychologists assist athletes, coaches, trainers, and referees from amateur to professional levels. Primarily, their work involves how psychology affects athletes and how the mental aspects can improve performance. The goal of sports psychologists is to prepare athletes for the stress and demands of competition.
For example, sports psychology can assist athletes to cope with an injury to ensure that their mental preparation enables for a fast recovery and return to their former level of performance. Or sports psychology may be involved in helping referees stay focused on significant events rather than being distracted by crowd concerns or extraneous factors.
Sports psychology is not limited to professional athletes. Another critical use of sports psychology is helping teens cope with the myriad of mental issues they face as they are growing into adults. A sports psychologist helps them in developing coping strategies that they can use throughout their future sporting career.
Lastly, experts in sports psychology may work directly with teams in preparing teams for maximizing their effect on the sports field as well as coping with specific factors related to the local sporting market.
Sports vs. Exercise Psychology
A popular misconception of sports psychology is that it is only concerned with professional athletes. However, it is a much broader field of study. This includes scientific, applied, and clinical specializations involving not only sports but also exercise in general.
Specifically, sports psychology has two main areas of specialization: the focus on how psychology can affect the motivation and performance of athletes, as well as understanding how sports and athletics can positively influence mental health and overall well-being. These two distinct areas of sports psychology are known as sports psychology and exercise psychology respectively.
There are many misconceptions regarding these fields. Many people confuse these fields and view sports psychology and exercise psychology as equivalent. As mentioned above, sports psychology aims to improve the performance of athletes at all levels and works with referees, athletes, trainers, referees, and coaches to maximize the mental aspects of sports for improved sporting performance.
Exercise psychologists generally work with the general public in promoting motivation and participation in physical activity. The fundamental difference between these two disciplines can be thought of as sports psychologists are focused on performance in sports, whereas exercise psychologists concentrate on health and well-being.
What Do Sports Psychologists Do?
The efforts of sports psychologists are often not directly seen by sports fans. But the quality of sporting performance is very reliant on the work of sports psychologists behind the scenes. They actively contribute to teams, and players realize their potential and perform at the highest level.
The team dynamics and mental demands may be apparent to the avid sports fan. Coping strategies, communication skills, professional relationship, and thought patterns are all areas of on-field performance that sports psychology experts have a considerable influence in shaping.
Dysfunctional relationships between team members prevent any group from realizing their potential. In the absence of such incidents involving the strong personalities of star athletes, you can realistically assume that a sports psychologist has performed their duties effectively.
For example, consider a young team consisting of highly touted prospects gaining their first taste of professional success. The rigors of travel and being on the road for prolonged periods of time can undermine the performance of the team. A sports psychologists must ensure they are performing at an exceptional level.
In the event of the tragic loss of a team member, either by way of trade or death, can adversely affect the ability of the team to perform at their highest level at critical times in the game. Again, a sports psychologist will develop coping strategies for the team to offset these mental challenges.
Other key areas
Other areas of the sports psychology profession include advising athletes who are under excessive pressure as part of the team or are not realizing their full potential due to a lack of playing time available.
Conflict resolution strategies are also often necessary when athletes clash in the locker room. It takes a certain amount of confidence and will to push yourself in training and development to become a professional athlete. When these personalities come together, often conflict is inevitable. These challenges fall within the realm of sports psychology to effectively manage.
Of course, not all sport psychology professionals work with athletes and teams. There is the growing trend of university programs offering related programs. Many sports psychologists opt for university teaching as their career. Others are actively involved in research and client counseling.
Reasons for Becoming a Sports Psychologist
The sports industry is a booming industry worldwide. The sporting industry, including everything from ticket sales in professional sports to local sporting equipment purchases, has been estimated at approximately $400 billion in the United States alone. And it is expected to continue to grow. So entering this growing lucrative industry is an excellent career decision.
The competitiveness of professional sports is now a global phenomenon. With countries from all over the world contributing world-class athletes, the need for specialized services has increased. Now, you can find a market in providing a competitive edge for would-be athletes looking to realize their dreams.
The word “psychology” involves the connotation of needing help to solve your problems. Sports psychology is no different, with the essential services provided by sports psychologists bringing out the best of individuals regarding sporting performance.
Now we consider six reasons to choose sports psychology as your career.
Diverse career path
Choosing sports psychology as your career opens up three potential career paths. First, applied sports psychology specializes in teaching skills to improve athletic performance. This area involves working closely with athletes, trainers, and coaches to maximize the on-field performance of individual athletes as well as teams.
Second, clinical sports psychology utilizes mental training and psychotherapy to assist clients with mental health issues such as depression and coping effectively with pressure and stress.
Lastly, academic sports psychologists are a third career path which involves teaching and actively researching at universities and colleges. These three areas offer a great variety of possibilities for anyone majoring in sports psychology.
Salaries vary according to which specialization you choose in sports psychology. However, all jobs are in demand and pay a good salary. Applied sports psychologists would be the most lucrative profession in the sports psychology field. Working directly with professional teams can net a salary more than $100,000 annually. Working as a consultant in this field has virtually unlimited earning potential.
An estimate for the average clinical psychologist’s salary is $75,794. And for those looking to pursue a career as an academic sports psychologist, athletic departments at universities typically pay between $60,000 and 80,000 annually. The highest salaries teaching at universities can exceed $100,000 per year.
Be part of a team
Most sports involve the use of teams. This extends from team based-sports such as football and basketball to sports involving the use of teams consisting of trainers and coaches in many individual sports such as figure skating and skiing.
For many people looking at sports psychology as a career, being a part of a high-quality team is one of the many attractive features. Being a part of a high-performance team brings you into contact with experts from many related fields. And the desire to succeed as a member of an overall team can be an extremely motivating aspect of the job.
Teams allow for the specialization of individual members. In other words, being a part of the team enables members to concentrate on what they are best it. And this excites many people because they can become an expert in a niche, as opposed to having to learn entirely new skills as demanded from changing jobs in the competitive job market.
Also, establishing yourself as a key member of a high performing team provides you the opportunity of changing jobs as a group whenever required. And this establishes long-term professional relationships within the industry.
Supply and demand
There is a growing demand for the sports industry. Global consumers are accessing sports through the use of new media created by technological developments. Sports can now be accessed everywhere, through smartphones and streaming live on the internet to pay-per-view television.
In response, the sporting industry has expanded and has become much more specialized. Consider the NFL team, the Green Bay Packers, founded in 1919. Their name comes from the fact that many professional players worked at a local meat packing plant. Back in those days, the industry offered such little wages that many professional athletes worked during the offseason to provide basic needs for their families.
In the modern era, there is a lot of financial potential for improving the quality of sports. The globalization of sports has broadened the viewer market and expanded the supply of athletes.
These factors contribute to current opportunities for people to participate in sports growth. There exists a massive chance for career development and job security. With the lag in quality programs offered at universities globally, the supply of qualified professionals can’t meet the increase in demand. So it’s a perfect market to establish yourself in a growing industry. And you will get paid handsomely in the process.
Exposure to a positive mindset
Psychology is a field of study that many students choose to pursue. However, many people get disillusioned by the prospect of constant immersion in other people’s problems. Others find their chosen profession plagued by the challenge of being able to disconnect from the stress. They also have difficulty associated with their clients’ severe problems. The constant exposure to such negativity can create problems for these professionals.
However, a sports psychologist does not have the same degree of emotional demands. Many clients have a history of excelling in their sport. They seek out the help of sports psychologists not necessarily to deal with emotional problems but learn how to get better at their craft. This perspective of the positive mindset of clients is in stark contrast to other fields of psychology which often work with clients that have not had the same degree of success in their lives.
Variety in daily activities
The standard nine to five work routine does not really apply to a sports psychologist. While many jobs feature a repetitive workflow throughout the working hours, a sports psychologist does something different every day. So you can count on working with various professionals from a variety of backgrounds at all levels of sporting activities.
Also, travel is an aspect that keeps the job interesting. You may be stationed at a university campus one day, a local hospital the next, and end the week at team practice facilities. And if you prefer international travel, you have plenty of options to live and work abroad. Also, you can work with international clients. It is also an excellent way to land a job in a specific country if that is your goal.
Choosing Sports Psychology as a Career
The decision whether to pursue a career in sports psychology deserves careful consideration. Individuals need to weigh the pros and cons as well as assess their suitability in effectively performing tasks. For those of you choosing sports psychology as your future profession, you are entering a growing market filled fantastic opportunities.