What is sport psychology?

August 14, 2015

What is sport psychology? It’s a field that helps people of all ages and abilities involved in sports find internal motivation, cope with stress, improve performance, and recover from injuries.

Rebecca Loehrer, PhD, faculty chair within Capella University’s Harold Abel School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, fills in the details on what sport psychology is and career options for professionals with an advanced degree.

Q. What is sport psychology?

           A. It’s a much broader field than it used to be. At first, it was focused on helping professional athletes overcome performance anxiety. Today, practitioners of sport psychology don’t just work with professional athletes, but with the general population, even youth teams. The focus has widened to include the psychology behind performance and motivation, coping with stress and pressure, and learning how to handle recovery from injuries. It’s all about helping people have better athletic and fitness performance and developing better health and wellness lifestyles.

Q. Who would be interested in studying sport psychology?

           A. There are several types of people who could improve their career opportunities by studying sport psychology. Coaches, both professional and amateur, can increase their credibility by pursuing a master’s degree. Anyone who’s interested in the mental process driving athletic and fitness performance and motivation, and who wants to help others succeed in these areas, would benefit from a degree in this field.

Q. What characteristics or skills should someone in sport psychology have to be successful?

           A. They should want to work with people, and they must be very interested in performance and motivation issues. They must also be interested in the physical part of it, as they’re likely to be physically active at work, whether it’s outdoors or in a gym.

Experience with team sports is valuable, so they understand the dynamics involved. Everyone in this field has to be invested in understanding what it takes to help someone perform better, whether that’s at an elite level or helping a newcomer to a gym find a way to keep going and work on their health.

Sport psychology is not a nutrition course—that’s a field better left to registered dietitians—but a basic understanding of biology and proper diet is helpful as well.

Q. What types of careers are available for people in this specialization?

           A. Coaches at both the professional and amateur (and even youth) levels with a master’s degree are sought after in the field. It’s also an excellent credential for people who want to be personal trainers, fitness instructors, directors of recreation and fitness centers, or to own fitness facilities and sports complexes. Even high school physical education teachers find themselves more marketable by having a master’s in sport psychology.

NOTE: The term “psychologist” is reserved for people who have a doctoral degree.

Learn more about Capella’s MS in Psychology, Sport Psychology degree program.

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