Sport psychology is here to stay, say members of Div. 47 (Exercise and Sport), and the opportunities within the field continue to grow.
Since becoming an official division within APA in 1986, Div. 47 has more than doubled in size, and today includes more than 800 members. While very few psychology programs offer doctorates in sport psychology, a number of masters' programs now offer degrees in this area. But many sport psychologists first earn a doctorate in a complementary field, such as clinical, counseling or industrial/organizational psychology, then pursue postdocs in a sport or exercise setting, says Div. 47 Past-president Shane Murphy, PhD, who was head of sport psychology for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) from 1987 to 1994.
Depending on their interest and experience, sport psychologists find jobs in a variety of settings, including full-time positions with organizations such as the NCAA or USOC, in college and counseling settings, sport medicine clinics or with professional sports teams. Many start private practices or provide consulting services, and a subset works in academic settings conducting research.
One of the most significant trends is the growing consumer interest in the field, which experts attribute to increased media attention on celebrities and professional sports teams that hire sport psychologists. That attention has led to increasing specializations within the discipline, including helping youth in sports, working with elite athletes and team building.
Overall, says Div. 47 President Christopher Carr, PhD, sport psychology is still being defined.
"I've gone from college counseling centers to athletic and sport medicine departments and am now part of a sport performance center at a hospital," Carr says. "In all of my jobs, I've always been the first one doing it."
Lest practitioners hang out their sport psychology shingle just yet, it's important to recognize the academic training and knowledge psychologists need before they venture into sport and exercise services, Carr says. This summer, he is leading a Div. 47 effort to develop practice guidelines for sport psychologists.
"Folks assume that because they coach their kid's soccer team or were athletes themselves that they can practice sport psychology without preparation," Carr says. "I'm passionate about what we do as a profession, but I'm even more passionate that we do it the right way."