A sport psychologist deals with the cognitive, emotional and behavioural processes linked with all kinds of sport: from elite athletes to five-a-side football matches with friends. Their work is focused on the relationship between mind and body, and so it is certainly one of the specialisations in psychology most closely connected with physiology and medicine. Sport psychologists can further specialise in two main areas: professional or amateur sport. The former focuses on maximising athletic performance, while the latter is more closely tied to aspects linked with mental-physical well-being. Sport psychologists will have a master’s degree in psychology, postgraduate training, and professional experience in the industry. They typically work for companies linked with the world of sport on both a practical and promotional level.
Just like every other specialisation in psychology, the first step to becoming a sport psychologist is a master’s degree in psychology, pass the board examination and then be licenced in section A of the Association of Psychologists in order to work freelance. From an educational viewpoint, as well as the usual studies in psychology, they will also study physiology, psychophysiology and neurophysiology, sports medicine, developmental psychology, education and organisational sciences. Once again, it is vital to gain practical experience as soon as possible, attending training courses and internships in companies involved in sport psychology. As always, it is advisable to take a post-graduate course.
Sport psychologists working with competitive sports people are mainly employed to help them win. Their work mainly consists of combining regular physical training with psychological support to help the athlete perform better. This means teaching relaxation techniques and techniques for visualising the basic movements of a given sport to help a sportsman or woman overcome pain or anxiety, boast their competitive spirit, and help them deal with defeat. They will also promote a sense of teamwork, an understanding of an athlete’s own limits and respect for their body. If they decide to work with non-competitive sports people, they will focus on all those aspects enhancing the mental-physical and relational benefits associated with low-intensity sport or, in other words, dealing with stress and anxiety, improving a person’s mood, self-confidence, trust and respect for others, socialising, promoting inclusion of people with disabilities, and promoting personal development. A sport psychologist may also deal with organisational-educational aspects or, of course, be engaged in scientific research.
Sport psychologists may work for companies, sports clubs or with elite athletes, particularly if they specialise in competitive sport. As well as working in sport, they may also be involved in the socio-educational side of sport, working in places like schools and socio-educational services provided by public authorities. Other possible working environments include private consultancy firms and research centres at both universities and private study centres.