In our society people love sports, and (for better or worse) this love of sports means there is a need for psychologists to help those involved in athletics.
With the above in mind, you should first understand that sports psychology is really an interdisciplinary science. Besides psychology, it is also concerned with disciplines such as biomechanics, physiology, and kinesiology. As a definition, the American Psychological Association’s Division 47 (Society of Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology) states the following:
Sport Psychology addresses the interactions between psychology and sport performance, including the psychological aspects of optimal athletic performance, the psychological care and well-being of athletes, coaches, and sport organizations, and the connection between physical and psychological functioning.
Based on this definition, sports psychologists can participate in various activities, mostly focused on working to understand what motivates athletes and how athletes can improve their performance. These activities can range from counseling athletes who might have anxiety issues that hamper their performance to instructing athletes (individually or in groups) on methods of mental conditioning (e.g., visualization, concentration and relaxation) to helping athletes deal with injuries.
To put all of this in another way, a sport psychologist is working from the perspective that success in sports relies on both the body and mind. To add one other important point, sports psychologists are often found working with elite athletes—Olympians and professionals. However, sports psychologists can be found working with athletes at all levels as well as with coaches and sports administrators.
All of the above may really appeal to you, but then the question comes up about how do you become a sports psychologist? It all begins with an undergraduate degree. This degree is typically in Psychology. However, there are an increasing number of colleges that offer an undergraduate Sports Psychology major–check out the Association for Applied Sports Psychology site page for information. This major combines courses in Psychology with those in Physical Education /Kinesiology.
Finally, if you want to become a sports psychologist it is possible to start with a degree in Physical Education/Kinesiology.
It would be nice if you could use your undergraduate degree and get a job as a sports psychologist, but this is simply not the case. Most individuals who want a career in sports psychology must earn an advanced degree. This advanced degree can be from a designated Sports Psychology Master’s or doctoral program.
It may also be the case that you can earn your graduate degree in a clinical or counseling doctoral program, and then take additional classes in kinesiology, physiology, sports medicine, business and marketing. Remember that a Master’s degree can take 2-3 years and completing your doctoral degree may take as long as 6 years.