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Career Spotlight: What It’s Like to Be a Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists follow principles of clinical psychology to help athletes be their best.

That QB has the yips. This golfer is a choke artist. That point guard needs to settle down.

There are a lot of ways fans talk about the mental state of athletes. But what’s just watercooler talk for fans is big business for sports clubs. After all, a star athlete who’s struggling with confidence issues during the game—or is struggling with making good choices away from the game—can cost a team a lot of money and/or shots at a championship. That’s where sports psychology professionals come in.

Career Spotlight: What It’s Like to Be a Sports Psychologist

The Basics of Sports Psychology

Sports psychologists who hold a PhD in Clinical Psychology apply principles of psychology to help teams find, recruit, and develop players. Most sports psychologists work directly with players to help them stay stable and mentally healthy so they can be their best during the game.

The Job of Sports Psychologist

The job of sports psychologist can be rather elastic. In a recent interview, Walden University psychology doctorate graduate Galen Duncan described his sports psychology job with the Sacramento Kings as helping players “take care of everything off the court so they can be successful on it.”1 Even though he’s the vice president of the Kings Academy and professional development, Duncan isn’t sequestered in some office. He’s a hands-on mentor, helping the players develop leadership qualities, remain psychologically and emotionally balanced, and grow as people.

“Anytime that a young guy gets it—[he] learns how to manage his finances, learns how to manage his family, learns how to say ‘no’ in certain situations, he can have a positive impact in his community—those are my championships, those are my banners," Duncan said. And that’s how it is for many sports psychologists. If they can help a young player grow into a responsible, mentally healthy adult, they can help the team succeed.

In addition to the helping athletes grow as people, sports psychologists also:

  • Help players enhance their performance by teaching them mental strategies for overcoming tough challenges and obstacles.
  • Help players appropriately handle the stress of competition.
  • Help players deal with injury.
  • Help players stay focused on the daily grind of conditioning and practice.
  • Help players overcome defeat.
  • Help players handle media and fan scrutiny.
  • Help players develop and use leadership skills to keep a team bonded and focused.

The Education Needed to Become a Sports Psychologist

So, how do you become a sports psychologist? One way is to earn a psychology degree, specifically a PhD in Clinical Psychology. With this degree, you can gain cross-disciplinary knowledge, business and management skills, and practical experience that can be used to help shape the rapidly changing integrated healthcare landscape. You can even augment your clinical experience with cross-functional leadership skills. It’s a degree that can lead directly to a sports psychology career, or to many other careers in psychology.

If you’re concerned that earning a doctoral degree will disrupt your life, consider online learning. Through an online psychology degree program, you can complete the majority of your coursework from home. Plus, online education allows you to choose the time of day you attend class. These advantages are what lead so many working adults to an online university to improve their education and career.

The right online degree program can lead to an important job in sports. Put yourself in position to be a sports psychologist by pursuing an online psychology doctorate program.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a PhD in Clinical Psychology degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,