You’ve probably heard about the famous ‘mind-games’ used by Sir Alex Ferguson to rattle Kevin Keegan in 1996, thus enabling Manchester United to steal the Premier League title away from Newcastle United. You’ve probably also heard about boxers psyching each other out before big fights. It’s also likely you’ve heard about athletes ‘bottling it’ in major competitions.
Clearly, the psychological state of an athlete can have a major impact on their performance. Nobody knows this more than sports psychologists and exercise psychologists.
Sports psychologists help athletes, sports teams and coaches mentally prepare for matches, races and other types of sporting competition. They also provide athletes with psychological techniques and strategies to help improve their performance, such as goal setting, imagery, arousal regulation and pre-performance routines.
Athletes who have suffered a long-term injury, and are thus affected by depression, anxiety or a loss of confidence, can also benefit greatly from the counselling which is provided by sports psychologists.
Exercise psychologists tend to have a slightly different role to sports psychologists. Rather than dealing with professional athletes and sports teams, they use their expertise to assist members of the general public.
They might provide counselling and guidance to people who are recovering from illness or injury, or they might promote the psychological benefits of exercise to people in public institutions, such as prisoners and mental health patients. They may also offer consultancy services to companies who are looking to implement exercise schemes for their employees.
On a day-to-day basis, sports and exercise psychologists are responsible for assessing their clients’ individual needs. Based on these assessments, they then create bespoke plans to help individual service users achieve their goals.
These guys are also responsible for maintaining records, tracking the progress of service users, and writing reports.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for sports and exercise psychologists in the early stages of their careers range from £24,000 to £28,000.
Senior psychologists with a wealth of experience, however, can earn up to £60,000 and beyond.
Freelance counsellors can earn considerably more—sometimes up to £900 a day, if they’re working with top athletes.
Sports and exercise psychologists typically work five days a week from nine-to-five. However, extra evening and weekend work may be required from time to time to fit in with athletes’ training and performance schedules.
You may also be required to travel, both domestically and internationally, on a regular basis.
To enter this line of work, you will need an undergraduate degree in a psychology-related subject which is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) or the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). Alternatively, if you complete an unrelated undergraduate degree, you will be required to complete a one-year conversion course.
In order to become a chartered psychologist or accredited practitioner, you will then need to obtain a relevant postgraduate qualification. Sports and exercise psychologists are typically also required to register as members of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
Training & progression
Sports and exercise psychologists complete the majority of their training ‘on-the-job’ whilst working towards chartered or accredited practitioner status. However, the British Psychological Society and the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences also offer their members a range of additional training and networking opportunities.
Some organisations give sports and exercise psychologists the opportunity to advance into senior management positions.
Alternatively, as you gain more experience and build a reputation for yourself, you may decide to go freelance and offer your services to range of different athletes and sports clubs.