What are some ways to cope with stress during sporting events? What strategies can athletes use to stay focused under pressure? How can they improve their confidence before big matches by improving their mental skills? Quick Answer: The Field of Psychology.
Stress can affect sports performance. As an athlete, you may already be aware of the challenges that come with being successful at your sport. The main aim of sport psychologists is to enhance athletic performance through the development of positive coping skills. So before diving deep into the top 7 Online Sports Psychology Master’s Program out there let’s touch on what this field of study actually is.
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What is sports psychology?
Sports psychology is the science of improving mental fitness, psychological skills, and wellbeing in athletics and other competitive sports (as well as performing arts). Practitioners develop psychological techniques to improve personal well-being as well as deal with mental health issues in individuals or teams both on a non-professional or professional level.
Sports psychology is the study of personality traits, motivation, and emotional regulation in athletes, artists, and high-performance people at all levels.
Sports psychology can teach us a lot about ourselves as it uses many self-development techniques.
Sports psychologists/performance psychologists often specialize in helping athletes and artists improve their performance through mental preparation and training. They also take part in workshops and seminars aimed at improving coaches ’ skills such as communication, goal setting, and leadership in the sports environment.
Sport psychology teaches us about our strengths and weaknesses, emotions, and motivations. We learn to develop new ways of thinking to succeed in life, whether we are athletes, fitness professionals or not.
We’ve written an in-depth sports psychology article touching on different sports psychology topics before so this article is dedicated to exploring the different options towards pursuing a career in sport psychology through obtaining sports psychology education (degrees, programs, courses) through the best universities, colleges, or schools.
But before we get to that the question might stand – can sport psychology be related to mindfulness practices?
Sport Psychology and mindfulness
The field of sport psychology has grown rapidly since its inception in the 1950s. Today it encompasses a wide range of disciplines including clinical, counseling, educational, organizational, performance, and applied sport psychology.
Sports performance is often more of a mental game than it is a physical one and this is exactly what sports psychology deals with. Our capacity or limitations of physical fatigue is mostly determined by our mental perceptions rather than our aerobic limits.
Mindfulness has become a popular topic in recent years too. Mindfulness however spans a wide spectrum relating to our mental states. Some people think it’s simply being aware of your thoughts and feelings, while others believe it involves actively changing your behavior based on those thoughts and feelings.
Sports psychology does not always have a mindfulness approach however many sports psychologists and university programs alike are seeing how mindfulness and their studies can go hand in hand in having additional benefits for their clients or patients.
Both practices use very similar techniques and methods to reach an introspective almost meditative state. Practicing sport itself is even considered a mindfulness practice and therefore mindfulness and sports psychology make for a very good recipe to understand and enhance an athlete’s psyche.
“I have been a sport psychologist for the past fifteen years — primarily running a graduate training program in sport psychology at Boston University and working with athletes, teams, coaches and musicians in private practice. I became interested in mindfulness about ten years ago, when I began teaching courses in Positive Psychology. Parallel to my teaching, I began to realize that the athletes and musicians who came to me for help were often wrestling with debilitative performance anxiety. I turned to the traditional cognitive behavioral interventions offered by the field of sport psychology.
Sometimes these strategies worked for my clients – I would help them create phrases to bring to mind in the predictably most difficult sport moments (being behind in a close game or losing a foot race or boat race by a foot and still needing to concentrate on task relevant cues). Or I would help them create imagery scripts of coping with difficulty or creating an optimal performance experience. Yet, for some athletes, such strategies came up woefully short. And I had nothing to offer but my instincts cultivated from my own experience as an Olympian (rowing) and professional athlete (sailing).”
“I began to realize that it was not just my own experience facing intense anxiety as an elite athlete that was helping me help my clients. I began to realize that what I was doing with them was precisely this: I was helping them learn to cultivate a mindful approach to their competitive, performance life. Instead of turning away from fear, I offered them strategies and support to tolerate such thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. I began to see radical change in my clients’ internal experience and ability to perform under pressure. I had athletes that would pass out from fear on the field, could not swing a tennis racquet to not being able to complete a track and field race.
At this time I also began to conduct research on mindfulness in performance. From my own research I was seeing, first hand, athletes learning to have a changed relationship to pre-performance anxiety, mistakes on the field to general debilitative comparisons to others (particularly for the higher level, elite athlete). As I immersed myself in the mindfulness literature and research I soon began to realize that we are just at the beginning of this journey of understanding how mindfulness practices help (or not) performance and how best to cultivate such (beneficial) mindfulness practices.”
– Dr. Amy Baltzell
Sports psychology has been proven effective for managing and overcoming the challenges athletes face during training sessions and competitions. These are the following methods usually used by psychology professionals:
- Cognitive/Behavioral Method: Training programs designed to improve cognitive and behavioral skills might involve using self-regulatory techniques, building confidence and self-esteem, practicing imagery, setting goals, managing emotions, leading others, and controlling one’s attention. This is also where mindfulness techniques can play a huge role for athletes in learning how to process their mental state for the long run.
- Clinical Sports Psychologists: Sportspeople may need counseling and clinical intervention for eating disorders, substance use, burnout, overtraining, recovering from injuries, transitioning out of sports careers, and motivation.
- Consulting, Training, and counseling psychologists: This could involve working outside the scope of one person, team building, working within schools and student athletes, working with parents of children involved in sport, coaching staff, developing youth players, promoting mental health awareness, identifying potential issues before they become serious, helping develop personal resilience and any other form of counseling psychology.
So your question might now be – Where can I study Sports Psychology?
Degrees in Sports Psychology
Best Sports Psychology Degrees Courses Programs with a Mindfulness Twist
Sports Psychology is regarded as a full-time study and advanced degree (Doctorate or Master’s Degree Program) in other words a specialization with most tertiary institutions. One, therefore, needs to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology first.
When doing your master’s further specializations includes Applied Sports Psychology, Clinical Sports Psychology, and Academic Sports Psychology.
Graduate programs in sports psychology – Joining a graduate program
The best way to prepare yourself mentally before starting a graduate degree through a national university is to take some courses related to the scope of study first. This will give you an idea of what it takes to succeed in academia. It also gives potential graduate students the chance to see if this is the career path they would like to follow.
Once you have decided this is the way forward then buckle up for an exciting career venture.
Sports psychology Ph.D. programs:
For licensed psychologists having a bachelor’s degree in sports psychology might not be enough. Many jobs require either a Master’s Degree or Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology, Counseling, or Sport Psychology. Additional classes in kinesiology, physiology, sports medicine, business, and marketing are usually also required as part of admission requirements.
You also need direct experience working with athletes and coaches who use psychological techniques to improve their performance.
Good news! Due to its rising popularity among athletes, some universities now offer sports psychology majors and doctoral studies.
Explore the doctoral degree options below. Both an on-campus or an online degree is possible!
Doctoral program – Online Ph.D. in sports psychology options:
On-Campus sport psychology doctorate programs:
1. John F Kennedy University – Sports Psychology/Clinical PsyD Linked Program
2. San Diego University For Integrative Studies – Sports Psychology Program
3. University of Iowa – Psychology of Sport
4. Florida State University – Sports Psychology Program
5. Boston University – Sport Psychology
6. East Tennessee State University – Doctor of Philosophy in Sport Physiology and Performance
Sports Psychology Master’s Programs
The most popular degree in this field is a master’s degree in sport psychology. This program usually takes two years to complete, although some schools offer it in three years. It covers topics such as stress management, performance enhancement, mental toughness, leadership skills, team building, motivation, and goal setting.
Below are the top 10 Universities recommended Master’s courses:
- Master of Arts in Sport and Performance Psychology, University of Denver, Colorado, US
- Master of Science and Master of Education in Sport and Exercise Psychology, Springfield College, Massachusetts, US – for artists, athletes, high-performance people.
- Master of Arts in Sports and Exercise Psychology, Minnesota State University–Mankato, Minnesota, US
- Master of Science in Sport and Performance Psychology, University of Western States, Oregon, US –
- Master of Education in Counseling, Boston University, Massachusetts, US
- Bachelor of Science, Sport and Exercise Psychology, Bangor University, Wales, UK
- Bachelor of Science, Sport and Exercise Psychology, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK
- Master of Science in Sport and Exercise Psychology, University of Greenwich, London, UK
- Bachelor of Science in Sport Psychology, University of Roehampton, London, UK
- Master of Science in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, University of Roehampton, London, UK
- MS Sports Psychology – Capella University Sports Psychology
Online programs – 7 online sports psychology master’s programs
Studying for a sports psychology master’s degree online is also an option. The following online sports psychology programs might be worth looking at:
- Bachelor and Master of Science in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, California University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, US
- Bachelor of Arts in Sport Psychology, National University, California, US
- Master of Arts in Performance Psychology, National University, California, US
- Master of Arts in Psychology, Sports Psychology, Northcentral University, California, US
- Master of Arts in Sport Psychology, John F. Kennedy University, California, US
- Master of Science in Performance Psychology, Bangor University, Wales, UK
- Master of Science in Sport and Exercise Psychology, Stafford University, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
Undergraduate degree – Sports Psychology Bachelor’s Degree:
London University has a 3-6 year course that offers a degree starting from a bachelor’s level. It is completely online too!
Most of the time one has to complete a bachelor’s degree in Psychology first before being able to specialize in the sporting world as a sports psychologist.
Other Sports Psychology Course Options
Mindfulness courses may not be available at every university but they are becoming increasingly popular. They focus on developing awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors. The aim is to develop greater self-awareness and improve emotional regulation. Taking mindfulness electives puts a new spin on your approach as a sports psychologist which makes for a more holistic experience. This might be exactly what you need to find your niche!
Sports Psychology career – Jobs with sports psychology
There is currently a high need and increased job alerts for professionals who are equipped to help athletcic clients deal with and understand these types of mental . For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for psychologists which includes sports psychologists is expected to grow by 14 percent between 2016 and 2026, a growth in the job market by an additional 23,000 positions during that period. This number includes sports psychologists. (nu.edu)
Becoming a licensed sports psychologist and pursuing it as a successful career – This type of career path is becoming more and more mainstream and the demand for it is exponentially increasing. There are also many different career opportunities that one can explore with a sports psychology degree such as:
- Athletic coaching (individual athlete or professional team)
- Corporate consultants
- Working with elite athletes and national sports teams
- Certified Mental Performance Consultant
- Starting your own practice or opening your own gym/training center
- Working at schools, academies, universities, or colleges
Sport psychology salary
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics sports psychology varies quite a bit but one can find oneself earning in the top 10% at the peak of your career when pursuing this as a profession.
So… long story short mindfulness and the world of sport psychology are synergistic. An athlete can practice mindfulness or they might work alongside a sports psychologist … but when this athlete practices both or better yet when the psychologist takes a mindfulness approach backed with their academic degree – the effects on athletic performance is second to none. After all, the mind ultimately governs the body and physical strength comes from mental strength.