Sport psychology is becoming ever more popular as athletes, coaches, and fans alike are starting to see the benefit of systematic mental skills training. Not only does it help athletes perform better – and consistently better – but also it helps athletes enjoy their experience more.
More and more stories are flooding the sports news about professional athletes and teams working with sport psychologists to improve team culture, boost confidence, and enhance mental consistency.
It sounds exciting, right? It is.
Do you want to get involved? Here’s what you need to know about becoming a sport psychologist. (If you're thinking, "But what is sport psych?", check out this blog first!)
Who You Callin’ a Psychologist?
First thing’s first. Professionals who work in the sport psychology field go by a lot of different titles, and the distinction is important.
A sport psychologist is a licensed professional who earned a doctoral degree in sport psychology (or a related field with a concentration in sport). So, these professionals have a PhD or PsyD and a license.
If you are not licensed, you technically cannot be called psychologist. Professionals without a license use various other titles like mental performance consultant, mental skills trainer, or mental skills coach. These professionals can have Master’s degrees, PhDs or PsyDs (just lacking the license), and other certifications.
What About Those Extra Letters?
CMPC stands for Certified Mental Performance Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (formerly CC-AASP, Certified Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology). This association (AASP) is the go-to hub for all things sport psychology. It’s an international association with a lot of clout in the field.
Professionals must complete a series of courses, a lot (a lot…) of supervised, applied hours working with clients, and pass a comprehensive exam to earn the credential of CMPC. These certified consultants can have Master’s degrees and PhDs or PsyDs, and may or may not be licensed.
If you see someone with the CMPC credential, you can feel confident that they have a solid understanding of mental skills training with various kinds of performance clients.
What Are My Options?
It depends on what you want to do in the field.
Interested in research and/or teaching? Your best bet is getting a PhD, and getting licensed certainly wouldn’t hurt (though it’s not necessary to get a position in either of these areas). Conducting research and teaching, particularly teaching at the collegiate level and higher, requires you to demonstrate mastery of content and acumen regarding the research methods process, which often come from higher level degrees. Importantly, almost all full-time or tenure-track teaching and research positions require a PhD. Without that credential, you’ll likely be settling for adjunct teaching positions.
Interested in only applied work with clients? You can get by with a Master’s degree. Add the CMPC credential to demonstrate your credibility. Getting a PhD is a cherry on top, and certainly wouldn’t hurt. If you are considering starting your own private practice, a PhD would be especially helpful, as many people recognize a PhD as the highest-level degree and a strong sign of credibility. Still, a strong Master’s program, combined with the process of earning the CMPC credential, can prepare you to be a highly competent and successful mental skills trainer.
Interested in a combination, or you’re really not sure? Keep your options open. Look at both Master’s and PhD and PsyD programs. If you start in a Master’s program, make sure it’s one that will give you research experience. It can be difficult to get into PhD programs (if you choose to follow that path) without research experience on your resume. Plan to get certified. That CMPC credential is here to stay. Look for applied experiences shadowing professionals or earning an internship. Whether or not you plan to work directly with clients, getting some experience under your belt helps you be more well-rounded and gives you a sense of what you like and don’t like about practicing in the field. The AASP website can be a good resource.
This may seem like a lot of information to take in. The most important takeaway is to spend some time thinking about where you see yourself professionally – literally, and figuratively. In the literal sense, are you more likely to enjoy an academic setting (teaching, research), or more apt to thrive in an office or on a field (applied consulting)? In the figurative sense, do you see yourself working alone, with a partner, or with many colleagues? And would you prefer a stable salary and benefits (teaching, research), or feel comfortable with a more high risk, high reward lifestyle (applied consulting with a private practice)?
Answering these questions is a good starting point for you to decide what schooling and training will put you on the path to achieve your goals.