Becoming a sport psychologist

I get at least a couple of emails each month asking how to get into sports psychology and whether I can offer work experience. I also give quite a few talks to sports science students in schools on what sport psychology involves. While I love chatting directly (and am always happy to do if you have any questions) I thought a blog post answering the most common questions could be helpful. The thoughts I’ve written here are all from my personal experience and I’ve tried to be as frank as possible but everyone will have a slightly different experience and background that they bring into sports psychology so it is just a general guide.


Where do sport psychologists work?

A million dollar question!

  • Some sport psychologists work in universities or colleges teaching sport psychology and work with athletes or teams in the evenings or weekends. This is a great way to get guaranteed decent income and keep on top of the latest research and ideas. You also have good access to athletes as you’ll be surrounded by student athletes in the university.
  • Some sports psychologists work directly for teams or national governing bodies. They are often employed through the English Institute of Sport who supply sport support specialists to Olympic and Paralympic governing bodies. More and more Football, Cricket and Rugby teams are also taking on Psychologists now too.
  • Finally, there is a group of Sports Psychologists who work for themselves or in consultancies working on contracts or directly with athletes and often using the same skills and techniques with people in business too.

What do Sports Psychologists do each day?

Another million dollar question! I tend to split my work into five areas:

  1. Dissemination. Writing for magazines or giving talks, workshops and lectures about sport psychology and how athletes of all levels can use psychology to improve their performances.
  2. Counselling. Working with athletes who need some support to help them enjoy their sport more. This will be particularly helpful if athletes are close to retirement or are injured and need to explore what else outside of sport they may want to get involved with.
  3. Performance excellence. Working with individual athletes to teach them skills, techniques and strategies to help them perform better and feel more comfortable when they compete in their sport.
  4. Performance breakdowns. Often athletes will come to me with one specific thing that they can see is holding them back. We work together to find some strategies to resolve these issues.
  5. Media training. My background is in PR and Communications so I work with athletes (and other high performing professionals) to help them navigate the issues around dealing with the media, make them feel more comfortable when doing it and stop any fears about dealing with the media impacting on their performance.

What qualifications do you need?

To be able to call yourself a Sport and Exercise Psychologist you need to have completed and passed:

If you want to work in psychology but are not worried about being able to use the official ‘psychologist’ title, instead of going through the BPS you can sign up with British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) and follow their supervised practice training instead.

How long does it take?

If you follow a straight line from BSc to completing Stage 2 and did it all full time it would take six years.

How much does it cost to qualify?

This will be different at each university and with different supervisors but for me it cost:

  • MSc Psychology Conversion course: £6,400 for the year (UK national)
  • Stage 1 – MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology: £7,300 for the year (UK national)
  • Stage 2 – BPS Supervised practice: Around £6,000 to the BPS for the full period and around £1,500 a year to your supervisor.

Can I train part time?

Yes. The MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology can usually be completed part time and it is up to you how long you take to do the Stage 2 supervised practice so you can do that alongside another job. With the Stage 2 supervised practice you are essentially gathering evidence that you can work effectively in four areas:

  • CPD – learning new skills to increase your knowledge and expertise
  • Research – a big research project which is expected to be at the standard of PhD research.
  • Dissemination – knowing how to communicate sport psychology knowledge, information and techniques. This could be through a mixture of conferences, workshops, magazine writing, a blog or teaching.
  • Consultancy – this is the work you do with individual athletes.

To pass you are expected to be able to show evidence that you have completed around 550 days of work across these four areas (which is why it takes at least 2 years full time).

How can I get work experience?

It is incredibly difficult to get work experience in psychology as client confidentiality is so important. Therefore it is very unlikely you would be able to sit in individual athlete sessions. There are a few things you can try though:

  • Skills for Performance course: There is a fantastic course run by the English Institute of Sport each year called Skills for Performance. When I attended it was five days and held at Loughborough Uni. It gave a fantastic insight in what Sport Psychologists working in Elite sport were doing and how they worked with athletes and other members of the support team. Keep an eye out on the EIS twitter feed to apply: @eis2win
  • Workshops: Many Sport Psychologists run workshops for athletes or sports parents and sitting in on one of these will give you a great insight in how the theories you learn in university are translated into applied practice. Ask any sport psychologists you follow on twitter or have met if you can attend any of their workshops.
  • Attend conferences: Conferences can be a brilliant way to learn about new research, and learn new applied techniques. The BPS DSEP (Dept of Sport and Exercise Psychology) runs a great conference every December and they offer discounts to students to attend. BASES also run conferences.

What is the industry like?

Considering there are so many sport psychologists and so few jobs I’ve been incredibly surprised by how lovely the other sport psychologists I’ve met are. It is a small sector and everyone is very helpful and supportive. It is welcoming and inclusive.

Analyse your year – get set for next

Brave listMost athletes in individual sports have now finished their seasons and many have had a training break too. Now comes winter training, which can feel a bit daunting when you don’t have anything in the near future to focus on. A great activity to do during this period involves nothing more than your favourite drink (a large very hot latte for me please!), a pen and this Annual analysis sheet. Page 1 will help you think about all you have achieved this year, consider what you learnt and put any issues or problems into perspective.

Page 2 helps you look at next year. What do you want to achieve? What will you do differently. What is getting you excited about next year (and if there isn’t anything you need to go race hunting!).

Finally, something I always do for each year that I learnt from a friend who runs the website is to set a word for the year. This year my word was Brave. When I dithered about anything, or thought it was beyond my abilities or my status, I reminded myself I was aiming to be brave and got on with it. I created a ‘Brave list’ and jotted down every time I did something I felt brave doing, and I jotted next to it the outcome. Looking back over it, at least half of the 30 new things I had to summon up some bravery to do were successful. So 15 things I’d have not achieved without that word. So what is your word going to be?


5 ways to feel more positive

It is gloomy and cold and we are all trying to hold off on Christmas excitement till December so here are five ways to help ourselves feel a little bit more positive on a grey November afternoon:

  • Start a thankful journal. Before bed each night write down three things, people, or events for which you are grateful. Means you go to sleep in a more positive frame of mind and helps prevent negative thoughts ruminating around in your head.
  • Get a really good night’s sleep. Sleep is where our memories are consolidated, particularly from everything we have learnt over a day, so to make sure we are benefiting from the efforts we make each day we really need a decent amount of sleep.
  • Make a do lists and break down any big tasks on it into their component parts. Breaking things down into small chunks not only makes each thing feel more doable but you will also get a buzz of achievement each time you tick something off. More mini activities, more ticks.
  • Actively practice turning negative thoughts into positive ones. It will feel awkward and weird at first but over time can become more natural. So instead of; ‘I can’t do this’ think ‘I can’t do this yet, but I’m going to have a go’.
  • Do scary stuff first. There is a great idea called ‘Eat the frog’. If you know you have to eat a frog today you will feel nervous (and probably nauseous!). You are likely to procrastinate all day about eating the frog and will mar the whole day with this fear. But if you prioritise doing it first thing then it gets it out of the way, gives you a lovely smug feeling and frees up the rest of the day for less intimidating activities.