Each Monday I start my week in the loveliest way – I have two pro bono slots to chat to those who are looking to have a career in Sport or Exercise Psychology about how it works (in my experience) and offer advice on how they can get started. There are three questions which come up time and time again:

  • What can I do during my masters to build experience of working with athletes… (my answer: very little – you need insurance, supervision and a DBS check to actually work with anyone). Instead, I would suggest you focus on observation, building up content, thinking about the area you would like to specialise and read tonnes – you want to be able to explain difficult concepts simply and reading lots will help with that.
  • Can I have work experience (answer: afraid not – there would be almost nothing for you to do in a practice like mine where 90% of the work is me working 121 with athletes who would not want their confidentiality breached or to feel uncomfortable by having someone watching their session).
  • Where do I find my training placement? This one always throws me – what placement? They tell me that on MSc courses that they are told they will need to find a placement for their stage 2 training. In fact, the forms you fill in when you start your stage 2 even ask for details of your placement. I asked on a twitter poll who had actually had a full-time placement for their training. The answer was 4%. 22% had had a part time one at some point over their three-year training and 74% of us had not had any placements at all.

There are not really any placements. You are on your own (with a supervisor who has your back) and you need to think like a self-employed businessperson. When I explain this they often tell me my session is a reality check and why are they never told the realities in university?

I would imagine this is because so many different ways of working in sport and exercise psychology that there is no universal truth. We all find our own route so there is no ‘best route’ or ideal route that lecturers would know about – we are just making it work for ourselves any way that we can. And teaching and researching in a university is vital, but very different than being an applied psychologist – so there just wouldn’t be the experience to know.

I don’t want to put anyone off – I feel incredibly privileged and grateful to work in this world but I do think there needs to be a reality check. Here are five things to reflect on and be realistic about if you want to train as a sport psychologist…

The money

Four years after fully qualifying I make a good living but I doubt it will ever be close to what I made in the city working as a communications director. I am absolutely ok with that but you need to be clear on what matters to you. I have had trainees tell me they made £100 in their first year on stage 2. I made £8k from sport psychology work in my first year. And my fees to the BPS (£6k – I paid the full programme up front) and supervisor (1.5k) ate up most of that. Almost everyone has a part time job alongside training. Ideally get one in sport so you can build connections and seep your sport psychology knowledge into what you do. Once fully qualified Prospects suggests the average salary in a paid role is between £27-37k.


You will need to have back up options. No-one expected a global pandemic but I lost 90% of my work in those first two weeks. Who needs a sport psychologist when sport is completely off the table? Once we had stabilised athletes and given them some things to work on, ways to handle the stress, boredom or depressive symptoms it got very quiet. Have other options; some teaching, writing, corporate clients.


Without clear placements to train within you don’t get your hand held. You need to be brave and go and find work and contracts. No-one does it for you. It is for this reason I get so annoyed when parents email me asking for work experience for their children. If you can’t find your own opportunities this is not the career for you.

The number of jobs

A role went up on LinkedIn earlier this year for a psychology role at Tottenham Football Club. Without even offering a salary range (another issue – be honest about what you pay – if you don’t put it out there the decent applicants will assume you are embarrassed it is so low and avoid you) it had 197 applicants within a week or so.

We can do some maths on this:

It has not been possible to find out how many qualified sport and exercise psychologists there are in the country but from figures I have heard over the years I am going to guess at 1500. These will be those who are registered as practitioner psychologists on the HCPC register and have trained through the BPS division of sport and exercise psychology or went through the BASES route. There will be many in training too.

Where are the jobs:

English Institute of Sport – they say they have 350 experts working in 40 organisations – this will be split across performance lifestyle, nutrition, S&C and psychology so I would guess max 50 (a friend there suggested it is more like 25)

Football, Cricket and Rugby Clubs – premiership clubs will have at least a couple – and some working in their academies. So maybe (optimistically) an extra 150 here.

TASS – Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme – these psychs work in universities offering support to elite level athletes studying there. Maybe 100 people – many on contracts rather than fully employed.

Business development – people working in organisations like PlanetK2 or Inner Drive who work with businesses and schools to implement performance psychology into their work. I would guess maybe 50 people at most.

Private Practice – Running workshops for clubs, taking on contracts for work with schools or academies, seeing athletes individually who want to learn mental skills or are struggling with something like a mental block or performance anxiety. Many university lecturers will also be doing some applied work in private practice alongside their teaching or research role.

So – optimistically we can see 350 people employed. Everyone else (so over 1000 people) would be in private practice either as a sole trader or a ltd company. That means to maximise your options you need to not just learn how to be a brilliant sport psych – you also need some business, marketing and financial skills. And you need to be able to cope with the pressure and insecurity that comes with being your own boss; no paid holiday, sick leave or maternity leave and being responsible for all your national insurance, tax, insurance, DBS checks, ICO compliance and CPD. You also need to find ways to get peer or paid for supervision.

Who you want to work with

If you can reach outside of sport there are brilliant opportunities to work with performing artists, medics, entrepreneurs and those in business. Anyone working at a high level (in fact any level) can benefit from sport psychology skills and techniques. This gives a huge opportunity for using your skills in a wider environment. If it is only sport you want to work in then try to figure out your niche (sport / age / level / approach / presenting issue) and get to know that area inside out so it becomes easier for you to find your space.

So – if the idea of sport psychology makes your heart sing, go for it, but think about these five things first and go on in with your eyes wide open…