Advice For Sport Psych Grad Student

Recently, a new graduate student, “Stacey”, wrote to me asking about how one goes about building a career in sport psychology. “How do I get my name ‘out there’?” she asked. “Where are the jobs? Is the AASP conferences a good place to go when looking for jobs?” These are good questions to ask for a student new to this field. Below is my response (for what it’s worth) – and over the next few days, I challenge my colleagues on this blog to share their thoughts and ideas for this student and students like her around the country – looking to “do sport psychology.”

Hi “Stacey”,

The AASP conferences (national & regional) are good ways to meet others in the field of sport psychology. However, it’s not a job fair (I found out the hard way). Your question about finding work in this field is a good one (and in many ways – it’s THE question many graduate students have). Here is my opinion:

You’ll find that sport psychology work (e.g., presentations to teams, individual work w/athletes, etc) will be a part of what do rather than all that you do – in other words, this will be supplemental income rather than your sole source of income. This is not meant to discourage – but rather to give you a realistic view of the field currently.

 While the need for mental skills training/sport psychology seems to be self-evident to you and me – there are still many coaches, parents, and athletes that just don’t understand the role (or need!) of this training. I know, it still makes me scratch my head sometimes in wonder, but that’s the reality.
So long story short – there are a lot of challenges for sport psychology professionals looking to do good work. It’s easy to get discouraged (especially when starting out).
That said, I do think there are things you can do (that have helped me!):
1) Learn everything you can about the field. Just as we ask athletes to be “students of their game” – so we  must be “students of our craft”. It’s important to cultivate a library of good resources in sport psychology consulting. 
2) Network with other sport psychology professionals whenever possible. It’s very easy to feel isolated. The great thing about meeting others who are as passionate about sport psychology is 1) it’s re-energizing, and 2) a good way to pick up new ideas or concepts about teaching mental skills. You can start this network while in graduate school with classmates.
3) Starting out – you’ll need to find opportunities to present about mental skills training. I think the best way to do this is start in the sport community/culture you know best – for me, this was soccer. Find coaching clinics, camps, and offer to come speak about mental skills training. At the start – you’ll need to do this for free (since the experience is more valuable for you. Over time, you can charge a modest fee for you time). This gives you experience and gives you exposure to other coaches. If there are local colleges, find out if they have summer camps with middle and high school campers – and approach the coach in the off-season about presenting to campers during the camp.
4) Write, write, write. There are many coaching journals or magazines that you could submit articles about mental skills training. This is a good way to start articulating your ideas and again, get your name out there as a sport psychology resource.
5) Believe or not – currently, the single biggest employer of sport psychology professionals is the U.S. Army. No – you don’t have to join the Army. You would work for an independent contractor with the U.S. Army. Basically – the U.S. Army recognizes the benefits of mental skills training for its deploying soldiers and soldiers recovering from injury. Here is the website that describes their program (very interesting stuff!):
Ok – that’s a lot to digest (sorry – I get excited!)
My grad advisor once gave me really good advice about working in the field – “everyone wants to go to heaven, no one wants to die.” His point was getting establish in sport psychology takes A LOT of work and it’s a series of baby-steps. The older I get, the smarter he gets! 😉 I hope this helps.

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