Gain experience in this field by volunteering to work for research programs at area universities or by working in the office of a psychologist. Another option is to learn more about sports by working as a gofer or intern with the sports medicine departments of college, university, or professional athletic teams. Participating in a sport in high school or college can provide insight into the mental and emotional stresses and demands placed upon athletes.
In addition, students should begin their understanding of psychology by taking as many courses in the field as possible.
Joining professional associations is a good way to learn more about the field. The American Psychological Association, for example, offers an affiliate member category for high school and college students.
Sport and exercise psychology is the scientific study of the psychological factors that are associated with participation and performance in sport, exercise, and other types of physical activity. In general, sports psychologists work with amateur and professional athletes to improve their mental and physical health, as well as athletic performances, by using goal setting, imagery, focus strategies, and relaxation techniques, among others. Sports psychologists also strive to help athletes to mentally prepare for competition.
Sports psychologists are divided into three categories: clinical, educational, and research. Clinical sports psychologists work mainly with individuals who are experiencing emotional problems that are usually, but not always, somehow connected to their sport. Educational sports psychologists have two roles, one as a classroom instructor and the other as a consultant. In the classroom, they teach students methods and techniques related to sports psychology. On the field, they usually function as members of the coaching staff. Just as the coach teaches physical skills, the sports psychologist teaches mental skills. Research sports psychologists conduct studies that provide the clinical and educational sports psychologists with scientific facts and statistics.
All sport psychology professionals are interested in two main objectives: helping athletes use psychological principles to improve performance (performance enhancement) and understanding how participation in sport, exercise, and physical activity affects an individual's psychological development, health, and well-being throughout the life span.
Sports psychologists work with individual athletes and entire teams. They may concentrate on the problems the athlete is having with the sport, from a bad slump to the feelings of low self-esteem that come when the crowd jeers the athlete's performance. Sports psychologists also work to help the individual athlete to overcome feelings of depression, drug or substance abuse, and violence.
They work with teams in many ways, the most notable of which is creating a feeling of cohesion among the many different personalities that constitute a team. Team members are also counseled when they are traded to another team or released.
Sports psychologists also work with individual athletes and team members on improving their level of performance, concentration, and mental attitude. The phrase "a winning attitude" derives its power from the fact that sports psychologists can help the athletes with whom they work to actually visualize a winning shot or a perfect golf swing and then execute that vision.
Sports psychologists don't work with only exceptional, elite athletes or teams; most sports psychologists, in fact, work with college athletes or amateur athletes, and many teach in academic settings or offer motivational lecture series. Some sports psychologists have their own columns in specialized sports magazines and others work in athletic training facilities, hired full time by the owners to work with the athletes who come there to train.