Sport and Exercise Psychologist

The Job and What's Involved

Sport and exercise psychologists study the mental and emotional effects of taking part in sport and exercise. They typically specialise in either sport or exercise, although some work in both.

As a sport psychologist you would work with teams and individuals at all levels, from amateurs to top professionals. You would help them with issues such as:

  • Dealing with nerves and anxiety.
  • Improving self-confidence.
  • Coping with the demands of training and competing.
  • Improving concentration.
  • Staying motivated and focused in spite of stress, discomfort or distraction.
  • Coping with sports injuries.
  • Controlling aggression.
  • Setting goals.

You would work closely with other professionals such as coaches, managers, nutritionists and physiotherapists.

As an exercise psychologist you would apply your knowledge of psychology to finding ways of encouraging the general public to become more active to improve their health and well-being. Your role could involve:

  • Work in cardiac rehabilitation or GP exercise referral schemes.
  • Help to promote the therapeutic and health benefits of exercise by working with health promotion staff.
  • Study the reasons certain groups of people are more active than others.

In both sport and exercise psychology, you would usually combine consultancy work with teaching and research, or with work in other areas, such as clinical or occupational psychology.

You would often work normal office hours, but could also work in the evenings in some jobs.

You could be office-based, or work in various settings, such as team premises, competition venues and clinics.

Starting salaries can be from £20,000 to around £22,000 a year. With experience this can rise to between £27,000 and £37,000.

Senior psychologists and department heads can earn around £43,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

You could probably combine consultancy work with teaching and research, or work in other areas of psychology.

You could find full-time opportunities with professional sports teams and sport national governing bodies.

Education and Training

You can qualify as a sport or exercise psychologist in two ways. You can become either:

  • A Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist through the British Psychological Society (BPS), or
  • An Accredited Sport and Exercise Psychologist through the British Association of Sports and Exercise Scientists (BASES).

For both routes you need to complete a degree, followed by a postgraduate qualification and a period of supervised practice.

Entry requirements for degree courses are likely to include five GCSE's (A-C), and three A levels. However, you may be accepted with alternative qualifications, so you should check with individual colleges or universities.

If you will be working with young people or other vulnerable groups you will needCriminal Records Bureau (CRB)clearance.

BPS Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist

To become a Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist through the BPS you need:

  • A degree in psychology from a course approved by BPS – this would give you Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC).
  • At least three years' full-time training under professional supervision that includes a BPS-accredited postgraduate qualification in sport and exercise psychology.

British Psychological Society – accredited courses

If you have a degree in a subject other than psychology, you can achieve GBC by completing a BPS-approved conversion course, or by sitting the BPS Qualifying Exam.

Visit the BPS Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology for further details.

BASES Accredited Sport and Exercise Psychologist

To become an Accredited Sport and Exercise Psychologist through BASES you need:

  • A degree in Sport and Exercise Science (this would include subjects such as physiology and biomechanics as well as psychology, although you could focus on sport and exercise psychology).
  • An MSc in Sport and Exercise Science/Psychology and three years' supervision by a BASES Accredited Sport and Exercise Psychology Practitioner.

You can find out about registering for supervised experience from BPS, or from BASES, depending on whether you are aiming to become a BPS Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist or a BASES Accredited Sport and Exercise Psychologist.

For information on state registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC), check the psychology page of the HPC website.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

For some university jobs you will need a PhD, which involves carrying out research in sport or exercise psychology. See the BPS website for information on research, including funding opportunities and details of experts in particular fields or specialisms.

You can also search for PhD opportunities on Find a PhD.

Throughout your career you will be expected to keep your knowledge and skills up to date through continuing professional development (CPD). This can include attending courses, workshops and conferences – see the BPS website for information on their CPD scheme.

The BASES also runs conferences and a programme of workshops covering a range of sport and exercise topics.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A sport and exercise psychologist needs:

  • An interest in how people react and interact.
  • An interest in sport.
  • A desire to help other people.
  • The ability to maintain a professional distance.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • The ability to work as part of a team.
  • A tolerant and patient manner.
  • Good problem solving skills and a logical approach.

Your Long Term Prospects

Opportunities for exercise psychologists include involvement in GP exercise referral schemes or evaluation of exercise programmes in employment, prison or psychiatric settings.

Get Further Information

British Psychological Society,
St. Andrew's House,
48 Princess Road East,
Leicester LE1 7DR
Tel: 0116 254 9568

British Association of Sport
and Exercise Sciences (BASES),
Leeds Metropolitan University,
Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education,
Fairfax Hall, Headingley Campus
Beckett Park, Leeds LS6 3QS
Tel: 0113 8126 162

Skills for Health
Goldsmiths House,
Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155

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