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How to Become a Sports Psychologist

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Ron Chamberlain has been a sports psychologist for 15 years. He currently works for the University of Washington Department of Athletics. He earned his undergraduate degree in psychology at Mesa State College. He then went on to earn a Master of Education in school psychology and a PhD in counseling psychology at Brigham Young University. 

Ron’s background includes involvement in both sports and psychology. He played college basketball at Mesa State College, and also worked in the athletic department at Brigham Young University as a sports psychologist before relocating to Seattle. Ron is a Certified Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, and he is listed in the registry of the United States Olympic Committee Sport Psychology.

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What is a sports psychologist?

Sport psychology is the study of psychological and mental factors affecting participation in sport, exercise, and physical activities. Applied sport psychologists assist athletes in their quest for high-level performance by helping athletes deal effectively with personal challenges that might otherwise interfere with performance and by utilizing mental skills that enhance performance and allow athletes to more fully reach their potential.

Why did you decide to become a sports psychologist?

I grew up participating in a wide variety of sports and wanted to find a career in athletics. Then in college I found my second love, psychology. When I discovered that I could be a psychologist in the sports world it was the perfect match for me. My greatest desire is to help athletes perform their best and enjoy what they do as athletes. This profession allows me to impact lives for good.

Are there common misconceptions about your profession?

Sport psychology is often misunderstood. There is often a stigma associated with psychology. People often think that you have to be crazy, mentally ill, or weak to seek out psychological services. For others, there is sometimes this idea that sport psychology is mystical. I have often had people ask me, "Do you hypnotize athletes to help them win?" The reality is sport psychology is based in positive psychology. We study what successful athletes do in their approach to life and performance and teach these skills and strategies to others. There are basic fundamentals to every sport and sport psychology focuses on getting the most up-to-date, scientific information to athletes that will allow them to perform their best.

What is a typical day like for you?

I love the variety in my daily schedule. I usually have at least one meeting a day within the athletic department with sports medicine doctors, the dietician, athletic trainers, academic advisors, or athletic administrators. I generally meet with six to eight student athletes for personal/performance counseling, an entire team for mental skills training, I teach a performance enhancement class, and then stop by practices and the training room to be visible and make contact with coaches, student athletes, and athletic trainers. Many evenings and weekends I will be in attendance of the home games of our university teams. Occasionally, I will also travel with a team and work with the athletes on the road.

What are your favorite aspects of your job?

Working with student athletes and coaches. I especially enjoy working with highly motivated people who want to find ways to be a little better every day. That keeps me stimulated professionally and focused on improving what I do in my role. The sports world is competitive and fun. I love it!

What are your least favorite aspects of your job?

The paperwork and record keeping. It is an important part of my job, but it can be tedious at times.

Is there anything you would have done differently while studying to become a sports psychologist?

Yes, I would have received my master's degree in sport psychology and my doctorate degree in counseling psychology. I think that is the best overall training an up and coming professional could have in preparation to becoming a sport psychologist.

What classes did you take in college that are the most relevant to your job?

Most of my psychology classes have been relevant to what I do daily. In addition, classes in motor learning, kinesiology, exercise physiology, and coaching will be helpful.

What personality traits do you think would help someone to be successful as a sports psychologist?

You have to be a people person. The student-athletes and coaches need to know that you genuinely care about them and their success before they will let you into their world. You also have to be highly committed to being your best in what you do...that means being a hard worker, willing to make personal sacrifices, and mentally tough. You need to be willing to do what it takes to be great in your profession.

What personality traits do you think might hinder someone's success as a sports psychologist?

This would be a tough profession for anyone who was uncomfortable around people and lacked self-confidence.

What advice, or words of caution, would you give to a student who is considering studying to become a sports psychologist?

The job market is tough in this field. Most people have to put in their time in teaching, research, and counseling before the more sought after applied sport psychology positions become available to them. You have to work hard, complete a doctoral level degree, and find your unique niche in the field. However, this is a great profession for those who are willing to pay their dues and establish a name for themselves.

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