How a Psychologist Becomes a Sport Psychologist

Commonly asked questions:

  • I am a very experienced tennis player (or golfer or runner or...), and I am a psychologist. Can I call myself and practice as a "sport psychologist?"

  • I coach (or used to coach) basketball (or soccer or football or...), and I am a psychologist. Can I call myself and practice as a "sport psychologist?"

  • I've read quite a bit about sport psychology, and I am a psychologist. Can I call myself and practice as a "sport psychologist?"

Answer:

No, not if you practice within your boundary of competence in accordance with APA Ethical Principles (2002 Revision; Standard 2.01).

Explanation:

In this current health care environment, questions regarding the competence of psychologists in specialty areas have become important. The question of how to decide to call oneself a "sport psychologist" is especially challenging because very few training experiences exist within current graduate psychology programs that allow specialization in "sport psychology." Doctoral level programs in sport psychology exist within sport science and kinesiology programs, but few psychologists have graduated from such programs. The public’s acceptance of the term ‘sport psychology’ appears to be much greater than the recognition bestowed by the psychology programs themselves.

Division 47 has taken the position that the decision to claim specialization in sport psychology must be a personal one, based on your experience and training. At this time, neither APA nor Division 47 has plans to offer or recommend a specialty certificate or the equivalent in "sport psychology." In making the decision to call yourself a sport psychologist, you should carefully consider the APA "Ethical Principles of Psychologists". Standard 2.01 of the Principles ("Boundaries of Competence") states that:

  • Psychologists provide services, teach, and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study or appropriate professional experience.

  • Where scientific or professional knowledge in the discipline of psychology establishes that an understanding of factors associated with age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic status is essential for effective implementation of their services or research, psychologists have or obtain the training, experience, consultation, or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services, or they make appropriate referrals, except as provided in Standard 2.02, Providing Services in Emergencies.

  • Psychologists planning to provide services, teach, or conduct research involving populations, areas, techniques, or technologies new to them undertake relevant education, training, supervised experience, consultation, or study

  • When psychologists are asked to provide services to individuals for whom appropriate mental health services are not available and for which psychologists have not obtained the competence necessary, psychologists with closely related prior training or experience may provide such services in order to ensure that services are not denied if they make a reasonable effort to obtain the competence required by using relevant research, training, consultation, or study.

  • In those emerging areas in which generally recognized standards for preparatory training do not yet exist, psychologists nevertheless take reasonable steps to ensure the competence of their work and to protect clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, organizational clients, and others from harm.

Division 47 takes the position that the term "sport psychologist" used by a licensed psychologist in describing his or her services to the public implies that:

  • The psychologist has experience in applying psychological principles in sports settings. This will involve experience working with athletes, coaches or sports teams as clients. In turn, this suggests competency in understanding the needs of this special population of clients.

  • The psychologist has expert knowledge in the research underlying the psychology of sport, and is familiar with the field of exercise science. The relevant literature in the field of sport psychology is extensive, and includes research focused on the development of sports participation motivation, the psychology of coaching, the psychology of skilled sports performance, and the incidence and prevalence of mental health concerns in the athletic population, to mention just a few areas.  Thus, the term "sport psychologist" suggests that the practitioner has specialized experience and knowledge. It is not only unethical to call yourself a "sport psychologist" without adequate training and experience, but there are legal issues to consider as well. For example, in the case where a psychologist defends against a malpractice suit, it is important to be able to demonstrate one's competence in one's specialty. Division 47 has assembled this information to help you understand how the field of sport psychology has developed and to guide you in seeking further information and/or training.