Being a Sport and Exercise Psychologist

16 June 2020

The BPS has a Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology (DSEP), for ‘practitioner psychologists who seek to apply psychological knowledge, skills and expertise within the context of sport and exercise’. The DSEP web page contains plenty of resources and careers information for those interested in becoming a sport psychologist. 

We asked Chair of the DSEP, Dr Robert Morris, to tell us what he loves about being a sport and exercise psychologist.

‘When you are working as a sport and exercise psychologist, every day is different. One day you could be working with elite athletes and coaches going to world championships, Olympic games, or other major tournaments. The next day you could be working with someone who has an interest in exercising but has a fear of failure and lacks the self-confidence to exercise successfully. Both situations (and every situation you are in) are different and have their own unique challenges which you need to work through with the client to provide the best support you can. It is this which fascinates me – I like the unique stories you get to hear and the support you can provide.

Sport and exercise psychology is particularly vital at times of upheaval and challenge. During the Covid-19 crisis, we have seen how vital the work sport and exercise psychologists do is. From helping people who have never exercised before to working with athletes and coaches who are facing delays and cancellations in their sporting fixtures; the work of this group of practitioners has helped ensure the wellbeing and health of many and that athletes are ready to perform when their sport returns. 

The Covid-19 crisis has also expedited the use of electronic means for providing sport and exercise psychology support. Never before have sport and exercise psychologists been forced to provide support to their clients online as much as they have recently – moving forward, it is clear that this change towards a technology informed way of working is something which those working in the discipline will need to consider in their work. This technology enhanced way of working opens up so many opportunities; there is nothing to stop practitioners working with athletes and coaches in foreign countries, for instance!

Being a sport and exercise psychologist is a fantastic career and I would highly recommend anyone gets involved if they have an interest in sport, exercise, or helping people to develop to be the best version of themselves. The current situation we are in is only highlighting further the vital role sport and exercise psychology plays to society!’

At The Psychologist we have met several sport and exercise psychologists over the years. Here’s a collection of some of our most recent interviews.

One on One – Costas Karageorghis
‘There’s an art to sport psychology, never a fixed answer’ – Hannah Newman
‘The World Cup demonstrated what changes when people feel differently’ – Pippa Grange
My shelfie… – Kitrina Douglas
People performing in exceptional ways – Alan MacPherson
‘There’s a real danger of silos – the key is the Branches’ – Barry Cripps and Ann Cripps
Feeding a thirst for psychology – Josephine Perry
One on One – Peter Olusoga

Here’s a small selection of articles that have considered research and practice in sport and exercise psychology.

A journey of hope and doubt
Shameema Yousuf, Sport Psychologist and CMPC at Empower2Perform, watches 'Andy Murray: Resurfacing'

'They know they're human'
Martin Turner and Andrew Wood with a rational approach to performing under pressure

Trying to tackle a silent problem
Shakiba Oftadeh Moghadam on rugby players’ mental health literacy

‘Adventure is an important part of being human’
Eric Brymer on co-authoring the book ‘Phenomenology and the Extreme Sport Experience’

When winners need help
Derek Larkin and colleagues consider mental health in elite sport

It’s not just cricket
Jamie Barker and Matt Slater consider the psychology at play in the Ashes

Stumped by big numbers?
Former professional cricketer and Chartered Psychologist Alastair Storie considers whether elite sporting performance relies on crunching the numbers, or on an absence of thought

The crucial role of exercise psychologists
A letter from Shaween Amin raising awareness of exercise psychologists

Smarter thinking in sport
Martin James Turner describes his use of rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) with athletes

Swifter, higher, stronger: The history of sport psychology
Back in 2008 John Kremer and Aidan Moran explored how the subdiscipline – after a few false starts – grew ever fitter

We’ve also covered lots of sport and exercise psychology studies on our Research Digest. Here’s a selection of recent pieces.

Struggling to stick to a workout routine? Copying your friends might help – Emily Reynolds
Here’s how long-distance runners are different from the rest of us – Emily Reynolds
Your level of “planfulness” could determine how often you visit the gym – Matthew Warren
Can psychology help make running more enjoyable? Podcast episode – Christian Jarrett
Are bronze medallists really happier than silver medallists? New insights from the 2016 Olympics – Bradley Busch
These are the pre-match emotional control strategies that higher-ranked table tennis players use more than lower-ranked players – Christian Jarrett

Over on the BPS blog find a post from Lucy Parker at the BPS History of Psychology Centre on the personality of British lawn tennis players.

Find more information on careers in sport psychology on BPS Careers, the National Careers Service and Prospects. Watch a conversation between sport psychologists Jo Davies and Matt Cunliffe about becoming a sport and exercise psychologist.

Read more about sport and exercise psychology in our archive.