Before you start reading this article we have a few questions that we would like you to think about.

If you felt ill would you go and visit a doctor who was not properly qualified?

If you wanted help with your bank accounts would you visit an accountant who didn’t have the right qualifications?

If you were injured would you visit a physiotherapist who had not completed any qualifications?

The area which we are going to delve into is one which has been discussed among a number of people within the sport psychology world. The question which we are going to discuss within this article is;

Do you need proper qualifications to work with athletes and coaches within the field of sport psychology?

Over the past few years we have had the privilege to speak to a number of practitioners within the field who are either performance consultants, NLP practitioners, life coaches, professors, doctors and sport and exercise psychologists. To become a chartered sport and exercise psychologist involves a complex process whereby a person must undergo an undergraduate (which is accredited by the British Psychological Society), a masters in sport psychology (which is accredited by the British Psychological Society) and after a masters, supervision by a chartered sport and exercise psychologist which involves anywhere between 2 to 3 years of training. Altogether the process to become a sport and exercise psychologist can take anywhere between 6 to 8 years of studying, training and hard work. It is important to be aware that the title “Sport and Exercise Psychologist” is a protected term which means it is illegal for anyone to use the term unless they are registered by the HCPC (Health and care professions council).

There is also another route which people can undertake which is through BASES (The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences).  This route involves individuals completing a BASES endorsed undergraduate degree in the sport and exercise science discipline. The individual must then complete a masters in a sport and exercise sciences related discipline.  After this is completed an individual must then complete supervision which can take anywhere between 2 to 6 years. Similar to the BPS route this process can take up 6 to 10 years of studying. Once all these routes are complete a person can then apply for accreditation as a “sport and exercise scientist” with a specialism in sport psychology.

Both of these routes allow a person to go into a sport club or organisation and work with a number of athletes, coaches and managers. They can do this from a group perspective or 1 on 1. Their training has given them the right skills and appropriate tools to work with these people.

We have spoken to a number of people who believe that to work as a sport psychologist or practitioner you need to be properly qualified. The question we want to know is; Do you need to have the right training to work as a sport psychologist? Within the field there are a number of motivational speakers, ex athletes and alternative practitioners who work with athletes and coaches to help improve psychological performance. We have heard of some fantastic work that all these individuals perform which a number of athletes and coaches have praised. However, the argument that has been brought about is, surely if you want to work within this field you need to become properly qualified?

We want to know whether you think you need to be properly qualified to work with athletes/coaches to improve psychological performance? Do you need to go through the specific training routes? If you have completed training in other areas and work within sport psychology we want to hear from you. We want to hear your thoughts and see what you think. Please leave your comments in the section below.

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  • I am a BPS chartered sport and exercise psychologist and believe that those working in the field need to be qualified. This is for the protection of the client and the profession. Yes there are people who do great work based on their personal experiences, but psychology is a discipline grounded in theory. This is what takes the time to learn and it is the skill of applying this knowledge to practice that makes a great psychologist. As you mentioned in your opening paragraph, would you want to see a doctor who’s credentials were based on experience, knowledge or both?

    • BelievePerform

      Hi Lindsay, thanks for your reply. Do you think there needs to be more protection from specific organisations? Do you think sport clubs and organisations should be aware of these qualifications?

  • John Haime

    great question.

    I am not a “certified” sports psychologist – but work with some of the world’s leading athletes in performance. I played a professional sport and gained my experience through watching and listening to leading experts who were generating results with athletes. I do think a sport psychology degree is a good idea and nice first step in a career in performance – but it will only potentially open a door.

    First, “sport psychology” is not clinical psychology. It is coaching. I won’t start with definitions here – they can be googled, but generally athletes do not need clinical psychology – they need mental/emotional coaching and structural framework that goes beyond sports psychology.

    The only thing that matters to athletes is results. I have hired a number of individuals with academic backgrounds in sport psychology who have not been able to generate results for athletes. There was not the first idea how to practically make an impact and get a result.

    Also – athlete performance goes well beyond sport psychology. I worked with executives for 15 years and some of the approaches used in corporate performance are light years ahead of what is used in sports. Traditional sport psychology approaches is a fraction of my performance work with an athlete – the remainder is fundamental/foundational work and helping them create a sound, practical structure. We also work in athlete transition and there is no textbook for the work – we have created a practical structure that works based on our own research, experience etc.

    To answer your questions above – in all cases – I would ask questions about who gets results and who is “good”. I have been to many doctors, accountants and physios who had very questionable approaches. In all professions there are those who are “good” “average” and “poor”.

    John Wooden, one of the most successful coaches in history had a fantastic framework for developing young athletes that went well beyond sport psychology. John had an English degree from Purdue and acquired his approach through practical trial and error with teams and being an elite athlete himself.

    In summary, if a very good professional getting great results with athletes has some sort of sport psyche degree and that gets their foot in the door and creates opportunities – great. If they don’t, extra letters at the end of your name means nothing if you can’t generate results in the difficult world of elite sports. If you think a sport psyche degree goes anywhere in a locker room of professional athletes – my experience is that it doesn’t mean much – the only important factor is you can connect, demonstrate presence, relate to the athlete challenges and generate results (often quickly).

  • Del Kirwan

    I have a question, i have recently finished a MSc in Sports Psychology coming from a sporting background and not a clinical one. My question is what benefits are there to becoming accredited and is there a simple explanation to this approach? I am from ireland in from what i understand each country has their own accreditation process and an international blanket accreditation does not exist, Am i correct?

  • Nancy Fox

    I am a student (not official) and life long learner in sports psychology. By profession I am a business coach and consultant. In a high percentage of the clients I work with, self confidence and mindset are blocks to performance success. I do not claim to be a psychologist (I do have an undergrad degree in social work and psychology but this is quite different from having a clinical psychology degree/certification).
    I have had a very high rate of success helping clients overcome confidence blocks and attaining much greater results of goals than prior to working with me, including working with professionally accredited psychologists.

    I can very much understand degreed psychologists’ concerns about anyone and everyone claiming they are a sports psychologist.

    However, let me say that I have worked with quite a few (personally and professionally) highly credentialed psychologists who were absolutely incompetent and out of touch with any kind of business world reality and had no business advising people in the business world.