To call oneself a psychologist (at least in the United States and Canada), or use the terms psychologist, psychological, or psychology, one must be licensed in the state or province in which one practices. However, if one works in academia, calling oneself a sport psychologist is an appropriate term to use as it is descriptive of one’s role at one’s academic institution. Credentials are aimed at demonstrating one’s competency within the field. This competency is critical for the sport and exercise psychology profession. The term competency indicates that one has the educational background that provides the knowledge base to be an effective practitioner and has the experience, gained through one’s educational program, to practice effectively. Consumers have the right to require competent practitioners; similarly, practitioners must demand that we and our colleagues have demonstrated levels of competence to earn the credentials discussed in this entry.
Competency underlies obtaining a credential as a sport and exercise psychologist. This competency is generally obtained through experiences in three areas. First, one obtains an academic degree, usually a doctoral (PhD, PsyD) degree, but in some cases a master’s degree (MS, MA, MEd) is sufficient. Second, one would successfully complete specific coursework at an academic institution, usually as part of one’s master’s or doctoral degree, including psychology, kinesiology, and sport and exercise psychology–specific courses. Third, one would obtain experience within clinical or counseling settings. This would generally be mentored through applied experiences with individuals as well as teams in a variety of sports and settings. This experience provides an indication that one has obtained a base of knowledge in clinical or counseling psychology as well as the skills set and temperament to work effectively in a role as a sport and exercise psychologist. This knowledge base and skill set may encompass counseling and psychotherapy work with a variety of mental health issues, program development and evaluation, and psychological assessment.
Individuals who work as licensed professional counselors (LPC; the term used depends on the state, province, or country) have earned master’s degrees in counseling or clinical psychology or related fields and are eligible for licensure, certification, or accreditation (the term used depends on the state, province, or country).They are qualified, if they meet the relevant criteria, to work as counselors and receive payment for such work, including third-party reimbursement.
Individuals with doctoral degrees may become licensed as psychologists in the United States and Canada (other countries may allow master’s level practitioners to be called psychologists). This process generally requires a doctoral degree (e.g., PhD, PsyD) in psychology (or a related field), specific coursework, internship hours, and successfully passing state and national exams. States, provinces, and countries have generally similar standards, but they may differ. One must verify the specific standards for the jurisdiction in which one wishes to practice.
The primary credential in the sport and exercise psychology field is being a Certified Consultant within the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (CC-AASP). CC-AASP provides the clearest path for developing the level of competency required to work within a performance enhancement focus in sport and exercise psychology. The CC-AASP process does not have a clinical or counseling focus. CC-AASP requires attainment of numerous criteria, including a doctoral degree, 400 hours of mentored applied work (of which 100 must be directly with individuals, teams, or both), and a variety of coursework across areas within kinesiology and psychology. This coursework includes not only sport and exercise psychology specific courses but also coursework in other areas within kinesiology like motor learning and exercise physiology, as well as numerous areas within psychology, such as social, developmental, and learning. There is also the option of provisional certification with a master’s degree, and full certification if one completes an additional 300 hours (above the 400) of mentored experience. There is a standard application process and review by the Certified Consultants Committee to determine whether one has met the criteria needed for CC-AASP status. There were approximately 300 Certified Consultants as of fall 2012. AASP is working toward publicizing the CC-AASP credential more widely so that potential clients (e.g., athletes, parents, coaches) will be aware of what to expect from a practitioner with CC-AASP credentials in terms of competency and experience.
The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) has several accreditation programs for identifying competency within sport and exercise science, including a High Performance Sport accreditation. The basic one for sport and exercise psychologists is termed Accreditation and focuses on the ethical and professional standards of BASES members practicing in the exercise and sport sciences. An individual fulfilling the accreditation criteria is called a BASES Accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist. This involves a similar process to that of the CC-AASP in terms of mentored applied work and coursework. Accreditation can be obtained with undergraduate and master’s degrees—a doctoral degree is not required.
Division 47 (Exercise and Sport Psychology) of the American Psychological Association has established sport psychology as a proficiency within APA. Proficiency is seen as a specialization after one attains one’s doctoral degree. The proficiency focuses on competence in working with athletes on their psychological skills, well-being, developmental and social components of participation in sport, and issues related to working within sports organizations. Division 47 within APA is taking steps to develop guidelines for meeting the proficiency.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) offers a specialty area within sport and exercise psychology (one of nine specialty areas within the APS), and established the Australian College of Sport and Exercise Psychology (a “college” within APS) among its other branches. Sport and exercise psychologists are regarded as specializing in numerous areas, including performance enhancement, stress management, overtraining, team building and leadership, and psychological assessment. Attaining full membership as a sport psychologist requires at least 6 years of university education, plus 2 years of supervised practical experience within sport and exercise psychology. It should be noted that this is different from the United States and Canada, where the doctoral degree is generally seen as required to become a psychologist. Other countries may have specialty certifications as well.
Credentials for someone working in academia would generally encompass an advanced degree like a PhD or EdD in kinesiology or psychology, with an emphasis on sport and exercise psychology. This includes the standard teaching, research, and service roles of an academician. Someone providing performance enhancement consulting services needs to be mindful of the credentials previously identified with respect to certification. It is not uncommon for academicians to work with athletes or teams at their host college or university. While academicians generally do not acquire additional credentials per se (although one can become a fellow in one’s professional organizations, such as AASP and APA), one is expected to remain current in the field. Many professions (e.g., psychology, medicine) require continuing education hours each year. While academia generally does not require these as such, one is expected to be acquainted with the literature, attend conferences, and perhaps conduct research and present and publish the work. The goal is to be knowledgeable of the current literature within sport and exercise psychology.
Offering consulting services outside the college or university setting encompasses a different level of practice. In the United States, anyone can hang up a shingle and provide services as a consultant, a therapist, or another “unprotected” term (protected terms include, e.g., the term psychologist). The standard caveat, Buyer beware, is critical. While some of these practitioners may have acceptable levels of experience, it is preferable to identify someone with the credentials identified earlier (e.g., certification, licensure) if one is looking for a professional to provide services for oneself, one’s athletes, one’s team, or one’s organization.
- American Psychological Association, Division 47: http://www.apa47.org Association for Applied Sport Psychology: http://www.appliedsportpsych.org
- Australian Psychological Society, College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists. (2013). About us. Retrieved from http://www.groups.psychology.org.au/csep/ about_us
- The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences: http://www.bases.org.uk
- Hanton, S., & Mellalieu, S. D. (Eds.). (2012). Professional practice in sport psychology: A review.New York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.
- Lesyk, J. L. (1998). Developing sport psychology within your clinical practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Sachs, M. L., Lutkenhouse, J., Rhodius, A., Watson, J., Pfenninger, G., Lesyk, J. L., et al. (2011). Career opportunities in the field of exercise and sport psychology. In M. L. Sachs., K. L. Burke, & S. L. Schweighardt (Eds.), Directory of graduate programs in applied sport psychology (10th ed., pp. 251–277). Indianapolis, IN: Association for Applied Sport Psychology.
- Silva, J. M., III, Metzler, J. N., & Lerner, B. (2011). Training professionals in the practice of sport psychology (2nd ed.). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.