Studying Sport Psychology

by Clinton Gahwiler

Personally, I strongly recommend that you study (through a university psychology department) towards registration as a psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. The most relevant category is probably counseling psychology, though clinical and to a lesser extent industrial and educational psychology can also work. Research psychology is not recommended unless you want to work purely as a researcher / academic. (You should however check these things with a university psychology department. They will also be better able to advise you on admission criteria for the different levels of study).

Certain universities do offer some training in sport psychology, but this is most often just in the form of a short module. Having said this, I am not convinced that at this point it’s a good idea to limit oneself by focusing exclusively on sport psychology anyway. The reason for this is that there are only a handful of people in the world making a living practicing only sport psychology. Most practitioners supplement their sports work with either academic, corporate or other non sports-related consulting.

So if you struggle to find specifically sports-related courses during your studies, don’t despair. There is nothing stopping you from doing your own reading in the field, and directing all your projects and thesis in the sports direction. (This is in fact how I gathered a solid theoretical grounding in sport psychology over the course of my undergraduate, honours and masters degrees.) Note that once finished studying, you are unlikely to find someone advertising a sport psychology post, so if you are serious about going this route, you need be prepared to be proactive, and create opportunities for yourself.

Finally, I hope the above hasn’t turned you off sport psychology. I remember how hard it was at times not to become despondent when I started studying twenty-something years ago, as everyone kept telling me “there’s no such thing as a sport psychologist”, and “sport is elitist – there’s no room for sport psychology in South Africa”, etc. In retrospect, I have absolutely no regrets, and feel privileged to have a career that I enjoy so much. And anyway – there’s nothing quite like sport to bring people together…