I have considered a sports psychologist’s career since I enjoy watching athletic teams train and perform and would like to help college players in the future. I chose to interview Urska Dobchek, a university tennis player in the past and a sports psychologist at the University of Florida presently. My first question to Urska was about her career choice, and the answer was that it happened naturally. She had played tennis for many years, including her NCAA college career, and continuously analyzed the team’s possibilities to improve. Urska found a science advisor interested in guiding her through the research starting in the first year of the university and spent hundreds of hours analyzing the data she collected from the athletes’ practices. That included observing, surveying, and interviewing tennis, football, baseball, and basketball players. After Urska’s answer, my first thought was a bit discouraging as I did not have such a clear path to perform the research related to my future career.
The second question was about the advice Dobchek had for those who considered becoming a sports psychologist. She said that being involved in athletic activities, whether that meant playing on a team or visiting the gym regularly, was an advantage for this career. Natural curiosity, self-reflection, and professional networking early in college life could also be helpful. This answer made me more confident in my desire to pursue a sports psychologist career, as I know many coaches and athletes personally. They are usually open-minded and detailed when I ask them about different aspects of training and competing.
One of the obstacles that Urska mentioned included the difficulty of finding a paid job. There are many volunteer opportunities and internships available at schools and universities to gain experience, but only a small number of full-time starting positions are available for recent graduates. Besides, getting a master’s degree is expected before pursuing a sports psychologist career. Urska is a Bachelor of Behavioral Psychology and a Master of Sports Psychology. She mentioned that usually studying for a postgraduate degree and being an assistant coach for an athletic team could be combined, but the sport may not always be the one a student prefers. Her answers did not surprise me because I already knew that this career had a challenging start.
The next question I asked was about the most common issues athletes discuss with psychologists. Among the expected ones, like anger management and inability to concentrate during the crucial moments, was surprising to me fear of reinjury. This phenomenon happens when an athlete is not using the needed muscle force after recovering from physical damage (Hsu et al., 2017). Urska said that about twenty percent of sports players who came for advice had problems overcoming reinjury fear.
Later our conversation moved toward the things Urska wished she could have done differently. Dobchek mentioned focusing on quantitative studies earlier in her career, as the professors generally do not mind qualitative research, but articles that include numbers and data analysis are more valuable in the psychology field. Statistics could be applied to later studies, compared with the new or adjusted numbers, and included in the large projects. Qualitative articles help to develop and organize critical thinking and writing skills but lose influence with time. For example, Lisinskiene and Lockbaum’s (2019) research on the relationships between parents and children influenced through sports provides general recommendations for average families as opposed to detailed number analysis for problem-solving. This point is essential to me as most of my current research in psychology is qualitative and analyses general concepts. Another piece of advice Urska gave me is to avoid emotion when listening to criticism from professors or colleagues. Mistakes will happen even if the researcher does everything possible not to make them. Any feedback, positive or negative, should be used for the benefit of the research.
Urska’s typical week includes about eighteen hours of psychology courses, twelve hours of research and analysis, and six coaching sessions with the athletes. This job is suitable for those who enjoy working with people and data simultaneously. Athletes and coaches react emotionally to different performance factors, and observations require a sharp mind and patience. Mistakes happen as psychologists are humans, but their large number could lead to erroneous results, lost resources, and frustration.
Everybody’s career is different, but Dobchek and I discussed the possible steps for me to become a successful sports psychologist. First, I would have to closely study several sports teams and research the mental and physical issues in athletes. Second, I need to discuss the potential research with psychology department professionals and possibly find an advisor. General courses in the field would be enough for a bachelor’s degree, but a Master’s or Ph.D. diploma related to sports is necessary for a long-term career. One of the potential possibilities is opening a private practice or becoming a coach, but that would have to be decided at the university’s last courses. Urska is a researcher and assistant trainer for a cross country team at the University of Florida. She encouraged me to consider the career of a sports psychologist as a possibility for the future.
Hsu, C. J., Meierbachtol, A., George, S. Z., & Chmielewski, T. L. (2017). Fear of reinjury in athletes. Sports health, 9(2), 162–167. Web.
Lisinskiene, A., & Lochbaum, M. (2019). A qualitative study examining parental involvement in youth sports over a one-year intervention program. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(19), 3563. Web.