Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology Major

The Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology (SEPP) major offers those preparing for careers as coaches, sport practitioners and sport administrators the knowledge of psychological theory and skills development to enhance human behavior in sport and exercise settings and artistic performance. The discipline explores social-psychological concepts such as self-confidence, anxiety or burnout, and shows how these concepts often impact athletes in a sport environment (e.g., losing focus under pressure and self-doubt during a game) or influence artistic performers (e.g., self-esteem and confidence in the artist).

This major prepares students with essential understanding of sport performance and ethical practice to work in a wide range of sport-related fields, such as coaching, mental conditioning or sport specialists, among others. Additionally, graduates of the SEPP major can enhance their education via graduate programs of Sport and Exercise Psychology and fulfill their accreditation of the Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) by the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP).

What is Sport Psychology?

Sport psychology is the study of psychological factors that influence athletic performance and how participation in sports and exercise can affect the psychological and physical well-being of athletes.

Researchers in this field explore how psychology can be used to optimize athletic performance and how exercise can be utilized to improve mood and lower stress levels.

Sport psychologists teach cognitive and behavioral strategies to help athletes improve their experiences, athletic performance, and mental wellness when participating in sports.

They can assist with performance enhancement, motivation, stress management, anxiety control, or mental toughness. They also can help with injury rehabilitation, team building, burnout, or career transitioning.

People in this position don't just work with athletes. They can work with coaches, parents, administrators, fitness professionals, performers, organizations, or everyday exercises to demonstrate how we can utilize exercise, sport, and athletics to enhance our lives and psychological development.

What Does a Sport Psychologist Do?

A sport psychologist’s job description is very broad, with a wide range of responsibilities. These include:

  • Performance: Sport psychologists train athletes to use many mental strategies and techniques to improve their performance and break through plateaus in their performance. A few of these techniques include positive self-talk, cognitive restructuring, visualization, focus enhancement, and anxiety reduction.
  • Recovery: Many athletes undergo physical therapy and surgery for injuries. Recovery from injury can require a lot of psychological adjustment, especially since restricted movement is a part of initial healing. Athletes may need help coping with life from the sidelines while they complete the healing process. Feelings of helplessness and anger are common, which makes having a psychologist on staff a necessity for sports teams.
  • Coping skills: Athletes living with enormous pressure that comes from all sides. Family, coaches, fans, and teammates have high expectations that generate feelings of anxiety, tension and sometimes even depression in top athletes. Psychological experts can help them cope better with intense pressure and stay focused on performance.
  • Motivation: Athletes sometimes have problems maintaining consistently high levels of motivation under stress. Sport psychologists teach techniques to assist athletes maintain top levels of motivation.
  • Conflict Resolution: Athletes live under high pressure, which can lead to anger control problems and friction between the player and coaches, the press and teammates. Sport psychologists help players communicate more effectively with others. They also teach relaxation exercises that diffuse and reduce negative emotions.

What’s It Like Being a Sport Psychologist?

Being a sport psychologist is an intense job. There’s a lot of high-pressure situations where athletes rely heavily on their psychologist, who helps athletes develop their mental focus and concentration, which is an ongoing job. Psychologists travel with their team during the season, which translates to a lot of time away from home. They also work as part of a team, which is somewhat different from the role of most psychologists, who work alone.

What is the Job Outlook for Sport Psychologists?

Opportunities for graduates in sport psychology continue to grow. It’s a hot, expanding field that benefits from the USA’s passionate love of sports. There are opportunities in high school and university sports programs and athletic departments. Many recreational clubs also are on the lookout for sport psychologists. They are in such high demand in the military that the U.S. Army employs more performance and sport psychologists than any other entity. Called Performance Enhancement Specialists in the military, they work with soldiers and family members to help cushion and reduce problems associated with long or frequent deployments and combat injuries.

To practice in the field of Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology, graduate-level training is highly recommended. While some students find employment in a sports-related field (e.g., coaching, strength training, recreation and fitness) after graduating from the SEPP bachelor's degree program, the majority of students pursuing a career in this field secure a graduate degree.

Possible Careers:

  • Sport Performance Psychologist
  • Strength and Performance Conditioning Coach
  • Sports Performance Coach
  • Mental Health Counselor/Athletics Embedded
  • Sports Nutritionist
  • Sports Medicine Fellow
  • Performance Enhancement Specialists (PESs)

For more information, please contact Program Coordinator Kevin Eckert in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies at

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Overview and Program Requirements in the University Catalog