Sports Psychology Education and Degree Programs

Dejected Baseball Player in dugout
J&LImages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Sports psychology is a growing profession and many athletes seek the services of psychologists, trainers, and coaches who can help them with the mental aspects of sports training.

  • Elite athletes, professionals, and Olympians all have tremendous physical skills and research is finding that at these levels mental training skills (focus, relaxation, goal-setting and reducing anxiety) are critical in separating first from second place.
  • More recently, recreational athletes are finding the mental training benefits them as well. Motivation, concentration, and focus are helpful for anyone wanting to achieve a goal – sports-related or not.

Becoming a sports psychologist is now a recognized career choice and sports psychology degree programs are growing. The biggest indication of this is the glut of online degree programs and certificates that are available. These programs offer varying levels of quality and may or may not offer the ideal combination of education and training for those seeking to pursue a career in the field.

Anyone looking at sports psychology as a career should talk to people in the discipline, especially professors at universities that offer degrees in Sports Psychology, before committing to any program. You need to make sure the program provides not just a degree, but the education, knowledge, and experience to allow you to be successful in the field.

Academic Programs for Advanced Degrees in Sports Psychology

Academic programs that may prepare you for a career in Sports Psychology include:

  • Specialized Training in Sports Psychology (Master / Doctoral programs)
    There are several hundred programs that offer training in sports psychology, but very few that train students to become practicing sports psychologists who see clients. Those that do offer such programs are graduate-level courses (masters / doctoral). You need to do a lot of searching to find specialized programs.
  • Ph.D. in Counseling or Clinical Psychology with additional training in sports psychology
    This is a long career path but allows you to learn a great deal about all aspects of the field. You can also work as a psychologist in a variety of settings.​
  • Master’s level Counselor or Therapist with additional training in sports psychology.
  • Advanced Training in Exercise Science/Fitness with additional training in Psychology
    Entrepreneurs in the field also come from the exercise science field and work to obtain more experience in counseling and coaching.

What Degree Do You Need for Sports Psychology?

For those seeking to work with athletes, a Masters degree is ideal. A PhD. is a way to go if you desire to work in academics, continue research or pursue high-level consulting roles. Once you locate the schools that you are interested in, you need to apply and get accepted. This is fairly competitive at the larger schools, often requiring prerequisite coursework, undergraduate degree, 3.0 GPA, and 1500 or better GRE score and experience in sports training, coaching, participation or counseling work.

Do You Have What It Takes to Make It in Sports Psychology?

You should know if the school focuses on academics (science & research) or developing practitioners.

Because there is no set career path for sports psychologists once they graduate, it’s important to decide if you have the enthusiasm to pursue the career on your own. You need to have an entrepreneurial spirit and be open to variations of the ‘sports psychologist’ moniker.

Most importantly, a career in sports psychology requires some creativity and vision along with optimism, mental focus, goal-setting, and concentration — which is exactly what a good sports psychologist is providing to clients.

Recommended sports psychology associations, organizations, and journals:

  • APA - Division 47, Exercise and Sport Psychology

Continue Reading