Sports psychology is an ever-expanding field that provides many unique career opportunities. The most successful sports psychologists have the chance to work with Olympic gold medalists, NFL stars, and athletes at all stages of their careers.
If you have considered becoming a part of this exciting industry, the first step is to obtain your sports psychology degree. The course of study is both rewarding and challenging, and it can be tough to fit the rigors of a psychology degree path into your busy lifestyle. Fortunately, you can obtain your sports psychology degree online, giving you the flexibility to fulfill your dreams.
What Is Sports Psychology?
According to the American Psychological Association, sports psychology “uses psychological knowledge and skills to address optimal performance and well-being of athletes.” As a sports psychologist, you can help athletes overcome the unique stresses of athletic performance to unlock their true potential.
There are several subsets of sports psychology, such as:
- Exercise psychology
- Performance psychology
- Sports and exercise psychology
- Applied sports psychology
The right specialization for you depends largely on your target client pool and long-term goals.
What Is the Difference Between Educational and Clinical Sports Psychology?
While deciding which psychology path to follow, you will likely encounter the phrases “sports and exercise psychology” and “clinical sports psychology.” Sports and exercise psychology may alternatively be referred to as educational sports psychology. It is important to understand the difference when choosing your courses and enrolling in a field of study.
A clinical sports psychologist is trained primarily in applied psychology. Specifically, they focus on addressing abnormal performance and personality concerns as it relates to sports and provide counseling to athletes. They are almost always licensed psychologists.
On the other hand, an educational sports psychologist is less likely to be licensed. Their coursework usually places a heavier emphasis on kinesiology, psychology of human motion, and physical education. These types of psychologists often serve as athlete counselors or “mental coaches.”
What Degrees Do I Need to Get a Career in Sports Psychology?
As noted above, there are several subfields that fall under the larger umbrella of sports psychology. This gives you several potential avenues to achieve your goal of becoming a sports psychologist. To complete the best degree for your future, decide which path you should pursue prior to beginning your studies.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Psychology
Whether you are interested in exercise psychology, performance psychology, or another specialty, you can obtain your bachelor’s degree online. However, it is important to understand that very few schools offer a specific “sports psychology” bachelor’s program.
If your school does not, then you need to double major in both exercise science and psychology. Approaching your bachelor’s degree this way prevents you from having to take additional classes to qualify for a Master of Sports Psychology program.
Undergraduate Sports Psychology Admissions
When pursuing your Bachelor of Sports Psychology online, you have two main options of meeting admissions requirements. The first is to obtain an associate degree in psychology before applying for the program.
If you want to complete all credit hours with the same school, then you can apply using your SAT/ACT scores and high school transcripts. If you are entering the sports psychology field later in life, then you need to provide high school transcripts and may need to take an entrance exam. The school uses your entrance exam score to determine which prerequisites you need.
Sports Psychology Bachelor’s Degree Graduation Requirements
After being accepted into a program, you begin by taking general education courses, electives, and psychology courses. Since you need to complete various courses in exercise science, you won’t have much room for electives. You need to pass all courses with a grade of “C” or higher. Many schools require students to pass any courses related to their major with a “B” or higher to demonstrate proficiency.
You can expect your degree program to consist of 120-130 semester hours. This depends on the school and how many elective credits they require. Generally, 30-36 of those hours are focused on psychology.
Skills Learned in Sports Psychology Programs
Regardless of your long-term goals, you take a variety of psychology courses in your bachelor’s program. You also gain valuable information about human mechanics, kinesiology, and other physical sciences.
Many organizations are increasing their education standards and encouraging applicants to obtain master’s degrees. While this trend has continued in the sports psychology arena, you have plenty of employment opportunities with your bachelor’s degree.
Many Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Psychology graduates find roles as high school sports advisors. In this role you mentor high school students as they prepare for college athletics. You play a pivotal role in guiding student athletes toward the best decision for their future.
You can also find a position as an athletic trainer. As an athletic trainer, you have an opportunity to work with a wide variety of athletes. Once you gain experience, you may even be able to obtain a position with a professional sports team or high-profile training facility.
Courses in Undergraduate Sports Psychology Programs
The goal of your sports psychology undergraduate studies is twofold. The first is to prepare you to join the workforce as an athletic trainer or sports advisor. The second is to open the door for advanced studies in a master’s or doctorate program if you choose to continue your education.
To prepare you for multiple outcomes, you take a wide array of sports and psychology courses. Even though the titles may vary slightly from program to program, the core content is similar. These courses include:
- Applied sports psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Psychology of learning
- Cognitive psychology
- Social psychology
- Exercise psychology
- Ethics or ethical issues in psychology
- History of psychology
Remember, even if your program does not use these exact titles, the coursework should be very similar. As long as your schedule is approved by your assigned counselor and matches your chosen degree path, you will gain the knowledge you need to become a sports psychologist.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Sports Psychology Bachelor’s Degree?
Obtaining a sports psychology degree online is a popular option due to the flexibility and option to take accelerated courses. If you attend full time, you can graduate in about four years. If you are dedicated and opt for eight-week accelerated courses, then you can cut this time in half.
On the other hand, part time students that stick with the traditional 16-week courses take longer than four years to complete the degree. In fact, you could spend as long as seven years in a program if you take on a partial course load every semester.
If you already have your associate degree, then the program takes two years or less as a full-time student. Again, this time requirement increases if you attend in a part-time capacity.
Online Master’s in Sports Psychology
If you want to open the door to even more careers in the sports psychology field, then you will need a Master of Sports Psychology. Unlike the bachelor’s degree programs, many schools offer specialized sports psychology master’s degree paths.
During these programs, you can focus on your chief interest, such as sports and exercise psychology or applied psychology. Online master’s programs typically offer accelerated options as well, but the timeline and offerings vary depending on the program.
Graduate Sports Psychology Admission Requirements
In order to be accepted into an online Master Sports Psychology degree, you need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. The school reviews transcripts from your previous school and your undergraduate GPA. Many programs require a cumulative GPA of 3.0 to be considered for admission.
Master of Sports Psychology Graduation Requirements
During your online master’s program, you complete 30-40 credit hours of coursework. These highly specialized courses cover detailed aspects of psychology. Depending on the school you attend, you need to complete a formal thesis, portfolio, or comprehensive exam.
Skills Learned in a Sports Psychology Graduate Program
While the online bachelor’s program in sports psychology teaches you a broad range of information about the field, the master’s program focuses on your chosen specialization and teaches skills that directly apply to your career.
Master of Sports Psychology Career Opportunities
Speaking of careers, an online master’s degree in sports psychology provides plenty of options. These include:
- Applied sports therapist
- Clinical sports psychologist
- Sports rehab therapist
- University coach
- Professional coach
- Guidance counselor
- Social worker
A master’s degree in sports or exercise psychology is extremely versatile and leads to careers in a variety of fields.
Courses in Graduate Sports Psychology Programs
As with the bachelor’s programs, the exact courses and titles may vary slightly in this degree path. However, many of the core materials are similar if not identical. You can expect to take some version of the following classes:
- Advanced kinesiology
- Psychology of injury
- Coaching psychology
- Ethics in sports/exercise
- Stress in sports
- Conflict resolution
These courses vary depending on which specialty you choose. For example, you can request to concentrate in performance psychology, applied sports psychology, or another field depending on your school’s options.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Sports Psychology Master’s Degree?
Many online master’s programs offer accelerated courses that you can use to graduate in as little as 12-18 months. However, a standard paced program takes approximately 2-3 years. Depending on your school, you may have to complete an internship as part of your capstone project. This should be completed concurrently with your coursework and should not delay graduation.
Additional Sports Psychology Education Requirements
As noted above, some programs may have unique capstone requirements. In addition, it is important to note that most states require you to obtain a doctorate in sports psychology if you want to become a licensed clinical psychologist. As part of your doctorate program, you need to complete somewhere between 1500-6000 clinical hours.
Technically, internships or clinical hours are not required to be a part of your master’s program. However, schools have the option of setting more stringent program requirements. Many schools capitalize on this opportunity and require master’s program students to complete clinicals hours, often through an internship.
While this may seem tedious, internship experience can help you during the hiring process. Having some of your hours completed also makes it easier for you to apply for a doctoral program.
Even though you need a doctoral degree to become a licensed clinical psychologist, you have other certification options. You can use your master’s degree in sports psychology to obtain mental health licensure, which helps with your career prospects.
Keep in mind that licensing requirements vary from state to state. Before beginning your program, you should familiarize yourself with your state’s regulations.
Sports Psychology Career Outlook and Salaries
There is a broad and favorable outlook for the sports psychology field. Specific roles could include work as an athletic trainer, applied sports psychologist, or even a counselor. If you elect to pursue your doctorate, then you could become a licensed clinical psychologist.
The pay for these positions has a very positive outlook as well. In fact, the 2020 median pay for a psychologist was $82,180 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The BLS projects a 3% growth rate between 2019-2029, which translates to 5,700 new positions. If you want to join this growing industry, the first step is starting your degree program in sports psychology.
Can You Earn a Sports Psychology Degree Online?
Earning your bachelor’s degree in sports psychology is both fast and affordable thanks to a wealth of online programs. Many of these programs are 100% virtual, eliminating the need to drive to a campus and attend in-person classes.
However, many master’s programs require clinical hours or internships. With that said, it’s still possible to take some of your courses online, but you need to respond to an approved facility to complete required hours. These courses function in more of a hybrid format that require some in-person obligations.
Sports Psychology Career Resources
Are ready to begin your journey toward a degree in sports psychology but still aren’t sure where to start? Fortunately, there are plenty of helpful career resources that can provide you with vital information about this rewarding field.
American Psychological Association
The APA handles all things psychology. On their site, you can find the latest information about the field of sports psychology. This includes articles, news, and more.
Association for Applied Sport Psychology
The AASP is a unique resource for sports psychologists and students. They have information for job seekers that will help you connect with employers in your field after graduation.
Sports Psychology Degree FAQ
How much do sports psychologists make a year?
- The median pay for sports psychologists is $72,255 per year.
Is sports psychology a good career?
- Yes, it has a good projected growth and high median salary.
What do you need to become a sports psychologist?
- To pursue a career in sports psychology, you need a bachelor's degree. However, if you want to become a licensed sports psychologist, you'll need a doctorate degree.
Where do sports psychologists work?
- Sports psychologists work at schools, universities, with pro sports teams, and at athletic training facilities.
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- S.J. Danish, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2001.