Sport Psychology Degree and Career Guide
Sport psychology, also called sports psychology or sport and performance psychology, is a proficiency recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA). There are two main degree paths to practicing in the field: a doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) with a specialization (also called concentration, specialty, or emphasis) in sport psychology (leading to licensure as a sport psychologist) or a master’s degree with optional certification (leading to other non-clinical jobs in the field).
In all states, becoming a licensed sport and performance psychologist requires a doctoral degree in psychology with a postdoctoral specialization in sport and performance-related topics. Psychologists training to work in sports and performance commonly specialize in applied sport psychology, clinical sports psychology, or academic sport psychology. A master’s degree in sport psychology is often paired with certification as a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). Jobs suited for a master’s degree with certification include coaches, trainers, athletic directors, and even business professionals. It is possible to earn an undergraduate degree in sports psychology, but these are typically in preparation to earn a master’s or doctoral degree.
- There are 12 not-for-profit colleges and universities with sport psychology programs.1
- No schools offer a certificate in sport psychology.1
- 1 school offers an associate degree in sport psychology.1
- 6 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in sport psychology.1
- 7 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in sport psychology.1
Table of Contents
- Sport Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework
- Select Sport Psychology Degree Programs
- Sport Psychologist Career Information
- Becoming a Sport Psychologist
- Job Description
- Salary and Job Outlook
- Additional Resources
- Frequently Asked Questions
Degree Requirements and Coursework
Graduate programs in psychology and sports psychology typically require a bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology, or a certain number of credits of psychology coursework, and possibly kinesiology or other sports-related courses. Admission requirements include a minimum GPA of 3.0 and higher-than-average scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), as well as references and experience in athletics, coaching, psychology research, or other related environments.
Graduate students studying sport psychology learn the basics of professional psychology and clinical work, as well as topics related to working with athletes and other types of performers. Coursework in a sport psychology program may include:
- Advanced Kinesiology
- Applied Sport Psychology
- Ethics in Sports and Exercise
- Motivational Processes
- Psychology of Athletic Injury
- Sport and Exercise Psychology
- Sports in American Culture
- Stress in Sport and Exercise
Select Sport Psychology Degree Programs
Traditional Master’s Programs
The University of Denver’s (DU’s) Graduate School of Professional Psychology offers a Master of Arts in Sport and Performance Psychology (MASPP) designed for professionals working in athletics, performing arts, mental health, or health and fitness. The program develops students’ professional skills to work with athletes to improve their performance by examining how psychological factors affect performance and growth. The MASPP program can also prepare individuals to pursue a doctoral degree in sport psychology. The focus of this program is on applied and practical techniques, with hands-on experience through consulting and coaching placements as well as through the Center for Performance Excellence (CPEX), a student-led consultation service supervised by faculty for underserved and minority populations. Students must complete 72 credits of coursework, which is designed to be completed in two years. The program culminates in a master’s project capstone, in which students demonstrate their comprehensive knowledge of sport and performance psychology (SPP) concepts and applications. Applicants to the program must submit transcripts showing a GPA of 3.5 or higher, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. The University of Denver also offers an online Master of Arts (MA) in Sport Coaching, as well as an online Graduate Certificate in Strength and Conditioning and Fitness Coaching (SCFC).
At Springfield College’s Department of Psychology, there are two options for students of sport psychology: a Master of Science (MS) in Sport and Exercise Psychology with a thesis option and a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Sport and Exercise Psychology, which is a non-thesis track. The MS degree allows students to pursue their research interests and is recommended for those who plan on continuing to doctoral study. The M.Ed. degree focuses on connecting students with high school and collegiate sports programs and is recommended for students wishing to become Certified Mental Performance Consultants (CMPC) through the AASP; rather than a thesis, this track culminates in a written portfolio and oral defense of their applied work. Admission requirements include undergraduate prerequisites of Anatomy and Physiology I and II as well as Physiology of Exercise. Springfield College also offers a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Sport and Exercise Psychology.
Traditional Doctoral Programs
Purdue University’s Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology offers an emphasis in Exercise Psychology focusing on research opportunities including maintenance of physical activity; community research partnerships; single bouts of exercise and types of memory in children; and resistance exercise and memory, cognitive performance, and cognitive control. PhD students take approximately four years to complete the program, which includes developing a program of research (thesis/dissertation) that will be complemented by their coursework and contribute to their dissertation. Each student works closely with a supervising faculty member to develop and implement a project that aligns with the faculty’s research. In addition to the research project, students are required to participate in a seminar during their first year, take a comprehensive exam during their third year, and fulfill a publication requirement. Students choose coursework complementary to their field of research and dissertation, including topics in advanced sport psychology, research methods, research analysis, human development, and social psychology. PhD students typically take at least 34 graduate credit hours beyond the master’s degree or 52 graduate credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree. Admission requirements include transcripts, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation.
Oregon State University’s (OSU’s) College of Public Health and Human Sciences offers a unique option for those interested in sport psychology graduate study. Students can earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Kinesiology with a concentration in Biophysical Kinesiology or Psychosocial Kinesiology. The Biophysical option focuses on biomechanics, exercise physiology, and motor control, while the Psychosocial option focuses on motor development and the sociology and psychology of sport and exercise. The program emphasizes research and focuses on the study of the social psychology of being physically active. Completion of the degree requires 12 credit hours in research core coursework, 18 credit hours in the area of concentration, and additional coursework, bringing the total minimum credit hours for the program to 84. Admission requirements include a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0, three letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement. An Adapted Physical Activity option is available as an add-on to the graduate program which prepares graduates to work with people with disabilities. A related Master of Science (MS) in Kinesiology is also offered at Oregon State.
The University of North Texas (UNT) offers a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Counseling Psychology with an elective cluster in sport psychology. The program gives students a broad education in practical counseling psychology and builds the specific skills and experience needed to work with athletes, coaches, and sports teams. Specialized courses for this program include Exercise and Sport Psychology, Social Psychology of Sport, and Applied Sport Psychology. Students must also complete a practicum, in which they gain real-world experience working with athletes and sports teams under the supervision of a faculty member. Graduates will be prepared to pursue licensure as a psychologist in any state as well as certification as a sport consultant through the AASP. Students entering the program with a master’s degree with at least 15 transferable credit hours can complete the sport psychology program in five years, including the one-year predoctoral internship; students entering with a bachelor’s typically complete the program in six years. Students applying to the program must complete an online application and submit transcripts that prove a minimum of a 3.5 GPA from a master’s program or a 3.0 GPA from an undergraduate program. Students must also submit a resume, letters of recommendation, and a statement of career goals. GRE scores are not required as of May 2023.
Online and Hybrid Programs
PennWest Global Online (PennWest) offers an online Master of Science (MS) in Exercise Science and Health Promotion with a concentration in Sport Psychology. Students in this program enjoy one-on-one mentoring from faculty mentors, along with flexible scheduling options. The PennWest sport psychology concentration is designed for coaches and professionals in fitness or healthcare, equipping them to understand the effects of injury, assist in rehabilitation and recovery, explore performance enhancement and intervention methods, and refer patients to other specialists when necessary. The core 30-credit hour Exercise Science and Health Promotion program can be completed in 12 months of full-time study or 17 months of part-time study. Optional focus areas add 9 to 15 credit hours and include Applied Sport Science; Group Fitness Leadership; Nutrition; Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention; Wellness and Fitness; Tactical Strength and Conditioning; Wellness Coaching; and Rehabilitation Science. Post-bachelor’s certificates in sport psychology comprising 12 credit hours are offered at PennWest in all of these focus areas as well. Admission requirements include a minimum 2.5 undergraduate GPA, although applicants with lower GPAs are still invited to apply for conditional admission with additional requirements.
National University’s Master of Arts (MA) in Performance Psychology program can be completed online or on-site and focuses on sport science, performance psychology techniques, enhancing performance, and counseling athletes and other performers. Students must complete 15 courses comprising 67.5 quarter credits as well as hands-on experience. Courses are taken in four-week blocks, with multiple start dates offered for maximum flexibility. Students can specialize in Applied Mental Performance or Theoretical Mental Performance. Examples of courses in the program include Performance Enhancement; Assessment Strategies; Mindfulness; Ethics Sport and Performance Psychology; and Motor Behavior. The coursework completed at National will prepare students to take the next steps to become certified by the AASP. The program prepares students to work with college and professional athletes, with children in school and community sports groups, as coaches, and in performing arts settings.
Sport Psychologist Career Information
How to Become a Sport Psychologist
Practicing sport psychologists must be licensed in all states, which requires a PsyD or a PhD in Psychology. However, clinical practice is not the only way to enter a career in sport psychology; many positions in the field can be entered with a master’s degree. In general, to become a sport psychologist, you will follow these steps:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field.
- Earn a master’s degree (optional) in sport psychology.
- Get optional certification as a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) by the AASP and begin practicing as a consultant.
- If you wish to become licensed and/or practice research, earn an accredited PsyD or PhD in Psychology with a specialization in sport psychology.
- Complete supervised clinical experience requirements for your state.
- Pass the required exams for your state, including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
- Apply for and receive a license from your state’s board of psychology.
- Begin practicing as a sport psychologist.
- Complete continuing education requirements each year to keep your license current.
A degree in sport and performance psychology can be useful for professionals in a variety of fields. Although a doctoral degree is required to be a licensed psychologist, a master’s degree in sport psychology can enhance the skills and knowledge of athletic coaches, physical education teachers, physical therapists and trainers, and others working with athletes or people in the performing arts. In addition to understanding the psychology of sport and performance, these professionals should be caring, patient, good listeners, and practical problem-solvers.
Having a master’s degree in sport psychology may lead to coaching jobs, working in supportive roles for licensed psychologists, or the administration of recreational sports and athletics. However, certain positions in this field require a doctoral degree. Some of the jobs available in the field of sport psychology include:
- Academic researcher*
- Athletic coach
- Clinical sport psychologist*
- Health program coordinator
- High school teacher
- Performance coach
- Private practice clinical sport psychologist*
- Professor or lecturer*
- Sport psychologist for a performing arts group*
- Sport psychologist for a club, college, Olympic, or professional team*
- Sport rehabilitation specialist
*A doctoral degree is usually required for this job title.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists in the “all other” category earned $99,560 on average in May 2022.4 Projections for jobs in the field of psychology (including clinical, counseling, and school psychologists as well as those in the “all other” category) report an average job growth of 6.2% through 2030.5
- APA’s Exercise and Sport Psychology (Division 47): Supports and provides resources for professionals in exercise and sport psychology.
- American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP): Organization offering Board-certification for professional psychologists of all specialties.
- Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP): A professional organization for sport psychologists that provides certification and promotes research in performance and sport psychology.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a doctorate degree to be a sport psychologist?
To be a licensed clinical psychologist, a doctoral degree is required. Though you cannot technically call yourself a “sport psychologist” without a doctoral degree, a master’s in sports psychology can still be valuable for your career. For example, organizations such as the AASP offer certification programs for sport psychology master’s degree holders.3 Certifications like the AASP’s Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) designation vouch for professional expertise, can lead to more job opportunities, and increase earning potential.
Should I attend a traditional or online sports psychology program?
For a doctoral degree in sport psychology, a traditional program is highly recommended because of the applied nature of the coursework. An online master’s degree in sport psychology can be a good option for working students who need flexibility. In either case, make sure the program you select is accredited, especially if you aim to become a licensed clinical psychologist.
How long will it take for me to get a sports psychology degree?
Most doctoral programs in sport psychology take four to seven years of full-time study to complete. Some programs are postdoctoral and require additional specialization and study after earning a PhD in clinical psychology. Students typically complete a master’s program in two years of full-time study.
What can I do with a master’s in sport psychology?
While clinical sport psychologists must hold a doctoral degree, a master’s degree can offer solid preparation for further graduate study and can also be useful for prospective and current physical education teachers, coaches, and others working with people who perform in sports. A master’s degree in sport psychology can also be used to pursue CMPC certification through the AASP.
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. American Board of Professional Psychology: https://abpp.org/
3. Association for Applied and Sport Psychology: https://appliedsportpsych.org/
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Psychologists, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193039.htm
5. Projections Central: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm