Sports Psychology Graduate Programs

Graduate sports psychology programs explore the interplay between sports and the mind, and are available at the certificate, masters, and doctoral levels.

Some sports psychology degrees may help students fulfill sports psychologist education requirements.i Others might appeal to current coaches, athletic trainers, educators, and counselors who want to develop specific skills. For instance, the ability to help a professional or amateur athlete set and reach goals. Or, to perform consistently, manage anxiety, and concentrate.

graduate sports psychology programs

What Is Sports Psychology?

Sport psychology, also called sport and performance psychology, uses psychological knowledge and skills to address peak performance and well-being of athletes, the developmental and social aspects of sports participation, and systemic issues connected with sports and related organizations. It is a multi-disciplinary field that spans psychology, sports science, and medicine.ii

Coursework in graduate sports psychology programs may address some of the following themes.

  • Techniques of sport specific psychological assessment
  • Mental skills for performance enhancement and satisfaction
  • Social and developmental issue of sports participation
  • Exercise physiology, motor skills, sports medicine

FUN FACT

When surveyed, 37% of physical education professors and coaches reported they held a doctoral degree, 23% a masters degree.iii

How To Become a Sports Psychologist

Sports psychology graduate programs may prepare students to launch or further a career as a sports psychologist. Essentially, there are four steps to try to become a sports psychologist.

  1. Earn a Sports Psychology Degree: Per the APA, sports psychologists first earn a doctoral degree in psychology at an accredited counseling psychology program with sports psychology as an area of emphasis.ii
  2. Practicum: Most sports psychology schools require field research and/or a period of supervised clinical experience.i
  3. Licensure: Graduates of sports psychology doctoral programs may then be eligible to take state board licensure exams (Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology).i
  4. Certification: Licensed psychologists may apply for certification as a sports consultant through the Association for Applied Sports Psychology.iv

What Is a Sports Psychologist?

Sports psychologists address problems faced by athletes and sports participants. For instance, they have a keen grasp of how self-confidence is developed. They understand how emotion is managed and how to help someone overcome fear or lack of mental focus. And, they are able to identify clinical interventions to keep an athlete motivated or cope with burnout.

Types of Sports Psychology Graduate Programs

While all graduate sports psychology programs may cover core topics related to exercise, psychology and performance, not all of them have the same emphasis. If you aspire to pursue a career as a full-time sports psychology consultant, you might look for programs that highlight applied sport psychology.

Or, if you want to be a professor, look for a sports psychology program that fosters opportunities to teach and research. And, of course, if your aim is to provide one-to-one counseling as a licensed psychologist, you need to think about a PhD or PsyD degree.

You want your interests, whatever they are, to be addressed by the sports psychology schools you apply to. Also be sure to consider your experience and goals when determining the level of your sports psychology degree.

Sports Psychology Masters Programs  

Do you want to help improve athletic performance through sport-exercise psychology? Sports Psychology Masters programs often prepare students to apply psychological principles in the field. This means they are typically practical in nature, focusing on ways to develop programs and methods to address athletic performance, motivation, and recovery.

A masters in sports psychology program may award a Master of Science in Sport Psychology and Master of Arts in Sport-Exercise Psychology degree. MA in Psychology with a concentration in Sports programs may also be available.

  • Length: Full-time students may be able to earn a masters in sport psychology degree in about two years. Some MS sports psychology programs entail the completion of 60 credits, while some MA sports psychology programs may entail 30 to 48 credits. Credits and program lengths vary by schools and may be influenced by things such as whether students need to complete an integrative capstone project, thesis or practicum.
  • Apply: Applicants to sports psychology masters programs need to have earned a bachelors degree from an accredited institution along with school-specific requisites such as a minimum 3.0 GPA.
  • Coursework: Masters in sports psychology programs may include coursework on how psychology influences sports, athletic performance, kinesiology, and biomechanics. Classes may provide a solid foundation in the biological basis of behavior, performance enhancement, and ethics. Sports Psychology Masters programs may also prepare graduates to pursue AASP certification. Follow up with individual programs if this interests you.

Sports Psychology Doctoral Programs

Are you interested in the psychology of human performance? A PhD in sport psychology may prepare graduates to apply theories of emotion, cognition, and motivation to understand ‘peak’ performance.

These sports psychology programs are not intended to prepare graduates for the practice of psychology (or counseling or related discipline). Nor do they lead to licensure or credentialing as a mental healthcare practitioner. Instead, these are often research focused programs which may allow students to prepare to add new knowledge to the field.

  • Length: Sport Psychology Doctoral programs often require students to complete between 39 and 60 credits.
  • Apply: Applicants to sports psychology PhD programs typically need a graduate degree and experience with related coursework.
  • Coursework: Topics of study may span the foundations of performance psychology, psychomotor aspects of sports, and research-based approaches to thought processes. Students may also have to contribute original thought and research through their dissertation.

Sports Psychology Certificates

Do you want to further your education? Some sports psychology graduate certificate programs offer a course of study that meets the education requirements for 'certified consultant’ through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (CC-AASP).iii Often, this type of program helps develop a student’s ability to create performance-enhancement programs for athletes and performers.

  • Length: While it may vary, in some cases students complete their certificate in less than one year, as there may be as few as 6 courses or 16 semester credits.
  • Apply: Aside from school-specific requirements, a bachelors degree is typically required for a post-graduate sports psychology certificate.
  • Coursework: Students who pursue a certificate in sports psychology often take courses from a masters or doctoral sport psychology degree program. Upon completion, participants may choose to earn their full degree in universities where it is possible to do so. Sometimes program credits are transferable, though this varies by school. Core courses may include professional practice, ethics, sports psychology, applied sports psychology, and mental skills training. Electives include coursework in counseling, coaching, biomechanics, and applied health behavior theory.

Postdoctoral  Certificates in Sport Psychology may also be available for those who already hold a doctorate in Psychology. These may allow current practitioners to explore a new area of interest. Follow up with individual programs for details.

What Is an Applied Sports Psychologist?

Applied sport and exercise psychology brings both theory and research into the field to educate athletes, parents, coaches, fitness professionals, and athletic trainers about the psychological aspects of their sport or activity.v However, AASP Certified Consultants (CC-AASP) are not necessarily titled ‘sport psychologist’, (unless they have the education and licensure).

What Is the AASP?

The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) is an international, professional organization that offers certification to those who have masters or doctorate degree. To obtain their credential (CC-AASP), a student must show they have completed specific coursework, a minimum of 400 hours of mentored and applied experience and been evaluated by the AASP’s Certification Review Committee. iii The AASP is not an accreditation agency, but students are advised to look for regionally accredited sports psychology graduate programs and schools.

Are There Online Sports Psychology Programs?

Sports psychology graduate programs can be found online or in the traditional campus format. Online sports psychology programs allow students to access coursework anywhere with an internet connection. This may increase the number of potential programs available, as well as provide an additional degree of flexibility and convenience.

Campus-based sports psychology programs, on the other hand, may offer more opportunities to interact with classmates and professors. Students participate in the traditional classroom experience and have access to campus resources such as libraries and labs. Attending a sports psychology school also may make it easier for students to work with professors on research, or complete internship and practicum requirements.

It's important to note that some online sports psychology programs may still have in person components. In these cases, students may be required to participate in brief campus visits or find a placement nearby. The way schools manage this varies, so follow up directly to learn more.

Potential Careers in Sports Psychology

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for psychologists is estimated to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024.i Sports Psychology graduate programs may also prepare students to enhance or pursue other possible career paths.

  • Head Athletic Trainervi
  • Physical Therapistvii
  • Coach or Athletics Director viii
  • Chief Wellness Officerix
  • Fitness Studies Professor iii

Entry level education requirements vary and may range from a bachelors degree to doctorate for these positions. While sport psychology programs may enhance your pursuit of these careers, it is best to conduct your own research into what other elements may be required.

Start Earning Your Sports Psychology Degree

The first step to earning your degree is to find a program that suits your needs. To begin your search for sport psychology graduate programs, review the listings on this page. Or use the on-page menus to find a certificate, masters or PhD in sports psychology program.

You can also look for sports psychology schools by city, state, or country. Or, if you need a flexible format, search for online sports psychology degrees.

Easily compare your options and contact the schools with an on page form. Your future awaits!


[i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm | [ii] apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/sports.aspx | [iii] onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1193.00 | [iv] appliedsportpsych.org/certified-consultants/ | [v] appliedsportpsych.org/about/about-applied-sport-and-exercise-psychology/ | [vi] onetonline.org/link/summary/29-9091.00 | [vii] onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1123.00 | [viii] onetonline.org/link/summary/27-2022.00 | [ix] onetonline.org/link/summary/11-9039.02

Learn More About Public Affairs & Social Sciences

Find Schools