Online and hybrid sports psychology programs are available at the master's and doctoral degree levels. The master's program prepares students for roles as coaches, counselors and trainers, while the doctoral program readies students for work in the fields of academia and research. Applicants to these programs must hold at least a bachelor's degree, typically in psychology or a related field. Although the coursework can mostly be completed online, graduate sports psychology programs often require brief on-campus residency periods.
In most states, psychologists (including sports psychologists) must be licensed and typically must hold a Ph.D., though some specialties require a master's degree at minimum. Requirements may vary by state, so check with state regulations before choosing an educational program.
Master's Degree in Sports Psychology
Master's degree distance programs in sports psychology combine the fields of psychology and physiology. The coursework explores how mental factors can influence and improve an athlete's physical performance.
Graduates with a master's degree in sports psychology can work directly with clients as sports psychologists, athletic trainers, counselors and coaches. Students must typically hold a bachelor's degree in psychology and provide multiple recommendation letters along with a career summary when they apply to a distance university. Some master's degree programs also require an in-person interview.
Program Information and Requirements
The master's degree distance program generally takes two years to complete. The majority of coursework is online, but some programs require occasional on-campus meetings. Most distance education programs also require students to pass a comprehensive exam at the end of their last year.
Students are often expected to collaborate with other peers online for projects and mock counseling sessions. This requires not only a reliable Internet connection, but also a video camera set up to the student's computer.
Sports psychology master's degree courses blend exercise and physiology with psychological theories and methods. Classes also teach students about counseling techniques since sports psychologists must work one-on-one with clients to improve both their performance and mental well-being.
In order to properly address an athlete's mental condition, sports psychologists need to understand the effects of exercise on the body and mind. The class focuses on the body's responses to training and teaches students how to prevent certain exercise practices like overtraining that might harm an athlete.
Team Building and Group Dynamics
Students take this psychology-based course to explore effective ways to work together in groups or teams. The class focuses on problem-solving to train an athlete's mind to work as one unified team while also addressing the individual concerns of each member. Students also learn to alleviate possible complications to forming a cohesive group, such as racial and socioeconomic differences.
This course helps students learn about an injured player's path to rehabilitation, both mentally and physically. Students learn the steps needed in order to aid athletes in accepting their injury, recovering and moving forward.
Doctor of Philosophy in Sports Psychology
The Ph.D. distance learning program in sports psychology features advanced coursework and hands-on practice and research in the field. The program prepares students for high-level sports consultation positions, as well as research and postsecondary teaching.
Ph.D. applicants generally must hold a master's degree in psychology or a related field, meet a specific GPA requirement and submit a personal statement and multiple recommendation forms. Ph.D. distance learning programs are more limited than master's degree distance programs.
Program Information and Requirements
The Ph.D. distance program spans 3-7 years, and although the classes are taken online, programs might feature a residence requirement averaging about one class a year taken on campus. Students spend the last 2-3 years of the Ph.D. program working on a dissertation that emphasizes investigative research. Students must propose a unique subject to research and empirically test their theories about the topic.
Ph.D. courses in sports psychology emphasize the same combination of psychology and physiology featured in the master's program. More attention is paid, however, to investigation and research. Students also can work on their proposed subject of interest with greater individual flexibility.
Psychopathology and Treatment
Students learn about properly diagnosing and treating pathological disorders. They might study how disorders affect athletes and other members on a sports team and what counseling approaches are needed to work through these problems.
Advanced Studies in Kinesiology
The class revolves around human movement and motor behavior, explaining how reflexes and bodily stresses can influence a player's behavior on the field. Students then use these concepts about movement to propose theories on how to improve an athlete's performance.
Methods in Research and Investigation
This important Ph.D. course prepares students for the psychological research and experimentation needed to properly carry out their dissertation work. They must learn not only how to perform an experiment and collect data on it but also how to evaluate the result for accuracy and screen against any potential flaws or biases.
Many graduates with a master's degree in sports psychology go on to become practicing psychologists in their field, working for schools, universities and sports teams. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), counseling, clinical and school psychologists as a group earned a median salary of $70,580 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also projects a 20% rise in the number of counseling, clinical and school psychologists from 2014-2024, which is job growth that is much faster than the average for all occupations.
Those with a master's degree can also find employment as athletic counselors and advisors for schools, universities and private enterprises. School and career counseling positions are expected to rise by 8% from 2014-2024 since more job openings are predicted to open in the field than there are graduates ready to fill them. The BLS reported a median annual salary of $53,660 for educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors as of May 2015.
Athletic training is another popular occupation for master's degree graduates. Job opportunities are expected to grow 21% from 2014-2024, faster than the average for all occupations, but securing a position with a university or professional sports team can be quite competitive. The BLS reported that athletic trainers earned a median salary of $44,670 as of May 2015.
Students who earn a Ph.D. in sports psychology can pursue advanced careers as sports psychologists, athletic trainers, consultants and coaches. A Ph.D. also prepares students for postsecondary teaching and research in the sports and fitness field.
According to the BLS, recreation and fitness studies postsecondary teachers earned a median salary of $59,280, and the number of employed fitness studies postsecondary teachers was 17,980 as of May 2015. The predicted growth in this field is 10% (2014-2024), faster than average for all professions combined.
Continuing Education and Licensure Information
Most graduates with a master's degree in sports psychology can become practicing psychologists once they earn their licensure. State regulations and rules vary, but licensure typically involves approximately two years experience in the field and a passing score on the National Psychology Licensing Exam.
Students who want to work as sports psychologists are urged to also receive certification as Certified Consultants from the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). The AASP's Master's Application Process requires that applicants hold a master's degree and complete several hundred hours of experience in the field. The experience requirement is greater for those who hold a master's degree than for those who have earned their doctorate. Certified Consultants must apply for recertification every five years.
To become a practicing psychologist, Ph.D. graduates must undergo the same licensure process as master's degree graduates. To work as a Certified Consultant in the specific field of sports psychology, AASP Standard Certification is also needed. The certification for those who have earned their Ph.D. requires less experience than that required of master's degree holders. Those with their Ph.D. must still receive recertification every five years.
There are online programs available for the master's and doctoral degrees in sports psychology, although both programs will require on-site residencies for brief periods of time. While the master's program can be completed in two years, the doctoral program can take anywhere from three to seven years to complete. You will need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in order to apply for either program.