Sports Psychology: Courses and Training Program Information

Training in sports psychology typically focuses on the mental and physical processes related to athletic performance. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth, and salary info for sports psychology graduates.

The study of sports psychology is often available through psychology programs at undergraduate and graduate levels. Careers in this field may include a position as a sports psychologist, which requires a graduate degree, as well as a coach or athletic trainer. Specialized knowledge of sports psychology can be gained through courses and work or internship experience.

Essential Information

Students interested in studying sports psychology can receive training in general psychology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. They can focus on sports psychology through some combination of an internship, independent study, concentration, and specialized classes. Topics covered in sports-specific classes include team building, leadership, human growth, group communication, motor learning, and motivating athletic performance. Classes with a more clinical focus may elaborate on counseling methods and ethical research. Online courses are available, though individual programs will likely require some form of supervised work experience.

Career Titles Sports Psychologist Coach Athletic Trainer
Education Requirements Doctorate degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree or higher
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Psychologists, other: +10% Coaches and Scouts: +6% +21%
Average Salary (2015) Psychologists, other: $93,050 Coaches and Scouts: $40,050 $46,940

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Settings for professionals with a degree in sports psychology include health and fitness clubs, university athletic centers, medical centers, counseling offices and youth programs. While becoming a sports psychologist is the most typical career path, there are several vocations where a background in sports psychology may prove beneficial. For example, both coaches and athletic trainers can improve their ability to motivate athletes by acquiring expertise in sports psychology strategies and methodologies.

Sports Psychologist

As a type of counseling psychologist, sports psychologists talk with patients to determine how their mental state may be affecting their ability to perform well in sports. Through the use of various counseling methodologies, sports psychologists help patients work through their issues and address problems directly. Psychologists may make recommendations on lifestyle changes that could ultimately improve the patient's mental state.

In general, psychologists require a doctorate degree in their field to be eligible for certification or licensure. The American Psychological Association recommends that psychologists specializing in sports psychology focus their education on such concepts as how exercise and sports medicine affect athletes physically and emotionally, assessment methods for athletes and athletic performance, and social issues in relation to participation in sports. Every state has different requirements for the certification or licensure process, but in general most states require candidates to complete a Ph.D. program, successfully fulfill an internship program, continue on to complete a residency program, and then pass the necessary exams. Psychologists who choose to specialize in sports psychology may want to choose internship and residency programs related to this field of specialty.

As of May 2015, the annual average salary for psychologists (classified as 'other') was $93,050, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This group of psychologists, which includes sports psychologists, was expected to experience a 10% rate of growth in job openings during the 2014-2024 decade. BLS records from the same year indicated that the psychologists who earned the highest average annual salaries worked in the following states: Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Maryland, and Virginia.


Every athletic team has one or more coaches in charge of instructing team members. Although coaches require strong leadership skills, they have to understand how far they can push their players to succeed. Coaches who gain a background in sports psychology may be better equipped to motivate and assist athletes to reach their full potential. Common duties for coaches may include recruiting new players, scheduling practices, planning exercise routines for athletes, making play strategies, and directing athletes during sporting events.

The majority of coaching positions require candidates to hold bachelor's degrees in related fields. To become a coach for high school sports, individuals may need to be licensed teachers, per the BLS. Personal experience playing in a sport may also be a requirement. Each sport has different certification requirements depending on the age of the players and the type of sport, and individual states may have additional certification requirements for this profession. Having certification in first aid and CPR is a fairly common requirement for coaches at all levels.

During the 2014-2024 decade, the BLS estimated that available positions for coaches, who were classified with scouts, would increase by 6%. Coaches may find more job opportunities at universities and colleges. Likewise, the BLS predicted that there would be more positions available for coaches of women's sports. Coaching can be a seasonal position, which may affect salary rates for this profession. As of 2015, the average annual salary reported by the BLS was $40,050.

Athletic Trainer

For the most part, athletic trainers provide medical and rehabilitative aid to injured athletes. Trainers may bandage wounds and stabilize injured athletes until other medical service providers arrive on scene. Through utilizing rehabilitative care techniques, these professionals also help athletes get back in shape after an injury. Although trainers usually deal with the physical ailments of athletes, it is not uncommon for stress or other mental ailments to affect an athlete's healing process, so trainers who have completed coursework in sports psychology may find themselves better prepared to treat their patients.

According to the BLS, the minimum education requirement for athletic trainers is a bachelor's degree, although many professionals in this industry hold master's degrees as well. Both undergraduate and graduate degree programs include clinical training as part of the degree requirements. The majority of states require these professionals to be certified or licensed in order to gain employment. Each state has different requirements, but most applicants must pass an exam as part of the process. To maintain licensure or certification, continuing education coursework is usually required.

The job outlook for athletic trainers is very high at an expected growth rate of 21% during the 2014-2024 decade, per the BLS. Sporting associations for youngsters and colleges are expected to have the most job opportunities for these professionals. In 2015, the average annual salary for athletic trainers was $46,940, per the BLS. The industries that paid the highest average annual salaries to these professionals in 2015 included colleges and universities, hospitals and elementary and secondary schools.

Sports psychology is a subset of psychology. Specialized courses in this specialty are available at undergraduate and graduate levels. Training can also be gained through work or internship experience. A background in this field affords a number of opportunities, including work as a sports psychologist, a trainer, or a coach, all of which have very distinct job responsibilities.

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