Sports Psychology Master’s Programs: Everything You Need to Know
If you want to combine a passion for helping others with a die-hard love of sports, a career as a sports psychologist could be just what you’ve been looking for. These roles work directly with athletes and coaches to keep them on the path toward peak performance, physical condition, and mental health.
Both psychological and medical principles are needed to be a successful sports psychologist, and holding at least a master’s degree can best prepare you for the role. This can be achieved through programs tailored specifically to sports psychology, or with a double major in areas like clinical psychology and exercise science. Read on to learn about the education that’s needed to advance in the field.
What Is a Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology?
A master’s in sports psychology prepares students with the theories and principles concerning how coaches and athletes deal with the psychological and physical effects of playing sports. These graduate-level degrees teach the methods that can help teams improve their dynamics, boost their performance, recover from injuries, and overcome emotional obstacles caused by competition.
Most roles within the field require a master’s degree, and some may require a doctorate. Doctoral degrees such as the PhD, PsyD, and EdD are necessary if you wish to legally gain your license as a psychologist.
Are MA and MS degrees in sports psychology different?
Programs vary based on the institution you choose, but both a Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) can prepare you to work in the field. The overall principles and processes you learn will largely be the same, however the respective programs might have more of a tailored focus.
For example, an MA degree might emphasize more of the counseling aspects of the practice, training you to better address issues such as team building, motivation, and problems athletes are facing off the field. An MS degree might focus more on the physiological side of the practice, teaching you how to conduct research that improves the way players are trained or work with athletes through rehabilitation after injury.
Ultimately, the degree you choose should be based on how the overall curriculum aligns with your individual career goals.
Who are sports psychology graduate degrees intended for?
Master’s degrees in sports psychology are designed for students who have already earned their bachelor’s in the same or a related field. These may include general psychology, kinesiology, exercise science, or physical education, among others.
Terminal vs. non-terminal degree programs
Terminal programs are those that don’t require further education once they’ve been completed. In a non-terminal program, it’s often expected that you’ll go on to earn a higher degree. In the case of a master’s in sports psychology, choosing a non-terminal program means you should be dedicated to pursuing your doctorate in sports psych, clinical psych, or a related concentration.
Careers with a Master’s in Sports Psychology
There are many ways you can tailor a career in sports psychology, either by the types of people you work with or the kinds of issues you address. Keep in mind that sports psychology positions are rare and highly competitive, so the more ways you can tailor your career, the better.
Performance enhancement specialist
As the primary concern of many sports psychologists, performance enhancement involves using strategies to help athletes and coaches overcome the mental aspects of the game. This could include counseling them through feelings of failure or anxiety, helping them set realistic goals, teaching them relaxation techniques, or helping them through personal problems that might affect the way they play.
Team dynamics counselor
These roles work with sports teams as a whole instead of individual players. Often collaborating with personal trainers, physical therapists, and game strategists, they examine dynamics and introduce techniques that can improve the overall performance of the team.
Instructional sports counselor
Instead of working with the athletes themselves, instructional sports counselors guide coaches and trainers through methods that can boost the morale of their teams while increasing focus and motivation. If these roles don’t work with a team full-time, they might also provide coaches and trainers with ways they can address mental and emotional issues that might arise with their players.
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t report salary data for sports psychologists specifically, psychologists of all kinds earn an average annual wage of $93,440. That said, salaries for these roles are widely varied and depend on the state where you live and the setting in which you work.
According to Scott Goldman, the director of sports psychology at the University of Arizona, those working in the athletic department of a university can typically expect to make between $60,000 and $80,000 a year, with the highest salaries exceeding $100,000. Those working in rehab facilities will likely earn less, while a sports psychologist working with a national team might make significantly more.
Depending on the role, you might be required to hold your legal license as a psychologist. This requires having a doctoral degree and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
While it’s not required to hold certification, a sports psychologist might choose to become a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. This can open you up to better job opportunities and help you earn respect in the field. To gain this certification, you need to hold at least a master’s degree is sports science, psychology, or a closely related field, have completed 400 hours of supervised experience, and pass the CMPC Certification Exam.
Typical Degree & Career Paths in Sports Psychology
The typical path to becoming a sports psychologist begins with a 4-year bachelor’s degree in the same or related field. Starting with a 2-year associate’s degree can also save you time and money if you transfer those credits into a bachelor’s program.
Following completion of your studies at the bachelor’s level, you can then begin working on your master’s. Some schools may even offer dual degrees that let you work on your master’s at the same time as your bachelor’s. During your program, you should seek out an internship specific to sports psychology at a medical clinic, athletic facility, or with a university sports teams.
The next step, if you choose to do so, is to earn your doctorate—either through a PhD, PsyD, or EdD program. There are very few doctoral degree programs specifically for sports psychology, so you might opt to pair your master’s with a doctorate in fields like general psychology or physiology.
Academic Requirements Before Starting a Master’s in Sports Psychology
To enter a master’s program in sports psychology, you’ll need to have completed the equivalent of a bachelor’s-level education with at least 120 course credits.
Is there a GPA requirement?
In general, most master’s programs require at least a 3.0 GPA for admission, with many requiring a minimum of 3.3.
Can you get in if your bachelor’s isn’t in psychology?
This depends on the program, but many schools allow you to pursue a master’s without a bachelor’s specifically in your chosen field. Holding a bachelor’s degree in a science like psychology, physiology, or kinesiology could be incredible helpful for blending together the necessary aspects of the field. A business degree could also useful if you plan to work independently.
Do you need to take the GRE?
While not required for all master’s programs, taking the GRE may be helpful for those who are interested in pursuing an advanced degree. Some schools require the exam, some offer alternate tests, and some don’t require scores at all.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree?
This varies based on how many credits you need to take and whether you’re attending full- or part-time, however earning a master’s degree typically takes around 2 years.
The Master’s in Sports Psychology Curriculum
Students in these programs will learn both the principles of general and clinical psychology, along with topics related to the science exercise and the body.
What core classes are involved?
Core classes will depend on the program you choose, however you can expect to take some form of the following courses:
- Advanced kinesiology
- Psychology of athletic injury
- Psychology of coaching
- Adult development and aging
- Ethics in sports and exercise
- Stress in sports and exercise
- Motivational processes
- Leadership and team building
- Conflict resolution
Number of course credits
Most master’s programs require you to take at least 36 credits, with some nearing as high as 60. Some students, especially those who won’t be attending on a full-time basis, may evaluate schools on a cost-per-credit basis.
As sports psychology is already a highly focused concentration within the broader field of psych, you likely won’t tailor your degree further. That said, the type program you choose may put more of an emphasis on different parts of the practice, such as counseling or research.
Is Fieldwork or a Practicum Required?
Again, this is dependent on your program, though many schools may require you to have an internship or participate in another type of supervised fieldwork. Even if this isn’t required, an internship can help you find job opportunities once you graduate.
If you choose to go on to earn a doctoral degree, at least 1 year of fieldwork is required.
Can You Get an Online Master’s in Sports Psychology?
Several schools offer online degrees, though it’s important to note that sports psychology programs are harder to find in general than other concentrations within the field.
Online programs offer a great deal of flexibility and are ideal options for adults who wish to pursue a degree while working or have other duties, such as taking care of kids. However, any required internships or other fieldwork will need to be completed in person.
These options are best for those who want a more traditional college experience, live on or near to campus, and want more face-to-face time with professors and other students. You might still have flexibility, however, if your program offers classes at night or on the weekend.
An increasingly popular option for degrees of all kinds is the hybrid program, which allows you to take many of your courses online and attend on-campus classes just 1 or 2 times a week.
If you have the time and energy to undergo highly rigorous training, you may be able to earn your degree through an accelerated program. Choosing this option might allow you to graduate in up to half the time.
Can I Apply Credits Toward a Doctorate?
While this depends on the doctorate being considered, many schools allow you to apply relevant credits to an advanced degree.
Master’s/doctorate joint degree programs
You may be able to find a program that lets you work on your master’s and doctoral degrees simultaneously. You’ll first focus solely on your master’s education and then begin work on your doctorate once you’ve earned a certain number of credits. Students in these programs often take around 5 years to complete their degrees, which can be significantly shorter than if they pursued the degrees separately
Financial Aid for Sports Psychology Students
There are several different types of financial aid available for students seeking a master’s degree. The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines how much assistance the U.S. government believes you’re qualified to receive. This aid can come in the form of loans, grants, or work-study stipends. You can also apply for private loans through banks and other institutions.
You might also qualify to receive scholarships based on academic merit or other criteria. Fellowships are also a great way to fund your education. Given to full-time graduate students, these financial awards may be short or long term and often come with additional stipends and benefits. Teaching or research assistant positions are also an option, allowing you to earn income while getting education that supports your degree.
Does Sports Psychology Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?
Student loan forgiveness programs don’t exist for sports psychology specifically, but it’s possible that you could still qualify for forgiveness through the federal Public Loan Forgiveness Program. That said, qualifying requires gaining employment through a government agency or 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which isn’t very likely in the field of sports psychology.
Professional Organizations for Sports Psychology
Becoming a member of a professional organization can provide great opportunities to network, gain new education, and obtain special certification. Some groups include:
- Association for Applied Sport Psychology: As the largest and most prominent group specifically for sports psychology, the AASP offers cutting-edge publications, webinars, conferences, and professional certification. The association is also one of the best ways to learn about new job opportunities across the United States.
- International Society of Sport Psychology: The ISSP is dedicated to promoting sports psychology research, practice, and development all around the world. They hold conferences, publish a newsletter, and recognize members with a number of different awards.
- American Psychological Association, Division 47: As part of the APA, Division 47 acts as a society for sport, exercise, and performance psychology. It brings together those who are interested in research, teaching, and service, fostering a community of colleagues and sharing new research through newsletters and journals.
- International Institute for Sport and Human Performance: Based out of the University of Oregon, the IISHP provides access to a large online collection of sports psychology research dating as far back as the 1940s. The institute also offers continuing education opportunities and certification through the American College of Sports Medicine.
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