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Graduate Degree Programs in Sports Psychology Overview

Majors Overview January 20, 2016

This article talks about graduate degree programs in sports psychology and their education requirements, coursework, career choices, and job and wage outlook.

Information on Graduate Degree Programs in Sports Psychology

Schools typically offer sports psychology as a concentration within a doctoral or master’s program in clinical psychology. Enrollees in this program are taught the knowledge and skills they would need in helping clients improve their mental performance and health. In particular, athletes are taught by sports psychologists about maintaining their mental focus.

Master’s level coursework requires sports psychology students to learn to work directly with patients. Assessment and performance enhancement techniques may also be in the program. Coursework usually incorporates an internship and a master’s thesis. Clinical procedures are usually learned by doctoral students to augment education on the conduct of intensive research that could culminate in a dissertation.

Master of Arts (M.A.) Programs in Sports Psychology

Enrollees in sports psychology master’s degree programs learn about diagnostic methods, counseling techniques, and communicating with clients. Coursework in a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Sports Psychology involves spending considerable time in clinical settings assisting patients. Earning a master’s degree in sports psychology entails the completion by students of original research resulting in a lengthy research thesis.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school, in addition to submission of an application and processing fee, augmented by Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. Students may also have to have prior work experience as athletes or coaches.


Program coursework covers counseling techniques and personality disorders whereby students get training for comprehensive exams and the thesis. An internship with a sports organization or clinician is included in some programs to augment classroom instruction on core coursework topics such as:

•Youth sports psychology
•Ethics in sports psychology
•Performance enhancement
•Assessment strategies

Career Choices

A doctoral degree is a compulsory requirement for clinical psychologists working in sports psychology. There are limited full-time career options for holders of a master’s degree in sports psychology (Exercise and Sports Physiology Division of the American Psychological Association). Program graduates can choose from possible job options such as:

•Athletic Director
•Motivational speaker
•Performance specialist

Doctoral Programs in Psychology

Schools offering doctoral programs in sports psychology may award a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology. Program coursework in either degree includes a sports psychology concentration such as motor skill adjustment, stress performance or personality theory. Prospective doctoral candidates that complete either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in Sports Psychology may have to teach undergraduate classes.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to hold a master’s degree in a field such as psychology, biochemistry, or neurobiology, in addition to attending interviews and taking standardized tests.


The focus of program coursework is on research and dissertation writing, in addition to grasping clinical procedures and practicing them. Core coursework may cover topic areas such as:

•Team Psychology
•Psychology of injuries
•Motor learning and skills
•Society and Sports

Holders of either a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology can seek careers as sports psychologists involved with clinical and consulting practice.

Job and Wage Outlook

All psychologists are expected to see a 19% job growth over the 2012 – 2022 decade (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). In May 2014, clinical, counseling and school psychologists brought in an average annual wage of $74,030. The prospects for careers consulting with professional athletes are likely to be limited as compared to careers consulting with amateur athletes and teaching (APA).

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