Sports Psychologists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

High school students should take a college preparatory curriculum that concentrates on English, mathematics, and sciences. Classes in a foreign language, especially French and German, are also important because reading comprehension of these languages is one of the usual requirements for obtaining a doctoral degree. Participation in sports will give you the background necessary to effectively understand the athletes you work with in your practice.

Postsecondary Training

A doctoral degree is generally required for employment as a psychologist, but there are two different degrees that psychologists can seek at the doctorate level. The first degree is the Ph.D., and psychologists with this degree qualify for a wide range of teaching, research, clinical, and counseling positions in universities, elementary and secondary schools, and private industry. The second degree is the Psy.D. (doctor of psychology); psychologists with this degree qualify mainly for clinical positions. The Ph.D. culminates in a dissertation based on original research, while the Psy.D. is usually based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. In clinical or counseling psychology, the requirements for a doctoral degree usually include a year or more of internship or supervised experience.

Individuals who have only a master's degree in psychology are allowed to administer tests as psychological assistants and, if they are under the supervision of doctoral-level psychologists, they can conduct research in laboratories, conduct psychological evaluations, counsel patients, and perform administrative duties. They are also allowed to teach in high schools and two-year colleges and work as school psychologists or counselors.

Those individuals with only a bachelor's degree in psychology can assist psychologists and other professionals and work as research or administrative assistants, but without further academic training they cannot advance further in psychology.

Having said all of this, it will perhaps come as a shock that there are no sports psychology doctoral programs accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). One of the controversies behind this is whether professionals working with athletes in applied areas of sports psychology should be required to have doctoral training in clinical or counseling psychology—training which would qualify them to provide psychological treatment to athletes as well. The solution reached by the APA, along with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) and North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity, is that any practitioners of sports psychology who do not also have doctoral-level clinical or counseling training should refer athletes who need treatment to licensed professionals. Sports psychologists who work with Olympic athletes are required to have doctoral-level degrees.

Those students who are interested in academic teaching and research in sports psychology can earn doctoral degrees in sport sciences and take additional courses in psychology or counseling. Over 50 schools in the United States offer this type of program, including the University of Florida ( Typical subjects covered include sports psychology, performance enhancement, concentration skills, stress and attention management, and motivation.

Those students who want more emphasis on psychology in their training can pursue a psychology doctorate in areas such as group procedures, psychotherapy, learning, education, and human development or motivation, with a subspecialty in sports psychology. At most universities, students take courses like these in the sport sciences department, while it is possible to take similar courses through the psychology department of some schools.

Students who wish to provide clinical services to athletes can pursue a doctoral degree in APA-accredited clinical or counseling psychology programs, with a concentration in sports psychology. This track offers students the widest range of job opportunities, from teaching and research in sports and psychology to counseling athletes as well as the general population. Institutions where this mode of study is typical include the University of Wisconsin-Madison ( and the University of North Texas (

For those students who are interested primarily in educating people about the health benefits of exercise or in helping student athletes, a master's degree is an option. Many sport sciences departments offer a master's degree in areas related to sports psychology.

For more detailed information on graduate programs in psychology and sports psychology, look for The Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport Psychology, edited by Michael L. Sachs, Kevin L. Burke, and Sherry L. Schweighardt. 

Other Education or Training

Professional associations such as the Association for Applied Sports Psychology, the American Psychological Association, and the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity offers webinars and other professional development courses online and through their conferences.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

In addition to educational requirements, most states require that all practitioners of psychology meet certification or licensing requirements if they are in independent practice or involved in offering patient care of any kind (including clinical and counseling). Once the educational requirements are fulfilled, a sports psychologist should contact the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology for details about certification and licensing requirements, as they usually vary from state to state.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

At least a year or more of internship or supervised experience is required to work as a clinical or counseling psychologist. 

Various personal attributes apply to different psychology positions because sports psychology is such a broad field. Clinical sports psychologists should be able to relate to others and have excellent listening skills. Educational sports psychologists should have strong communication skills in order to convey ideas and concepts to students and clients. Research sports psychologists should be analytical, detail oriented, and have strong writing and mathematics skills.