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Sports Psychology PhD Programs Guide

With the number of college athletes at a historically high level and as professional athletics continues to grow, the need for qualified sports psychologists will also continue to increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for psychologists to increase by 14% between 2018 and 2028, making right now a great time to pursue an advanced degree in the field.

A doctoral degree in sports psychology provides students with the skills, knowledge, and credentials necessary to practice in advanced careers in psychology. Keep reading to learn more about earning your Ph.D. in sports psychology.

Earning a Ph.D. vs. a Master’s

A master’s in sports psychology provides the foundation you need to pursue a doctoral degree in the field. However, each degree prepares graduates for different careers, with the doctoral degree opening pathways to more advanced roles in psychology practice. Depending on your career goals, you may wish to pursue one over the other.

The curriculum in a master’s in sports psychology program encompasses topics in general psychology, kinesiology, and clinical psychology. Generally, these programs require between 36 and 48 credits and take about two years to complete. Some master’s in sports psychology programs offer a dual degree option, allowing students to earn a master’s and Ph.D. in an accelerated format.

Sports psychology Ph.D. programs often prepare graduates for clinical practice. Offered less commonly than the master’s in sports psychology, this degree also prepares graduates to work in academia and teach college-level courses in the field. A master’s in sports psychology serves as the general requirement for entry-level positions, and a Ph.D. provides opportunities for advancement and clinical practice.

Degree Snapshot

Typical Admission Requirements:
3.5 GPA, GRE scores, master’s degree in sports psychology or a closely related field

Time to Completion:
3-4 years

Average Salary:
$75,000

Why Get a Ph.D. in Sports Psychology?

Pursuing a Ph.D. in sports psychology offers many personal and professional benefits, including advanced career options and the opportunity to pursue research in the field.

  • Sports psychologists can work with clients in exciting and unique settings.
  • A Ph.D. offers students and graduates the opportunity to pursue research and contribute to scholarship in the field.
  • Earning a doctoral degree allows graduates to pursue clinical practice in sports psychology.
  • Sports psychologists also pursue careers as coaches, mentors, and athletics directors, making it a diverse career field.
  • Graduate studies in sports psychology offer students more time and opportunity to explore the field and deepen their knowledge and skill set.

Example Curriculum

Curriculum requirements vary depending on the program. However, most Ph.D. in sports psychology programs require the following elements.

Coursework

Generally, students take advanced courses in psychology and explore topics in biological and cognitive behavior, statistics and research methods, and counseling. Some programs offer elective or specialization courses in exercise psychology. Sports psychology Ph.D. programs often emphasize research, with courses in qualitative and quantitative methods, and a research-oriented dissertation.

Practicum

Depending on their chosen career path, specialization, or degree concentration, students may complete different types of practicum study. Generally, a practicum involves supervised clinical practice in the field. In some Ph.D in sport psychology programs, a practicum involves working in lab settings, participating in research projects, or instructing undergraduate courses.

Dissertation

The dissertation often serves as the culmination of a student’s entire doctoral program. This formal research project allows students to design, implement, and write a comprehensive report in sports psychology. Generally, students complete the dissertation in their final year of study.

Internship

Similar to a practicum, programs may require an internship or field experience prior to or immediately following coursework completion. To count toward licensure, these internships must be approved by the American Psychological Association (APA). Generally, students must complete a minimum number of internship hours as dictated by their academic program.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Sports Psychology?

Although most graduates of sports psychology Ph.D. programs become sports psychologists and researchers in the field, some go on to pursue careers like coaching, mentoring, working as athletic directors, and teaching at colleges and universities. Graduates may also go on to practice general psychology or a variety of other career paths.

Salary: $75,000


Where Do Sports Psychologists Work?

Colleges and universities, private clinics, rehabilitation centers, gyms

Licensure

To practice sports psychology clinically, states require a license in psychology. Each state’s licensure requirements vary, so students wanting to pursue careers as sports psychologists should understand the requirements in the state they wish to practice in. These requirements typically include a minimum degree level, supervised practice hours, and passing an exam.

Most states require at least a master’s degree to earn psychology licensure. However, to practice clinically, a Ph.D. serves as the common requirement. Most sports psychology Ph.D. programs prepare students to meet licensure requirements. However, programs may specifically operate as non-licensure tracks, so students seeking licensure should select a program accordingly.

Every state requires a licensing fee, which can range from $50 to a few hundred dollars, depending on the state. Generally, professionals renew their clinical psychology license every 2-3 years, and renewal often incurs a fee.

Professional Organizations

  • Association for Applied Sport Psychology An international association with thousands of members, AASP offers members graduate training, professional development, and certifications. Members can also access awards and publications.
  • Society for Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology A division of APA, this society offers members scholarly publications in the sports psychology field, award opportunities, and student resources.
  • International Society of Sport Psychology ISSP publishes a scholarly journal in sports psychology and offers ongoing workshops, trainings, and webinars for professional development. This international association also holds a conference every four years.

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