Online Sports Psychology Degree Programs

What Does a Sports Psychologist Do?

Sports psychologists use their expertise in cognition and behavior to help athletes overcome challenges and improve their performance. For example, these professionals may work with athletes who are battling anxiety or losing focus during competition. They can also help athletes improve their communication skills, control their emotions, boost their motivation, or cope with pressure. Some sports psychologists might focus on specific populations, such as athletes recovering from injuries or young athletes.

Sports psychology professionals work in hospitals, gyms, clinics, or rehabilitation centers. Others might be employed by professional sports organizations, colleges and universities, or larger K-12 school districts. Many sports psychologists are independent consultants, although they often collaborate with other specialists to help an individual athlete or team.

In addition to their training in psychological theory and practice, sports psychologists also need to be well-versed in subjects like physiology and kinesiology. Online degrees in sports psychology can help develop this interdisciplinary body of knowledge and the unique skill set required for these positions. While licensure as a psychologist usually requires a doctoral degree, many jobs in this field only require a master's degree in sports psychology.

Can You Get a Degree in Sports Psychology Online?

Several schools offer online degrees in sports psychology. While undergraduate programs in the field are rare, students can pursue an online bachelor's in psychology as a foundation for specialization at the graduate level.

At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, online programs closely resemble their school's on-campus offerings. Online and in-person programs usually have the same curricula, degree requirements, and employment opportunities. They are sometimes even taught by the same faculty members. These programs do not typically lead to licensure, so online students do not usually have to complete in-person components, such as internships or clinical hours.

Online programs offer greater flexibility to the students who need it. Distance learners can complete their coursework at whatever time is most convenient for them, making it easier to earn a degree while simultaneously managing personal and professional obligations. Online programs are also ideal for students with accessibility issues or difficulty commuting to campus. Because online students do not need to pay for room, board, or fees associated with on-campus resources and activities, distance learning programs can be less expensive than in-person programs.

Online programs have many benefits, but they are not for everyone. Distance learners must be highly self-disciplined. They must use their time effectively, stay organized, and be able to motivate themselves without the direct support of an instructor or classmates. Students considering an online program should carefully consider whether this style of learning suits them.

Are Practicums and Internships Required in an Online Sports Psychology Program?

As a general rule, neither online bachelor's nor master's programs in sports psychology lead to licensure. Therefore, they usually do not require students to complete any kind of clinical experience. However, students in these programs can still benefit from completing an internship. Working in the field allows students the opportunity to apply their learning to practical problems. Internships can also help students develop professional networks that they can leverage when searching for jobs.

Students seeking formal licensure as psychologists will need to complete a doctoral program, usually either a Ph.D. in psychology or a doctorate of psychology (Psy.D.). These programs require students to complete a one-year supervised internship in a clinical setting. It may be slightly more difficult for online students to find an internship site, but schools usually provide assistance and support. Students should first contact their professors, as faculty will typically have connections to organizations that can host interns. Many schools have career services departments that provide resources and facilitate connections. Finally, the American Psychological Association (APA) includes information about accredited internship opportunities on its website.

How to Become a Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologist education requirements vary based on occupation and employer. However, sports psychologists typically hold a master's degree. These programs usually require students to earn about 36 credits over the course of two years. While the cost of programs can vary greatly, the APA estimates that students pursuing a master's degree in psychology incur an average of $60,000 in debt. Accelerated online programs may allow students to earn their degree more quickly and at a lower cost.

To become a licensed sports psychologist, students need to earn a doctoral degree. These programs feature a supervised internship, during which students develop experience in a clinical setting. All psychologists must also pass the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology, a national licensing test administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. Some states may have additional licensure requirements as well. Prospective students should contact their state's licensing board to learn more.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Sports Psychology

Online bachelor's degrees in sports psychology are rare. Instead, many students pursue a bachelor's in psychology in order to develop an understanding of the fundamental principles in the field. General psychology programs prepare students for success in master's programs that specialize in sports psychology.

Undergraduate programs usually require students to earn about 120 credits. For most students, this takes around four years. However, some schools offer accelerated programs that can be completed more quickly. Other schools offer dual degree options, allowing students to earn credit towards a master's degree while they're still undergraduates.

Courses in these programs provide an introduction to the concepts of human behavior, human development, motivation, personality, cognition, learning, emotion, and perception. Students can also take electives in areas related to sports psychology.

Example Courses:

General Psychology

This foundational course provides students with an overview of the brain, emotion, motivation, perception, intelligence, sensory functions, gender and sexuality, social psychology, learning psychopathology, human development, and therapy. It also offers an introduction to the history of psychology.

Adult Development and Aging

Because many sports psychologists work with older athletes, it is important for them to understand the developmental process throughout adulthood. This course explores the physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial aspects of human development later in life. The course also helps to develop students' skills in evaluating psychological research.

Introduction to Sport and Exercise Pathology

In this class, students can sample whether sports psychology is right for them. Students learn about the factors that affect individual and group performance, review the latest theories and research related to understanding behavior in sports settings, and apply techniques they have learned in order to enhance performance.

Psychology of Coaching

Understanding the coach-athlete relationship is critical to the work of sports psychologists. Students examine the coaching profession and the role of the coach in improving both individual athlete and team performance. Students also learn strategies for effective coaching.

Leadership and Team Building

Leadership and team building have special significance in sports psychology. This course introduces students to various styles of leadership, including situational and charismatic. Students also examine team-building strategies and the differences in leadership across cultural contexts.

Online Master's Degree in Sports Psychology

Most jobs in the field of sports psychology require a master's degree. While a master's alone is not enough to qualify students for formal licensure, many online master's programs allow students to earn credits that can also be applied toward their doctoral studies.

Master's programs in sports psychology build on a student's undergraduate education. Through advanced coursework and capstone projects, students apply their knowledge of human behavior and cognitive processes to the field of sports and athletic performance. Online sports psychology degrees cover the theories, best practices, and current issues in the field. They also feature coursework in research methods. These classes prepare students for research-intensive doctoral programs and enable them to effectively use research as practitioners.

Example Courses:

Biological Basis of Behavior

This course offers an introduction to physiological psychology and functional neuroanatomy. Students develop an understanding of the relationship between the brain, neurotransmitters, and the body. They also learn about the connection between brain function and behavioral disorders.

Principles of Sport Psychology

In this class, students use psychological theories to explain and improve performance. Students explore how to meet the unique needs of diverse athletes with customized coaching strategies. They also review the latest research in the field and learn about concepts such as self-confidence, cognitive-behavioral intervention, and arousal adjustment.

Performance Enhancement in Sports

Sports psychologists help athletes move beyond what they perceive to be the physical and mental limits of their own performance. By studying techniques like progressive relaxation, meditation, hypnosis, autogenic training, biofeedback, and visualization, students learn several strategies for helping athletes improve their performance.

Applied Sport Psychology

This course focuses on the professional realities of working as a sports psychologist. Students grapple with ethical issues they might face in the field, examine and critique their personal approaches to sports psychology, learn to use research effectively, and consider the importance of continuing education.

Current Issues in Sport Psychology

By analyzing topical and relevant issues in sports psychology, students in this course apply what they have learned to challenges in real-world settings. This class helps students consider how they can ethically and professionally educate and improve the performance of athletes.

Required Licenses and Internships to Become a Sports Psychologist

As mentioned above, most online master's programs in sports psychology do not lead to licensure. Consequently, they usually do not require clinical experiences like practicums or internships. Many jobs in sports psychology only require a master's degree.

Sports psychologists interested in formal licensure will need to earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D. Most states require clinical psychologists to complete a doctoral program that includes a one-year supervised internship in a clinical setting. After graduation, prospective psychologists can sit for the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology. Some states may impose additional licensing requirements. Applicants should check with their state's licensing board for more information.

Careers for Sports Psychology Degree Holders

Sports psychologists may choose to work exclusively with young athletes at high schools, colleges, or youth sporting associations. Alternatively, they may specialize in rehabilitation and work in hospitals, medical centers, or treatment facilities. Other sports psychologists focus on team dynamics, offering their expertise to professional sports organizations or businesses that are struggling to create a sense of unity and cooperation among their employees. Below, we've highlighted a few careers you can pursue in the field.

  • Sports Psychologist
    Sports psychology is a broad field, and professionals use a variety of approaches to help improve the performance of individual athletes and teams. Sports psychologists might help athletes better cope with the stress of their sport, or work with coaches and trainers to better communicate goals and expectations. Most jobs require at least a master's degree.

  • Wellness Consultant
    Wellness consultants often work in spas, gyms, or other health organizations. They assess an individual's health needs and then connect them with the appropriate services and products. Because these positions do not require advanced expertise in psychology, candidates only need a bachelor's degree in a related field.

  • Performance Improvement Specialist
    Performance improvement specialists develop plans to improve patient care in a variety of healthcare settings, including rehabilitation facilities. They evaluate the ways in which care is provided, create strategies for improving efficiency and efficacy, and oversee the implementation of their plans. These jobs usually require at least a bachelor's degree in a field related to healthcare.

  • Learning Specialist
    Learning specialists educate an organization's employees and customers. For example, in a sporting organization, a learning specialist might discuss the various medical options that athletes can pursue after being injured. Educational requirements vary, but some positions require a master's degree in a related field.

What Does a Sports Psychologist Make in a Year?

Salaries for sports psychologists can vary greatly depending on location, specialization, level of education, and years of experience. As reported in an APA interview with Dr. Scott Goldman, the director of clinical and sport psychology at the University of Arizona, sports psychologists working in university athletic departments can make anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000 per year.

However, the article goes on to quote Dr. Mark Aoyagi, the director of sport and performance psychology at the University of Denver, who says that "[while] there is no ceiling to how much you can make... there is no floor, either." The field of sports psychology is still relatively new, so graduates should prepare to encounter a range of compensation packages as they pursue jobs in the field. The median annual salaries of four careers in this field are listed below.

Position Median Annual Salary
Sports Psychologist $70,496
Wellness Consultant $55,087
Performance Improvement Specialist $65,847
Learning Specialist $55,309

Source: PayScale

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