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Psychology Career Path: Sports Psychology

Potential Career Paths

  • Sports Psychologist (MA, PhD)
  • Clinical Psychologist (MA, PhD)
  • Sport Psychology Professional
  • Sport Psychology Consultant
  • Sport Psychology Practioner
  • Performance Enhancement Specialist
  • Performance/Mental Coach

Potential Graduate Programs

  • Clinical Psychology (M.A.,Ph.D., PsyD.)
  • Counseling (M.A.)

Action Steps for Students

To become more involved in sports psychology or learn about the profession, here is what students can do:

  • Join professional organizations, such as Division 47 (Exercise and Sports Psychology) of the American Psychological Association.
  • Schedule a meeting with a sports psychologist to discuss the profession.
  • Perform volunteer work in a mental health fitness or sports setting.
  • Read professional journals, such as the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology and Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

What Is Sports Psychology?

Sports psychology is the study of the psychological and mental factors that influence and are influenced by participation and performance in sports, exercise, and physical activity, and the application of the knowledge gained through studying the above factors to various settings.

Sports psychology professionals are interested in how participation in sports, exercise, and physical activity may enhance personal development and well-being throughout the life span.

Sports psychologists are involved in assisting coaches in working with athletes as well as helping improve athletes’ motivation.

Entry-level positions with a bachelor’s degree are rare and are usually in the form of internships. Most positions require a master’s or doctorate degree in clinical, counseling, or sports psychology, as well as direct training and experiences that apply psychology to sports and exercise.

Because there are few graduate programs offering specialized degrees in sports psychology, Division 47 of the American Psychological Association suggests that sport psychologists should be licensed psychologists with “experience in applying psychological principles in sports settings.”

The purpose of the sports psychology track is to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of psychology while providing students who want to focus on the interplay of psychological and mental factors in sports, exercise, and physical activity with the appropriate coursework.

Undergraduate Course Requirements

Students who are interested in pursuing a career in sports psychology should be sure to work with an adviser to develop an academic plan that is tailored to their interests. The plan should lead to the completion of coursework that is useful for an entry-level position in the sports psychology field or for admission to a graduate program in this field.

University and College Requirements

In addition to the suggestions for the sports psychology track, be sure to complete all other university and college requirements, including the foreign language requirement.

The center staff recommend beginning the foreign language requirement in the first year. NOTE: Students may begin with a class higher than 1110 depending on foreign language placement test results. It is possible to place out of the foreign language requirement. Therefore, it is recommended that students take the placement test for any foreign language completed in high school.

Required Courses in Psychology

The following courses are highly recommended for students planning on pursuing a graduate degree in sports psychology:

  • PSY 2720 Psychology of Personality (3)
  • PSY 3240 Human Psychophysiology (3)
  • PSY 3250 Psychology of Health & Illness (3)
  • PSY 3420 Adulthood & Aging (3)
  • PSY 3710 Intro to Clinical & Counseling (3)

Fieldwork and Research in Psychology

It is highly recommended that students interested in sports psychology participate in research in a psychology lab and engage in fieldwork in settings related to the student’s particular area of interest.

Additional Recommended Courses

Below are additional courses outside of the Psychology Department that may be relevant to those interested in sports psychology.

  • COED 2120 Introduction to Coaching (3)
  • EXPH 1490 Introduction to Exercise Science (3)
  • HLTH 2100 Women & Health (3)
  • EXPH 3200, 3205 Biomechanics + Lab (4)
  • EXPH 2200 Applied Kinesiology (3)
  • EXPH 4140 Physiology of Exercise (3)

One of the two following sequences is recommended:

  • BIOS 1030 Human Biology I (3)
  • BIOS 2030, 2035 Human Biology II (4)
  • BIOS 2050, 2060, 2250, or any other 2000-level or higher BIOS course
  • Or BIOS 1700, 1705 Biological Sciences I: Molecules and Cells + Lab (4)
  • BIOS 3010, 3015 Human Anatomy + Lab (4)
  • BIOS 3450, 3455 Human Physiology + Lab (5)

Note: Be sure to check prerequisites for all coursework.

Students who intend to go to graduate school in school psychology are encouraged to complete courses in Biological Sciences.