Last Updated on September 24, 2021
Master’s in Sports Psychology Degree Guide
The Emergent Field of Sports Psychology
Have you ever noticed that regardless of how much you practice and prepare, a slight change in your attitude or outlook, a minor distraction, or a word of encouragement can make all the difference in your athletic performance? Well, there’s a whole sub-field of psychology devoted to the study and practice of optimizing athletic performance through psychological principles.
Sports psychology is generally understood as using psychological expertise to achieve success and solve issues arising in sport. As defined by the American Psychology Association,
“Sports Psychology addresses the interactions between psychology and sport performance, including the psychological aspects of optimal athletic performance, the psychological care and well-being of athletes, coaches, and sport organizations, and the connection between physical and psychological functioning.”
Sports psychology can be used at the micro-level–working with individual athletes and their coaches, or with individuals who are hoping to find a new exercise regimen to get in better shape–or at the macro level, working with teams–from the youth ranks through scholastic sports all the way to the professional level–to help cohesion and camaraderie as they work toward their goals.
Sports psychology is frequently utilized at the organizational level, where athletic directors or executives will determine a broader philosophy which then applies to everyone within the system. It can be applied in a wide variety of contexts, and it can have a remarkable affect on everyone involved in a program by allowing sports-specific psychological insights to define the character and approach of the entire organization, whether it be a youth team, a local fitness center, or a professional sports franchise.
Master’s in Sports Psychology Programs
A master’s in sports psychology program could be the ideal capstone to help get you break into a career in the field of sports psychology. Like any other master’s program, a bachelor’s degree in psychology (or a related field with similar pre-requisite courses) required to be considered for a master’s program. Two of the most common are psychology and kinesiology, but it is possible to attain admission to a master’s program with a number of different undergraduate degrees.
While a bachelor’s degree in psychology naturally introduces students to the wide world of psychology, a master’s degree in sports psychology prepares graduates to specialize in the wide world of sports and fitness. As most undergraduate psychology degrees would likely not include any sports-specific courses, a master’s degree focusing exclusively on sports applications of psychology is necessary for those pursuing a career in this field.
Further, given how diverse this field is – and how varied the career goals are foe each individual – the chance to specialize in a concentration area of interest is very important since the skills set required for dealing with top-tier athletes and organizations are quite different from the skill sets used designing programs for youth and individuals.
Specializations in Sports Psychology
There are three main fields or specializations that students typically pursue upon completing a master’s of sports psychology program.
- Sports Psychology Consulting and Mental Performance Consulting.
- While legally speaking most people in this field cannot refer to themselves as sports psychologists, this can be a very interesting path for a lot of students. Generally, students will attain a master’s degree in sport psychology (usually from a kinesiology program). The degree is usually categorized as a Master of Education, or a Master of Science, but can also be a Master of Arts.
- People working in this field are taking a hard look at different factors that can enhance performance in sport, but do not consider mental health aspects.
- One possible route for students to consider is gaining a certification through the Association For Applied Sport Psychology.
- Mental Health in Sport
- To break into this field, students typically pursue a master’s degree in social work, clinical psychology, or counseling psychology. These degrees could be categorized as either a Master of Social Work or a Master of Arts depending on the degree structure and university. To be competitive and prepared to work in this field, specifically in sport, students should have studied sport and sports psychology as part of their program.
- Professionals in this field are concerned with addressing the mental health of athletes as opposed to their sport performance. Because of this, they are licensed professionals, certified to deliver mental health care.
- Sports Psychologist
- A sports psychologist meets the qualifications of the above fields, thus being able to address mental health in sport as well as performance in sport.
- A sports psychologist is a licensed professional providing professional guidance and care and is equipped to help increase performance, and address mental health concerns.
A master’s in sports psychology degree offers the opportunity to specialize in areas such as attention and concentration, motivation, sports performance enhancement, sport sociology, and psychology of rehabilitation and recovery. It will also familiarize graduates with potential applications of the degree through networking relationships with professionals who are already in the workforce.
Why Should I Study a Masters in Sports Psychology?
For graduates who are passionate about both psychology, sports, and/or health and wellness a master’s degree in sports psychology might be the key to the career path of your dreams. A PhD or PsyD is required for licensed, practicing sports psychologists at the very top of the discipline, but there are a great deal more positions for which a master’s degree is all but required. A masters in sports psychology prepares graduates for a wide variety of positions in the wide world of sport, and this degree might be the perfect opportunity to build highly valuable skills in a growing field.
This is an inherently interdisciplinary field, and depending on which area you would like to focus in, expertise in complementary areas related to sports and wellness will be required if not incredibly useful. For this reason, a master’s degree in sports psychology could be an attractive addition for individuals with a foundation in psychology who are already educated in fields like exercise science, kinesiology, athletic administration, or sport management.
An advanced degree in sports psychology equips graduates with bona fide credentials that can be applied to the broad–and growing–sports industry, while also teaching a valuable skill set that is applicable across the business world and beyond. For those who are passionate about sports, this degree could make the difference in qualifying yourself for the career you have always dreamed of.
Prior to pursuing a masters degree in sports psychology, it is strongly advised to determine which area of this field you’d like to specialize in before choosing a program since different programs naturally have their own strengths. Be sure to ask your academic and professional advisors early in the process to consider a variety of perspectives before making your decision.
How to Choose the Right Master’s Program in Sports Psychology
As the sports industry has grown, so too has the need for a host of other careers in the sports, including sports psychology. In turn, this demand has led to a great many universities now offering master’s degrees in sports psychology. While it is obviously wonderful to have so many programs to choose from, it also makes the process of due diligence in considering all quality options incredibly challenging and time consuming.
You are likely to discover that there are far more options than you would have expected at every price point, and determining the strengths and features of competing programs can sometimes be an arduous task. For this reason, we advise taking the time to complete a spreadsheet so you can consider the metrics that are most important to you side-by-side between similar programs.
Investing time and energy on the front end of the diligence process will save money, time, and remorse later as it ensures you won’t have any regrets about programs or options that you didn’t learn about until it was too late. We recommend trimming your list down to a top six-to-eight schools which will naturally include a couple of preferred or “reach” universities along with some safety schools to fall back on in case you don’t manage to get admitted to your top picks.
What is Required for Acceptance into a Master’s in Sports Psychology Program?
The vast majority of universities and schools require a bachelor’s degree with a GPA over 3.0 to be considered for a master’s degree in sports psychology along with GRE test results. Prior fields of study are not restricted to be accepted into most programs, though some schools do have some prerequisite courses. Professional experience in a related field is generally preferred but not required. Keep in mind that some programs are highly competitive while others are able to accept the majority of their applicants.
Applying for a Sports Psychology Graduate School Program
To get started, it is wise to gather key pieces of information about each program, including GRE and GPA requirements, application deadlines and semester start dates, and the length of each program so that you don’t lose track of these items. You will always need to provide proof of your transcripts and letters of recommendation, so there is no reason to delay collecting this information so you have it ready to go when you need it.
Concerning your recommendation letters, do what you can to build these relationships early–and always ask for them well in advance–to make sure that your recommendations are solid and sparkling. They can sometimes make the difference between being accepted and not, so invest the time and energy to make sure you will win in this area.
How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology?
Most schools offer the master’s degree in sports psychology in one or two years of full time study, and it is quite common for many schools to offer popular alternative schedules as well. Many schools also have a two year option to study the master’s degree on a part-time basis.
Depending on the institution, many programs also include preferred placement for internships or work on capstone projects with local professional sports teams. These opportunities can be a great way to leverage existing networks to pursue attractive positions that could potentially be a good fit for you, though these practical components.
What are the Graduation Requirements for a Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology?
Program graduation requirements can vary a great deal between different schools, with some programs placing great emphasis on capstone projects and others focusing on exams and collaborative projects. Generally speaking, most programs require 30-36 credits for a masters in sports psychology, depending on whether there is a thesis component required
How Much Does a Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology Cost?
Tuition for a master’s degree in sports psychology varied widely between schools–with some 100% online and others on prestigious campuses–and programs can range from $18,000 – $70,000+ for a two-year degree. For on-campus programs, additional expenses (housing, etc.) will also need to be accounted for. Many universities do offer financial aid for qualifying students, and it is always worth asking if any assistance might be possible.
Masters in Sports Psychology Concentrations and Specialties
Since sports psychology covers such a broad range of material, many students choose to further specialize their degree by pursuing a “concentration” within their graduate degree. Below are a few of the more popular specialties within sports psychology, as defined by the APA:
Applied Sports Psychology – This concentration deals with helping individuals set and achieve goals, understand motivation and drive, and the use of imagery in the process. Importantly, these skills can be applied in a health and wellness setting (working with youth, designing fitness programs for the general public) or with professional athletes to help them overcome injuries or obstacles and achieve greatness.
Clinical Sports Psychology – For individuals who are interested in working with athletes and athletic organizations to help train, coach, and counsel players. In many cases, psychologists are combining mental training strategies from sports psychology and psychotherapy to help athletes with mental health issues they may be facing.
Academic Sports Psychology – Working in the academic space is satisfying and rewarding for many people, and as the field grows, so will the need for qualified professors to educate the next generation of sports psychologists.
Other Sports Psychology Concentrations and Paths
At many universities there is constant research being done in the realm of sports psychology. If you are interested in diving into a particular topic such as imagery, team dynamics, or elements of elite performance (just to name a few), then it could be worthwhile to spend some time researching current or recent projects. Tools like Google Scholar can help you see what research is out there. If your topic of interest is being pursued by a professor, there is no harm in reaching out, asking for advice, seeing about the possibility of graduate assistantships, and seeing if there are any upcoming projects related to this research that you could help with. Many times, researching while obtaining a graduate degree can lead to a full-time position at the university.
While briefly mentioned earlier, there are several avenues one can pursue in the realm of rehabilitation. A sports psychology professional can help athletes recover from the mental aspects of an injury. This could include overcoming frustration, handling depression, or regaining physical ability that existed prior to the injury.
Leadership in Sports
For those who plan to reach the top tier of coaching, team management, or athletic direction, Leadership in Sports is the ideal concentration within Sports Psychology. To become a top decision maker who brings out the best in others, you’ll need to set your sights high and equip yourself with the academic foundation of a Master’s Degree tailored to high level management in a collegiate, semi-professional, or professional organization. A Leadership in Sports concentration will set you apart from the rest of the pack as you pursue your path to the top of a sports organization.
Advantages to Studying your Masters in Sports Psychology Degree on Campus
Many of the advantages for studying your master’s degree on campus relate to the networking and in-person connections that many universities provide through their sports programs, internships, and mentorship with nearby professional and minor league teams. While there are other ways to find these opportunities, the ease of which many programs plug in to them at some universities is certainly a selling point. The chance to collaborate in-person with other like-minded individuals who share your passion for the sports industry is also an incentive for studying on campus.
Why Consider Studying your Masters in Sport’s Psychology Degree Online?
Despite the above advantages, there is no question that earning your Master’s in Sport Psychology degree through an online program also has a great deal of upside.
For many working professionals with busy lives, it is simply impossible to dedicate a full year to living on campus –possibly far from home and responsibilities – to getting a master’s degree. However, since online degrees offer both synchronous and asynchronous studying, many students are able to carve out time around their busy schedules to complete their coursework.
Whereas just a few years ago online degree programs were viewed as inferior alternatives to on-campus programs, that stigma is now a thing of the past. The global pandemic has ushered in a new age where online programs are now accepted as equal to classroom learning. Universities offering both online and on-campus degree programs now grant the same degrees whether students attended in person or online and there is no difference in the final diploma.
As the entire world has adapted to living online, networking, internship and career placement services and events have now gone virtual as well, so online programs can now offer the same networking opportunities as on-campus programs.