Sports Psychology Degree Guide

Overview of Sports Psychology Degrees

Having good mental health creates profound positive effects on your daily well-being. Psychology revolves around protecting people from emotional and physical harm while making sure they’re well-equipped with the necessary mental bandwidth to handle daily events and activities. 

In the case of sports and athletics, Athletes often face emotional stress and anxiety from parents, coaches, and even personal expectations. 

A sports psychologist helps athletes cope with the pressure of competition, build up self-esteem, and enhance performance through visualization and relaxation techniques. From this list, we can see how sports psychologists can help people both on and off the field. The same strategies could be used even outside of the workplace. Relaxation techniques, mental rehearsals, and cognitive restructuring are all useful techniques that could be used by employees in the workplace as well. 

Before sports psychologists impact the field, however, they’ll need to get a degree in sports psychology.

Whether it’s a Bachelor’s or Master’s, whether it’s physical or online, a degree in sports psychology will equip its holder with the counseling skills needed to figure out the current deficiencies of a player, knowledge of psychology, the capability of verbally and physically communicating with others, and the patience to remain calm in stressful situations. 

Through hands-on learning and the potential for real-world research opportunities, a sports psychology degree will prepare you for many career paths that include coaching, athlete training, health and wellness mentoring, sports psychology consultations, and many more. 

More specifically, as a sports psychologist, you’ll deal with many people in highly intense situations: coaches, managers, and athletes. A sports psychologist will be tasked with actively listening to their current situation, addressing existing problems, and prescribing a solution. 

The path to becoming a sports psychologist requires a few specific steps. Educational requirements would typically include Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees.


Featured Sports Psychology Degree Programs

  • 100% Online Courses
  • Affordable Tuition
  • Large Alumni Network

Grand Canyon University Online

M.S. in Psychology: Health Psychology

Explore the intersection of biological, social and psychological factors, and their effects on health, wellness and illness.

  • Affordable Tuition
  • Flexible Online Courses
  • HLC Accredited

Grand Canyon University Online

B.S. in Performance and Sports Psychology

Earn you B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology with Grand Canyon University Online.

What is a Sports Psychologist?

A sports psychologist aims to use cognitive knowledge and skills to bring out the optimal performance of athletes. 

They tackle the mental aspect of any existing developmental, societal, or organizational issues that may negatively impact the team’s performance. 

Visualization, for example, is one example of a practice that many sports psychologists employ. Visualization is the process of creating a mental image or intention of what you want to happen and, from there, bringing it into reality.

Research has shown that athletes can improve physical and psychological reactions in certain situations through visualization. Kobe Bryant, for example, would practice the same move over and over again to build up the right habits and perform the skills he’s foreseen in his mind’s eye. With consistent practice, he builds up the visual, kinesthetic, and auditory cues to assess the probability of his jump shot going. 

A sports psychologist’s job is to help the athlete build on these sensory details and attain the mental bandwidth to visualize and rehearse the techniques needed to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the training models. 

Many athletes fail to develop the mental capacity needed to succeed in their chosen professions. 

In summary, here are some of the key processes that a sports psychologist would be left in charge of:

Cognitive and Behavioral Skills Training For Performance Enhancement

Performance enhancement is every sports psychologist’s utmost priority. They spend the majority of their day reading and running studies to understand what makes the greatest athletes the best at what they do.  Under this umbrella of skills training falls some already-established tactics like visualization, goal setting, and imagery as well as newer skills such as concentration and attention control strategies, self-confidence and esteem development strategies, and emotional management. 

Sports Psychologists also handle leadership and motivation training. These workshops focus on the internal motivation of leaders and their capability to empathize with their employees, peers, and even superiors to nudge them toward a specific action in the hopes of achieving a specific goal.

Counseling and Clinical Interventions

This is the most common job descriptor that a sports psychologist might see.

When an athlete faces difficulty in performance, a sports psychologist comes in and pokes and prods around the inner workings of the athlete’s mind to discover the inner troubles of the mind. Everything from eating disorders, weight management, substance abuse, depression, career transitions, and burnout would be discussed by a sports psychologist. Even practices like over-training and athletic injury and rehabilitation, things that would normally be attributed to physical training could be covered by and benefit from a session with a psychologist.

Consultation and Training

The sports psychologists’ third priority is consultation and training, which involved team building and sports organization consultations. A sports psychologist may also hold seminars and workshops for coaches to build their leadership and motivational skills. With the sports industry being a cut-throat industry, it’s important that coaches, mentors, and administrators are aware of preventive measures that reduce the risk of psychological difficulties brought about by burnout.

In terms of the work environment, one may find the sports psychologist to be spending most of their time in an office within the confines of a team organization. Unlike other medical practitioners, however, sports psychologists could also be found outside in the same environments as the athletes that they counsel: including golf courses, gymnasiums, or the great outdoors.  Depending on the type of psychologist you are, you may find yourself in an office or the field. Regardless, the majority of a sports psychologist’s daily routine will revolve around sitting in their office or laboratory to review and study the data they’ve received. 

No matter where you work, though, you’ll need the proper licenses.

To become a licensed clinical sports psychologist, states will likely require you to earn a doctorate in psychology. After which, you’ll practice for two years under a licensed psychologist before passing a qualifying exam. Each state will have its own requirements for licensure, as provided by The Association of State Provincial Psychology Boards.

More specifically, The American Board of Sport Psychology offers board certification. While this is not required for a state license, it remains a valuable endorsement of your skills and knowledge – especially if you’re looking at private practice later.

What Are the Benefits To An Online Degree in Sports Psychology?

Earning an online degree in Sports Psychology holds expansive carer opportunities. This doesn’t hold much surprise given that an accredited sports psychologist does hold a doctorate. The need to find an edge extends far beyond the basketball hardwood or the golf course, they extend to business board rooms, the art studio, and even in the operating room. Suppose a quarterback can visualize a perfect pass to his receiver, for example. In that case, a dancer can envision the same pirouette, an advertising executive could imagine making the perfect pitch, and a budding entrepreneur could deliver the best cold call. These all fall under the umbrella of performance enhancement due to sports psychology.

No matter what field or industry, there is a benefit from pushing past setbacks, losses, and distractions – and a sports psychologist could give them the edge.

Here are some other benefits that a sports psychology degree holder would have:

Real-World Applications

The world of sports psychology expands way beyond the realm of athletics. The skills and knowledge developed during this time of learning could be used for the board room, art studio, and dance floor. The ability to concentrate, for example, is one of the principles developed by sports psychologists for their athletes. Who wouldn’t benefit from being able to concentrate a little more? Concentration helps you to narrow your focus to a particular task within that moment and tune out distractions. It helps you focus on what needs to be done and bring it to the next level.

Self-confidence is another key skill that sports psychologists may leave on their patients. Having self-confidence can lead to higher performance and better mental health. Better yet, those with higher confidence levels are more likely to focus on growth and improvement.

Continuous Demand

As industries outside of sports are becoming more aware of the importance of mental health for individual performance, the demand for sports psychologists will only increase over time. Interestingly, the U.S. Army is currently the largest employer of sports psychologists in the country. Why? Because they believe that mental skills training improves cognitive and physical abilities – leading them to create better, more efficient choices in the battlefield.

While continuous demand shouldn’t be the sole reason for anyone to take on a profession, it’s nice to know that you’ll likely have some form of job security post-graduation.

More Free Time

Working towards a degree through online mechanisms has its own advantages. One key benefit of earning an online degree in sports psychology is the lack of physical presence. Sure, you’ll still have to join all your classes online but you won’t actually have to spend time commuting to get there and back. This will leave the student with more energy and time to work on projects outside of their degree.


Featured Sports Psychology Degree Programs

  • 100% Online Courses
  • Affordable Tuition
  • Large Alumni Network

Grand Canyon University Online

M.S. in Psychology: Health Psychology

Explore the intersection of biological, social and psychological factors, and their effects on health, wellness and illness.

  • Affordable Tuition
  • Flexible Online Courses
  • HLC Accredited

Grand Canyon University Online

B.S. in Performance and Sports Psychology

Earn you B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology with Grand Canyon University Online.

What Will I Learn In A Sports Psychology Program?

Now that you’ve understood what a sports psychologist does and the benefits of getting an online degree in sports psychology, you may be wondering what actual things a sports psychology program will teach you. 

Here are the usual course offerings for a Sports Psychology Degree:

Attribution and Cognition

Attribution Theory describes how and why people make the inferences they generate whenever they try to explain the reasons behind events. These could be internal or external depending on whether the deciding factor is based on something inside or outside of a person’s control. This is an important concept to understand the formula behind success and the different principles and factors that go into replicating success. Scientifically, Bernard Weiner made studies concerning success or failure and suggested that both internal and external attributions may be based on stability and controllability. 

Either way, this principle of psychology helps a patient, or in this case, an athlete why they succeed, what they did to succeed, and what they can do to replicate success in the future. 

This new frame of thinking presents success not as a lucky sequence of events but as a formula that could be replicated consistently.


At its simplest definition, motivation is the force that drives behavior. It determines the action done, the consistency in which it is done, and the intensity in which it is done with. Psychology takes this a step further and helps students understand how you could bend and push motivation towards maintaining a course of goal-directed actions. It explains the different types of motivation and how these can be used to increase your efficiency, drive you to take action, and encourage you to engage in health-oriented behavior.

In the world of sports, motivation is a particularly rousing and interesting field. Its main use cases more famously revolve around leaders and coaches imposing external motivation onto their athletes and subordinates through speeches and action but more often than not, the general public fail to see that an athlete’s internal motivation may be the driving force of future, consistent success. 

There are so many studies regarding motivation and how it could be used outside the gym, even in obscure places like the boardroom and home. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for example, posits that each individual has a pyramid of desires that we look to fulfill. At the bottom, we have eating, drinking, and sleeping. Once we are able to fulfill that, we work our way up the pyramid toward the final goal of self-actualization.


Leadership has become a buzzword that many people pin to someone holding a position of authority. With so many leadership books, it’s easy to get drawn into the imagery of one, perfect leader.

Psychology breaks these down by elaborating on a body of knowledge that suggests that there is no one way to be a leader and that a leader could be more than someone that holds a position of authority. So long as they are able to influence people publicly, privately, and they should, in effect, be thought of as effective leaders.

Psychology builds on relationships as the foundation of every good leadership experience and the idea of followership is also a concept that many leaders should idealize.

Leadership has clear implications outside of sports; it’s understandable why sports psychologists are in high demand due to their expertise in this field.

Understanding Injury and Burnout

Injury is a usual occurrence in the lifecycle of every athlete. Going through either injury or burnout can lead to excessive, prolonged stress, especially when you are emotionally drained and unable to meet the demands of the work you’re going through. Psychologists are taught how to help the bright stars of tomorrow cope with these feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.

Psychology courses instill practices and principles to help anyway stay away from burnout and maintain a healthy, positive self-image while going through burnout.

Facilitating Psychological Growth and Development in Sports

A positive relationship with team play and sports outside of the field leads to a positive impact and a healthy dose of self-confidence. Psychologists could outline, for example, how coaches can enhance motivation by structuring environments to meet specific needs and facilitate motivation in young children by enhancing their perceived competitiveness; this means by teaching young athletes to define success as exceeding their own goals and not simply winning.

If not done properly, young athletes who suffer from a heightened state of anxiety due to sports may also deal with low self-esteem, low-performance expectancies, and frequent worries about failure – all creating an ecosystem inconducive for breeding success.

What Are The Standard Entrance Requirements To Enroll?

As mentioned in the overview, a sports psychologist’s education would include Bachelor’s, Master’s, and doctoral degrees as well as state-specific licensing requirements. Here are some standard requirements to enroll in each step:

For Bachelor’s

A graduate degree is a requirement to become a sports psychologist. Yet, to attend graduate school, you must first go through a bachelor’s program. A sport psychology major for all undergraduate students isn’t available for all courses so you might want to look at a more general psychology major which will prepare you, with needed skills like psychological testing, research methods, organizational psychology, behavioral psychology, and treatment options. To get into these programs, one will need a high school diploma, 2-5 recommendations, high-school transcripts, their ACT/SAT scores, and personal statements of intent as well as writing samples.

For Master’s

To get into an online master’s program for sports psychology, students should have taken prerequisites such as Anatomy and Physiology or Exercise Physiology. Though a variety of bachelor’s degrees can be taken in, most student’s come from backgrounds of exercise science, psychology, or athletic training. 

Letters of recommendation are also a requirement for many schools, though GREs are not.  In some cases, a minimum grade point average of 3.0 may be instated for the last 60 hours of undergraduate education as well as a TOEFL or IELTS score of 92 or 6.5, respectively.

For Ph.D.

Given that a Ph.D. is the final degree of a Sports Psychologist, a student must complete both a bachelor’s and master’s degree before getting into any doctoral programs. Students who complete the Ph.D. also often have advanced education in the field and may already have licensure given by taking a certification test from the American Psychological Association and the Association for Applied Sport Psychology.

What Is The Career Outlook for Sports Psychology?

Demand continues to grow for sports psychologists as mental health awareness becomes an increasingly relevant field of study. While there is no specific statistic covering sport psychology specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does collate data relating to all types of psychologists – of which the demand is expected to increase by 8% from 2020 to 2030. 

If you introduce that with the fact that sports psychologists can extend their work outside the athletic realm, you’ll understand the claim for increased demand. 

In terms of average annual salary, you could expect to receive up to $248,895 per year, which is the national average salary for sports psychiatrists. Given that they conduct tests and examinations, as well as prescribe treatments like medication and psychotherapy, you’ll understand why this national average is so high.

Potential Career Paths/Job Titles

Full-Time Psychologist

A full-time psychologist should be a viable career path for anyone who graduates with a degree in Sports Psychology. Meeting with players, coaches, and managers to identify methods for improving performance on and off the field. Evaluating the learning, behavioral, and mental health of the day-to-day lives of the athletes. All this falls into the laps of full-tie psychologists.


Some people may also opt to work behind the desk and gather and analyze data regarding athletes, players, teams, and sports performance. A sports psychologist could, for example, measure certain stimuli’ impact on motivation or physical capabilities. In stark contrast to being a psychologist who’ll create an impact today, the data collected by researchers work together to help teams and athletes improve performance over the long run.

Sports Coaches

Of course, becoming a sports coach is also a viable option given the leadership principles a psychologist would have come across during their studies. In this role, however, you’ll also be tasked with working on the physicality of the athletes aside from their mental attributes. You’ll be tasked with promoting and developing player strategies as well as studying player mechanics for them to improve their game.

Sports Center Manager

Aside from being a coach, why not look towards becoming part of the administrative staff? A sports center manager could be someone who monitors equipment, plans events, creates gym schedules, and oversees the overall facility management. This could work wonderfully if paired with another role such as researcher as it allows you to control the environment fully.

Sports Psychology Degrees by State