Professional certification serves to identify individuals who have obtained or maintained qualifications to perform a specific work responsibility or task. Furthermore, certification indirectly serves to safeguard the public interest by assuring that the public can identify qualified professionals. In the United States, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) certifies master’s and doctoral trained professionals as Certified Consultants (CC-AASP). CC-AASP professionals are qualified to assist with performance issues that affect people in all areas of sport and exercise. Although other certifications in sport psychology exist, this entry is focused on the CC-AASP certification because of its connection to the largest nonprofit international organization (AASP) committed to promoting the science and practice of sport and exercise psychology, and because the CC-AASP certification requirements are consistent with the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 47 Proficiency in Sport Psychology.
Certification and Licensure
Certification is the process by which a nongovernmental organization, in this case AASP, grants recognition to an individual who has met predetermined qualifications specified by that organization. The process of certification is voluntary. Certified individuals have demonstrated the level of knowledge and skill required in the profession, and the certification serves to identify the occupation, role, and skills to the public and stakeholders. Professional practice can be governed by legal requirements. When this is the case, professionals in practice must be licensed. Licensure is given to one by the state. Licensure is the state’s grant of legal authority, pursuant to the state’s police powers, to practice a profession within a designated scope of practice. States define, by statute, the tasks and scope of practice of a profession and provide that these tasks may be legally performed only by those who are licensed. Licensure prohibits anyone from practicing the profession who is not licensed, regardless of whether or not the individual has been certified by a private organization. To date, the scope of practice defined by AASP certification is not governed by legal requirements.
The most common services provided by CC-AASP professionals include educating individuals, groups, and organizations about the role of psychological factors in sport, exercise, and physical activity, and teaching participants specific mental, behavioral, psychosocial, and emotional control skills in these physical contexts. To date, these activities are not governed by legal requirements, thus there is no requirement for practicing professionals to be licensed to provide these services. Moreover, APA Division 47 Exercise and Sport Psychology has also identified the specific knowledge and training necessary for ethical professional practice in the exercise and sport context. The requirements for CC-AASP and the Division 47 Proficiency in Sport Psychology are consistent and provide clear descriptions of a model for appropriate training for service providers in applied sport and exercise psychology.
Certification assists in defining the professional and ethical responsibility of individuals participating in consulting in applied sport and exercise environments. In addition, certification offers the public a definition and example of the training necessary for quality service. This in turn provides greater public understanding of the importance and possible impact of the application of psychology to sport and exercise. An example of this import role for CC-AASP certification is that the United States Olympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry requires CC-AASP certification for inclusion on the registry to work with U.S. Olympic athletes.
Requirements for Competent and Ethical Practice
CC-AASP and Division 47 Proficiency in Sport Psychology requirements specify that extensive disciplinary knowledge in sport and exercise psychology is required for professionals to competently practice applied sport psychology. Although consistent, the two sets of requirements differ in that CC-AASP requirements rely upon clearly defined necessities in coursework, whereas the Division 47 Proficiency requirements specify content area necessities for the ethical practice in sport psychology. For both the CC-AASP and the Division 47 Proficiency in Sport Psychology requirements, professionals must have knowledge in the following areas: professional ethics and standards; biomechanical or physiological bases of physical activity; historical, philosophical, social, or motor behavior bases of physical activity; psychopathology and its assessment; counseling skills; research design, statistics, or psychological assessment; biological bases of behavior; cognitive-affective bases of behavior; and individual behavior. For CC-AASP, the majority of the courses must be taken at the graduate level and the individual must have completed a master’s or doctoral program. Furthermore, adequate training must include demonstrated competence in the field with mentored structured experiences. Finally, applied sport psychology professionals must show evidence of continued learning to maintain professional expertise. A process of certification renewal exists in the case of CC-AASP to support this end. One important side note is that the Division 47 Proficiency in Sport Psychology has included the knowledge of organizational and system aspects of sport consulting as a content area that is not inherently embedded within the specified coursework requirements for CC-AASP. Nonetheless, the overall uniformity across CC-AASP and Division 47 Proficiency in Sport Psychology requirements supports a clear and consistent depiction of the professional expertise required to practice applied exercise and sport psychology.
Commentary on Necessity for Clearly Defined Expertise and Practice
The AASP certification process initiated in 1989 and has certified over 250 professionals. One could argue that, for a licensed mental health care practitioner, there is little motivation to become CC-AASP certified. Yet there is growing interest in Applied Sport Psychology, and ethical practitioners committed to competent professional practice continue to seek opportunities to learn more about sport and exercise psychology and document professional credentials. A goal would be to increase the number of Certified Consultants so that the number reaches a critical mass that provides an awareness of this credential to the general public. One challenge that exists for professionals in the field is the difficulty in meeting specific coursework requirements. As the academic discipline continues to grow, there is the possibility for accessing online courses. In addition, AASP may consider approving continuing education credits to fulfill knowledge requirements. These as well as other options must be sensitive to maintaining the quality and rigor of the certification coursework requirements. Aoyagi, Portenga, Poczwardowski, Cohen, and Statler (2012) have argued that another possibility for increasing access and feasibility of CC-AASP certification for professionals in the field is to consider a certification exam. Again, the intent would not be to reduce the rigor of the certification process; in fact, those seeking the exam option could still be required to have a graduate degree and specific coursework. However, the exam option would allow for standardized assessment of the core content knowledge while offering a more accessible option for practitioners. An exam might offer a feasible alternative to the current process without diminishing the quality or meaningfulness of the certification.
International Developments in Professional Practice
There is growing international interest in defining the appropriate knowledge and experience for the professional practice of applied exercise and sport psychology. The terms used to identify and define professional practice and credentials (accredited, chartered, registered, certified, licensed) vary from country to country. However, the criteria identify the unique professional expertise required in sport and exercise. For example, the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences has an accreditation for sport psychology with the title Accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist. In addition, the British Psychological Society Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology has criteria for individual professionals to become Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologists. Furthermore, the Australia Psychology Society College of Sport Psychologists has qualifications beyond those required for basic registration that requires a minimum of 6 years of university training, plus 2 years of supervised practical experience in sport psychology. It is evident that credentials for the expertise are in demand and that this trend is likely to continue and extend across the globe.
Certification provides a clear definition of the qualifications necessary to practice sport and exercise psychology. CC-AASP certification is open to licensed clinical professional counselors, licensed clinical social workers, individuals with master’s level (MS, MA, MEd, or EdM) counselor licensure, individuals with doctoral degrees (EdD, PsyD, or PhD) generally from Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or APA accredited programs, or individuals from MS or PhD programs in Exercise and Sport Psychology. CC-AASP is a credential (not a licensure) from a professional organization that oversees standards in practice and training. CC-AASP without licensure can limit professional opportunities to those that focus on performance enhancement or mental skills coaching. However, CC-AASP certified professionals who also hold a license are well equipped to help a range of individuals with a range of mental health problems often linked to human performance decrements. The CC-AASP credential is becoming increasingly meaningful within the world of sport and exercise psychology, and is often preferred by employers seeking sport and exercise psychology expertise.
- American Psychological Association. (2013). Public description of sport psychology. Retrieved from http:// www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/sports.aspx
- Aoyagi, M. W., Portenga, S. T., Poczwardowski, A., Cohen, A. B., & Statler, T. (2012). Reflections and directions: The profession of sport psychology past, present, and future. Journal of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 43, 32–38. doi: 10.1037/a0025676
- Association for Applied Sport Psychology. (n.d.). About applied sport and exercise psychology. Retrieved from http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/about/aboutapplied-sport-psych
- Association for Applied Sport Psychology. (n.d.). Become a certified consultant. Retrieved from http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/Consultants/become-certified
- Australian Psychological Society, College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists. (2012). How to join. Retrieved from http://www.groups.psychology.org.au/csep/join
- The British Association of Sport and Exerise Sciences. (n.d.). Accreditation. Retrieved from http://www.bases.org.uk/Accreditation/Accreditation
- The British Psychological Society, Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology. (n.d.). How to join. Retrieved from http://spex.bps.org.uk/spex/join/join_home.cfm