What is Credentials?

To  call  oneself  a  psychologist  (at  least  in  the United States and Canada), or use the terms psychologist, psychological, or psychology, one must be  licensed  in  the  state  or  province  in  which  one practices.  However,  if  one  works  in  academia, calling   oneself   a   sport   psychologist   is   an appropriate term to use as it is descriptive of one’s role  at  one’s  academic  institution.  Credentials are  aimed  at  demonstrating  one’s  competency within  the  field.  This  competency  is  critical  for the  sport  and  exercise  psychology  profession. The  term  competency  indicates  that  one  has  the educational background that provides the knowledge  base  to  be  an  effective  practitioner  and  has the  experience,  gained  through  one’s  educational program,   to   practice   effectively.   Consumers have  the  right  to  require  competent  practitioners;  similarly,  practitioners  must  demand  that  we and  our  colleagues  have  demonstrated  levels  of competence  to  earn  the  credentials  discussed  in this entry.

Competency  underlies  obtaining  a  credential as a sport and exercise psychologist. This competency  is  generally  obtained  through  experiences in  three  areas.  First,  one  obtains  an  academic degree,  usually  a  doctoral  (PhD,  PsyD)  degree, but  in  some  cases  a  master’s  degree  (MS,  MA, MEd)   is   sufficient.   Second,   one   would   successfully  complete  specific  coursework  at  an academic  institution,  usually  as  part  of  one’s master’s  or  doctoral  degree,  including  psychology, kinesiology, and sport and exercise psychology–specific  courses.  Third,  one  would  obtain experience within clinical or counseling settings. This   would   generally   be   mentored   through applied  experiences  with  individuals  as  well  as teams  in  a  variety  of  sports  and  settings.  This experience  provides  an  indication  that  one  has obtained a base of knowledge in clinical or counseling  psychology  as  well  as  the  skills  set  and temperament  to  work  effectively  in  a  role  as  a sport and exercise psychologist. This knowledge base and skill set may encompass counseling and psychotherapy  work  with  a  variety  of  mental health issues, program development and evaluation, and psychological assessment.

Individuals  who  work  as  licensed  professional  counselors  (LPC;  the  term  used  depends on  the  state,  province,  or  country)  have  earned master’s  degrees  in  counseling  or  clinical  psychology  or  related  fields  and  are  eligible  for licensure,  certification,  or  accreditation  (the term  used  depends  on  the  state,  province,  or country).They are qualified, if they meet the relevant criteria, to work as counselors and receive payment  for  such  work,  including  third-party reimbursement.

Individuals  with  doctoral  degrees  may  become licensed as psychologists in the United States and Canada (other countries may allow master’s level practitioners  to  be  called  psychologists).  This process generally requires a doctoral degree (e.g., PhD,  PsyD)  in  psychology  (or  a  related  field), specific  coursework,  internship  hours,  and  successfully passing state and national exams. States, provinces,  and  countries  have  generally  similar standards, but they may differ. One must verify the specific standards for the jurisdiction in which one wishes to practice.

The   primary   credential   in   the   sport   and exercise  psychology  field  is  being  a  Certified Consultant  within  the  Association  for  Applied Sport Psychology (CC-AASP). CC-AASP provides the clearest path for developing the level of competency  required  to  work  within  a  performance enhancement  focus  in  sport  and  exercise  psychology.  The  CC-AASP  process  does  not  have  a clinical  or  counseling  focus.  CC-AASP  requires attainment of numerous criteria, including a doctoral degree, 400 hours of mentored applied work (of  which  100  must  be  directly  with  individuals, teams,  or  both),  and  a  variety  of  coursework across  areas  within  kinesiology  and  psychology. This  coursework  includes  not  only  sport  and exercise  psychology  specific  courses  but  also coursework in other areas within kinesiology like motor learning and exercise physiology, as well as numerous areas within psychology, such as social, developmental,  and  learning.  There  is  also  the option of provisional certification with a master’s degree,  and  full  certification  if  one  completes  an additional  300  hours  (above  the  400)  of  mentored experience. There is a standard application process  and  review  by  the  Certified  Consultants Committee to determine whether one has met the criteria  needed  for  CC-AASP  status.  There  were approximately 300 Certified Consultants as of fall 2012.  AASP  is  working  toward  publicizing  the CC-AASP  credential  more  widely  so  that  potential clients (e.g., athletes, parents, coaches) will be aware of what to expect from a practitioner with CC-AASP credentials in terms of competency and experience.

The  British  Association  of  Sport  and  Exercise Sciences  (BASES)  has  several  accreditation  programs for identifying competency within sport and exercise  science,  including  a  High  Performance Sport  accreditation.  The  basic  one  for  sport  and exercise psychologists is termed Accreditation and focuses on the ethical and professional standards of BASES members practicing in the exercise and sport sciences. An individual fulfilling the accreditation criteria is called a BASES Accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist. This involves a similar process to that of the CC-AASP in terms of mentored applied work and coursework. Accreditation can be  obtained  with  undergraduate  and  master’s degrees—a doctoral degree is not required.

Division 47 (Exercise and Sport Psychology) of the American Psychological Association has established  sport  psychology  as  a  proficiency  within APA.  Proficiency  is  seen  as  a  specialization  after one attains one’s doctoral degree. The proficiency focuses on competence in working with athletes on their psychological skills, well-being, developmental and social components of participation in sport, and issues related to working within sports organizations. Division 47 within APA is taking steps to develop guidelines for meeting the proficiency.

The  Australian  Psychological  Society  (APS) offers  a  specialty  area  within  sport  and  exercise psychology (one of nine specialty areas within the APS),  and  established  the  Australian  College  of Sport and Exercise Psychology (a “college” within APS)  among  its  other  branches.  Sport  and  exercise  psychologists  are  regarded  as  specializing  in numerous  areas,  including  performance  enhancement, stress management, overtraining, team building and leadership, and psychological assessment. Attaining full membership as a sport psychologist requires  at  least  6  years  of  university  education, plus  2  years  of  supervised  practical  experience within sport and exercise psychology. It should be noted that this is different from the United States and Canada, where the doctoral degree is generally seen as required to become a psychologist. Other countries may have specialty certifications as well.

Credentials  for  someone  working  in  academia would  generally  encompass  an  advanced  degree like  a  PhD  or  EdD  in  kinesiology  or  psychology, with  an  emphasis  on  sport  and  exercise  psychology. This includes the standard teaching, research, and  service  roles  of  an  academician.  Someone providing  performance  enhancement  consulting services needs to be mindful of the credentials previously  identified  with  respect  to  certification.  It is not uncommon for academicians to work with athletes or teams at their host college or university. While academicians generally do not acquire additional credentials per se (although one can become a  fellow  in  one’s  professional  organizations,  such as  AASP  and  APA),  one  is  expected  to  remain current  in  the  field.  Many  professions  (e.g.,  psychology,  medicine)  require  continuing  education hours  each  year.  While  academia  generally  does not  require  these  as  such,  one  is  expected  to  be acquainted with the literature, attend conferences, and  perhaps  conduct  research  and  present  and publish the work. The goal is to be knowledgeable of the current literature within sport and exercise psychology.

Offering  consulting  services  outside  the  college  or  university  setting  encompasses  a  different level of practice. In the United States, anyone can  hang  up  a  shingle  and  provide  services  as  a consultant, a therapist, or another “unprotected” term (protected terms include, e.g., the term psychologist).  The  standard  caveat,  Buyer  beware, is critical. While some of these practitioners may have  acceptable  levels  of  experience,  it  is  preferable to identify someone with the credentials identified  earlier  (e.g.,  certification,  licensure)  if  one is  looking  for  a  professional  to  provide  services for  oneself,  one’s  athletes,  one’s  team,  or  one’s organization.


  1. American Psychological Association, Division 47: http://www.apa47.org Association for Applied Sport Psychology: http://www.appliedsportpsych.org
  2. Australian Psychological Society, College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists. (2013). About us. Retrieved from http://www.groups.psychology.org.au/csep/ about_us
  3. The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences: http://www.bases.org.uk
  4. Hanton, S., & Mellalieu, S. D. (Eds.). (2012). Professional practice in sport psychology: A review.New York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.
  5. Lesyk, J. L. (1998). Developing sport psychology within your clinical practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  6. Sachs, M. L., Lutkenhouse, J., Rhodius, A., Watson, J., Pfenninger, G., Lesyk, J. L., et al. (2011). Career opportunities in the field of exercise and sport psychology. In M. L. Sachs., K. L. Burke, & S. L. Schweighardt (Eds.), Directory of graduate programs in applied sport psychology (10th ed., pp. 251–277). Indianapolis, IN: Association for Applied Sport Psychology.
  7. Silva, J. M., III, Metzler, J. N., & Lerner, B. (2011). Training professionals in the practice of sport psychology (2nd ed.). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.


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