Study Sports Science: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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A Ph.D. and master's degree in sports science can lead to careers as coaches, exercise physiologists and university professors. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your sports science degree.
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Sports Science Master's and Doctoral Degrees at a Glance

While many people may not think that sports and science go together, incorporating scientific principles into athletics can help you learn how to improve players' performance. Sports teams often have multiple coaches who specialize in offense, defense or strength and conditioning. Exercise physiologists create training programs to improve someone's physical fitness level. Athletic administrators and university professors can pursue a Ph.D. in Sports Science to help them understand coaching philosophies and make recommendations about facilities.

Students also observe coaches and work with athletes; this prepares them for assistant positions upon graduation. From 2010-2020, employment for coaches is predicted to increase 29%, while careers for university professors and post-secondary administrators will grow 17% and 19%. However, students who want to become athletic trainers will need to pursue a degree that focuses more on the body and how to recover from injuries, rather than performance.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to work with athletes People who want to teach or research athletic performance
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - College and university coaches ($49,600) *
-Spectator sport coaches ($59,200) *
- Exercise physiologist ($44,970) **
- College and university professor ($72,400) *
- Post-secondary Administrator ($84,280)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time four years full-time, six years part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 6-8 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis/internship
-oral and written comprehensive examination
-About 12-18 graduate level courses
- Dissertation
- Internship
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in exercise science or related field Bachelor's or master's degree in exercise science or related field
Online Availability Yes, but an internship may be required None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (2012 figures)

Master's in Sports Science

A master's degree in sports science covers topics involving exercise physiology and human performance. In the program, you can enroll in a thesis or non-thesis option. If you decide to choose the non-thesis option, you will need to participate in an internship, which may be ideal if you are interested in coaching or exercise physiology.

Coursework will teach you various techniques to improve an athlete's performance; this includes both the physical and mental aspects of the game. Topics will cover different ways to motivate athletes, enhance performance and recover from injuries. Internships may be available with the college or university's athletic teams. This is an opportunity to learn under experienced coaches and trainers and begin working with athletes.

Pros and Cons


  • Typically work in a sport you are passionate about
  • Teach athletes good sportsmanship and teamwork
  • Help individuals improve their physical fitness level


  • Often work over 40 hours per week during season
  • Work irregular hours (nights, weekends)
  • Strong competition is expected for jobs

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Specific courses will vary depending on your sports science concentration and career goals. If you want to pursue a doctorate program in sports science, you may want to take more research intensive courses rather than gaining practical experience. Those who want to coach will take courses covering motivation, team development, leadership and communication. Courses that will prepare you to train athletes include biomechanics, strength and conditioning, nutrition and exercise physiology. Having strong communication skills and being able to connect and motivate athletes are essential parts of the job.

Online Course Options

While students will be able to complete courses in a sports science program online, they will still need to complete an internship to grain practical experience. Sports science programs often require you to work with athletes through an internship or mentorship in order to apply what you have learned in the classroom on the field or court. It's important that you get first-hand experience in understanding how practices are run, how to deal with injuries and what it takes to get the best performance from an athlete.

Students taking online courses will be able to complete the requirements on their own time, but will be expected to log-in several times per week to review and hand-in assignments. A program will require students to have access to a computer and Internet connection.

Stand Out With This Degree

Earning a master's degree in sports science is important; however, gaining experience is paramount to obtaining employment. While opportunities are available to work with athletes at a college or university, students in a master's degree program may also be able to gain experience by volunteering to work with a local junior high or high school sports team. In these situations, you may have more responsibilities in practice and help implement strength and conditioning programs and game plans. Networking is also very important when landing a job and participating in sports conferences and clinics may be beneficial.

Ph.D. in Sports Science

A Ph.D. in Sports Science prepares you to perform research in the field and teach in university settings. The program will focus on areas involving exercise science, health education, nutrition, physical education and sport administration. In addition to performing research in sports science, you will gain the skills and abilities to present your work at conferences and participate in scholarly presentations. While you can enroll in the program on a full-time or part-time basis, universities may mandate that you complete all program requirements in seven years.

Pros and Cons


  • Job growth is about as fast as average for professors and administrators*
  • Help prepare students for life after school
  • High job security once a professor obtains tenure


  • Competition is high for jobs
  • If not tenured as a professor, you will have to find new job**
  • Ph.D. programs take many years to complete

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **National Education Association

Courses and Requirements

In addition to taking courses, a Ph.D. in Sports Science requires you to participate seminars and compete a dissertation. While much of the program will focus on research, you will also take courses in your area of interest. Elective courses may include sport sociology, psychology in sports, diversity within sports, sports law and planning sports facilities. If you are interested in teaching at the university level, you will take courses involving teacher education, curriculum development and students assessment.

Online Course Requirements

Opportunities are not available to complete a Ph.D. in Sports Science online. In the Ph.D. program, you are required to be on campus to perform research and participate in internships. Research and coursework may also involve direct work with athletes, so you will also need to be at the university to attend practices or off-season training programs.

Stand Out With This Degree

One of the best ways to stand out with this degree is to become published in journals. Getting your research published can help you become tenured at a college or university. According to the National Education Association (NEA), about one-third of professors at colleges and universities are tenured, which means you cannot be fired without cause. Cause may be defined as a professor being unable to perform his or her duties or behaving in an unacceptable manner. Once a professor is hired, they are on a probationary period for seven years and can be let go at any time. If you are not tenured, you will lose your job after the 7-year period.

To stand out as an athletic administrator, you need to have strong communication and interpersonal skills to hold successful fundraisers, develop and maintain relationships with alumni, coordinate activities and manage staff members. Administrators also need to make good decisions when hiring coaches and improving facilities.

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