Sports & Rehabilitation Counselor

No matter how careful a coach or an athlete is, injuries or other physical or mental setbacks can happen. When they do, athletes and teams will want a sports and rehabilitation counselor on their side. Sports and rehabilitation counselors work with athletes to help them maintain their physical competitiveness while also helping them recover when injuries occur, which, after a career, throwing 100-mile-per-hour fastballs, for instance, is not uncommon.

Sports and rehabilitation counselors are highly trained specialists working for sports teams and individual athletes to help them avoid and recover from minor and major injuries. Their work combines extensive knowledge about anatomy and the structure of the human body, healing modalities, and movement science, coupled with skills in mental health counseling, to help motivate their clients. Sports and rehabilitation therapists are critical to the success of a sports team, and there seems to be no decline in the need for specialists in this field.

In 2018, the American Psychological Association, or APA, published an article about the growing demand for sports psychologists. Sports psychologists play an important role in helping athletes overcome mental roadblocks and improve their performance. They can also be instrumental in helping an athlete manage or recover from interpersonal issues, such as mistreatment by someone close to them (a coach, perhaps), or health problems such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

Rehabilitation counselors are also sometimes called sports therapists or athletic trainers. People with this education can work in a variety of settings and specialty areas including hospitals and medical centers, physical rehabilitation centers, Veterans Administration hospitals, pain management centers, sports injury centers, or rehabilitation facilities that focus on specific physical issues, such as a cardiac rehabilitation facility or brain injury center.

Graduates in this field will find the best job prospects if they earn their degree through a certified or accredited program. There are a few reputable agencies to seek out when selecting a program.

CAATE, or the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education, accredits educational programs leading to licensure as an athletic trainer. CAPTE, or the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education is the only agency recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to accredit physical therapy educational programs and physical therapist assistant education programs. CACREP, or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, is the standard for accrediting counselor education programs.

There may be other accrediting agencies, depending on your state or specialty. Accredited programs should prepare students to take the Board of Certification exams, typically required for licensing.

Featured Rehabilitation Counseling Programs
Our Lady of the Lake University Master of Arts in Clinical Rehabilitation CounselingVisit Site

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN Southern New Hampshire University Online MS - Construction Management

How to Become a Sports & Rehabilitation Counselor

Most positions require a master’s or doctoral degree in clinical counseling, rehabilitation counseling, or sports psychology. The student will learn movement science, anatomy and physiology, and sports medicine. Business and marketing knowledge, particularly if the employer is a high-profile sports team or university, could be an excellent background. Direct training in sports and exercise is a must.

Specializations can include applied sport psychology, which utilizes teaching skills to enhance athletic performance; clinical sport psychology, which uses psychotherapy techniques to help clients overcome mental obstacles; or academic sports psychology, which would be a necessity if the goal was to work with an athletic department at a college or university.

Education of a Sports & Rehabilitation Counselor

There are a few types of education that one could pursue for this degree. Some colleges offer sports rehabilitation-related post-baccalaureate certificates. Others offer a general clinical mental health counseling master’s degree, which could be tailored specifically for athletes and sports. For instance, one could study for a master’s degree in general mental health counseling, then specialize in school counseling, to work directly with student-athletes.

Athletes can struggle with depression, OCD, or eating disorders, and a counselor who understands how this affects their ability to perform and compete will be able to help them accomplish more than a counselor who does not understand the athletic mindset. Therefore, there is often a lot of overlap in general mental health and sports counseling. Becoming licensed and versed in mental health counseling will be a strong foundation for any sports and rehabilitation counselor.

Pennsylvania Western University, California

Pennsylvania Western University, for instance, offers several graduate online certificates in counseling. One such graduate certificate is in sports counseling and student-athlete mental wellness. The program provides an understanding of the foundations of sports counseling and knowledge and skills for the practice of sports counseling.

Meeting the specific needs and interests of counselors and educators, the program helps students examine and understand counseling strategies and provides them with an overview of several life skills such as study skills, career development, time management, goal setting, health, and wellness specifically related to student-athletes.

The  12-credit curriculum includes courses such as sports counseling programming; counseling athletes’ death, loss, and grief; student-athlete mental wellness; and issues/technique counseling athletes.

Notably, Pennsylvania Western University also offers a 12-credit online graduate certificate in sport management studies. This certificate offers concentration options in strategic sports analysis and intercollegiate athletic administration.

  • Location: California, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 to 18 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($516 per credit); non-resident ($526 per credit)

Logan University

Logan University offers an online master of science program in sports science & rehabilitation helping students gain the training, confidence, and experience needed to excel in the exercise science arena. Offered entirely online, this program provides an invaluable hands-on experience through an internship opportunity that can be completed at a close-to-home facility.

Applicants to the program must possess a baccalaureate degree or higher that is recognized by the CHEA. This 37 to 39-credit program includes courses such as clinical exercise physiology; sports & emergency care; exercise testing & prescription; active & passive upper extremity rehabilitation; principles of physical therapy; psychology of the athlete; and exercise prescription for special populations, among others.

  • Location: Chesterfield, MO
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $600 per credit

University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine offers a CACREP-accredited master of arts program in counseling and rehabilitation with a specialization in clinical rehabilitation counseling. The program can either be completed on-campus or through the distance learning option where all courses can be completed online and students will be required to come for a few in-person meetings. Not only will students get to work with people with disabilities, but they’ll also be able to complete a 600-hour internship in their final semester.

This 60-credit program includes courses such as introduction to counseling; multiculturalism in helping professions; career theories and the world of work; theories and techniques of counseling; assessment in counseling and clinical rehabilitation; foundations of clinical rehabilitation counseling; psychosocial and medical aspects of clinical rehabilitation; and professional issues in clinical rehabilitation.

The School of Medicine also offers an 18-credit graduate certificate in psychiatric rehabilitation.

Notably, the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management also offers a 36-credit master of sport and entertainment management program that prepares students for leadership careers in entertainment, sport, and venue management.

  • Location: Columbia, SC
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); MA in counseling and rehabilitation (CACREP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 to 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($6,868 per semester); non-resident ($14,880 per semester)

Sports counselors should understand the details of the sports the athletes play, to be able to “speak the language” of their athletes.

A good sports counselor should understand the cultural differences between sports, such as NFL football versus women’s basketball. They’ve also got to be knowledgeable about the history and meaning of sports in general.

A degree in psychology or counseling provides many opportunities for cross-disciplinary development of skills that can be applied to sports. Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step in achieving this level of education. In some cases, the student can be admitted to a master’s program with any degree, while in other cases the graduate program would like to see a bachelor’s degree in a field related to counseling. A good course of action would be to major in psychology or counseling and minor in sports or exercise science.

Many master’s programs offer a master of arts or master of science in clinical mental health counseling, with specializations available. The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) is the premier certification agency for sports counselors and fitness trainers. The AASP offers certification for master’s degree holders.

Supervised Hour Requirements for Sports & Rehabilitation Counselors 

Each state has its own requirements for what is approved for licensing. Most states require licensure of a student who has completed a program at an accredited school. For most counseling programs, a 100-hour internship is followed by a 600-hour practicum (sometimes 700 or 800). The internships and practicum offer the opportunity for specialization in the sports field.

For instance, Wichita State University offers a master of education in counseling with a clinical mental health concentration emphasizing sports counseling. This 60-credit program prepares students to meet the educational requirements for licensure as a counselor in the state of Kansas. Graduates of the counseling athletes program track may work with student-athletes, in student affairs, or athletic departments.

This MEd in counseling meets the academic requirements for licensure as an LPC. CACREP does not certify counseling programs that do not meet their minimum requirements of a 100-hour supervised practicum over a minimum 10-week academic term. Each practicum must include at least 40 clock hours of direct service with actual clients. Further, the program requires the completion of a supervised internship of 600 clock hours, including at least 240 hours of direct service.

Licensure and Certification of Sports & Rehabilitation Counselors

Different states have different requirements for licensure in order to practice as a licensed mental health counselor. Kansas’s Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board, for instance, requires that the graduate degree consist of at least 60 graduate semester hours or the academic equivalent with at least 45 graduate semester hours of core coursework. At least 15 graduate semester credit hours or the academic equivalent must be in diagnosing and treating mental disorders. The supervised clinical practicum, internship, or field or laboratory training must be completed before licensure. For an applicant to qualify for licensure, the college or university must be regionally accredited.

Sports & Rehabilitation Licensure Renewal Requirements: Different states have different requirements for licensure, and different states have different requirements for licensure renewal. Kansas, for example, requires 30 hours of continuing education every two years while Georgia, for comparison, requires 35 clock-hours of continuing education every two years. Each licensee should check their state’s requirements.

What Do Sports & Rehabilitation Counselors Do?

Many people who love sports but aren’t athletes themselves may not realize they can still work in sports by becoming a sports and rehabilitation counselor. Depending on where they work, a sports and rehabilitation counselor’s day can look very different. If they work in a medical center, they can see many patients each day with various problems. If they work for a college, university, or sports training center, their day could focus on specific movement-related issues depending on the sport.

At its most basic, a sports and rehabilitation counselor works with not injured clients to ensure they are using the correct form and developing the correct musculature to avoid injury. They also work with clients who are already injured to help them functionally recover from their injuries. In both cases, the counselor will develop a plan for future visits, physical goals, and how to reach them.

The sports and rehabilitation counselor may bring in many different healing modalities depending on what is needed to help their patients recover. This work may seem similar to a physical therapist, except that a sports and rehabilitation counselor works specifically with sports injuries and athletes. Counselors in this field will also help their clients stay on their “mental game.”

How Much Do Sports & Rehabilitation Counselors Make?

This information about rehabilitation counselors was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2022).

United States
Number employed in the U.S.82,420
Average Annual Salary$46,020
10th Percentile$29,120
25th Percentile$33,790
50th Percentile (Median)$39,990
75th Percentile$53,470
90th Percentile$71,270

Sports & Rehabilitation Counselor Professional Associations & Resources

There are several professional associations and resources available for guidance counselors. Some of these are professional associations, which provide guidance counselors with the opportunity to stay up-to-date on new trends and build their professional networks. Other online resources provide important information for working or prospective guidance counselors. These resources include:

  • American Counseling Association (ACA)
  • Professionals Networking for Excellence in Service Delivery with Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (ADARA)
  • Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
  • American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA)
  • Association of VA Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals (AVAVRP)
  • Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
  • International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (IARP)
  • National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns (NAMRC)
  • National Rehabilitation Association (NRA)
  • National Rehabilitation Counseling Association (NRCA)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • The Clinical & Counseling Sport Psychology Association (CCSPA)
  • National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA)
  • Association for Applied Sports Psychology (AASP)
  • International Society of Sports Psychology (ISSP)
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
Vanessa Salvia

Vanessa Salvia


Vanessa Salvia is an Oregon-based freelance writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. As fun as rigorous studies in math and science were, Vanessa took an independent path and developed a prolific career covering lifestyle and healthcare topics for magazines and newspapers, important industries such as concrete construction and building waterproofing, and even hard science. You can get in touch at Sage Media and Marketing.