How To Become A Sports Physical Therapist? Tips and Tricks To Kickstart Your Career

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Are you passionate about sports and health care? Do you want to help athletes recover from injuries and improve their performance on the field or court?

If your answer is yes, then becoming a sports physical therapist might be the perfect career choice for you. Sports physical therapists work with athletes of all ages and levels to prevent and treat various musculoskeletal conditions.

In this article, we will provide you with some useful tips and tricks that can kickstart your journey towards becoming a sports physical therapist. From education and training requirements to essential skills and job prospects, we have got you covered.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

So, if you are ready to turn your dream of becoming a sports physical therapist into reality, let’s get started!

Earn A Bachelor’s Degree

Sports physical therapy requires a considerable amount of education. You will need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree before you can apply for graduate programs in sports physical therapy. Typically, this degree is earned in fields such as kinesiology, exercise science, or athletic training.

Earning a bachelor’s degree usually takes four years. During this time, students take classes in anatomy, physiology, biology, and chemistry. They also participate in clinical or internship experiences to gain practical experience working with patients under the supervision of licensed physical therapists.

To be accepted into a graduate program for sports physical therapy, students should aim for a high GPA during their undergraduate studies. Additionally, they may choose to take on extracurricular activities related to physical therapy, such as serving as an athletic trainer for local sports teams.

Choose a Relevant Major

Choosing a relevant major is essential in preparing for a career as a sports physical therapist. The most popular majors leading to a career in physical therapy include:

  • Kinesiology: This major focuses on human movement and its effect on health and wellness
  • Exercise Science: Students learn about human anatomy, physiology, and how the body responds to exercise.
  • Athletic Training: This major focuses on injury prevention and rehabilitation in athletes and other active individuals.

When selecting a major, it is important to research the requirements for admission to graduate programs in sports physical therapy. This ensures that all prerequisite courses are completed so that the necessary knowledge foundation is laid for conceptual understanding and clinical skill development.

Take Pre-Requisite Courses

Most master’s and doctoral programs in sports physical therapy require certain pre-requisite courses to be completed before admission. The courses should provide a strong foundation in science and math as well as be specific to the field of physical therapy and sports medicine concentration.

Typical pre-requisite courses offered include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Biology
  • Kinesiology
  • Physics
  • Statistics
  • Sports Medicine or Exercise Science course specifically designed for physical therapist majors

It’s important to note that prerequisite requirements vary by education programs, but taking these courses ensures students have essential background knowledge to perform their best, improve success while attending graduate-level classes, and later on work with patients clinically. Prospective students may need to complete some coursework after earning an undergraduate degree if it is missing any required pre-requisites.

“A good educational background can create pathways for professional development. It strengthens your base of knowledge when continuing into post-graduation studies,” says Professor Robinson Turman, University of Central Florida Physical Therapy Program Director.

Earning a bachelor’s degree takes dedication and hard work. To become a sports physical therapist, it requires even more education and specialized training beyond the minimum four years of college. However, for individuals passionate about this field of study, putting in the time, effort, and dedication will pave the way for a life-changing career helping athletes and people regain movement and independence after injury.

Complete a Physical Therapy Program

Sports physical therapists provide specialized healthcare services to athletes who have sustained injuries that affect their mobility, strength, endurance, and performance. They help them recover from injuries, reduce pain, prevent further damage, and improve their functional abilities to participate in sports activities safely.

If you’re interested in becoming a sports physical therapist, the first step is to complete a physical therapy program. This involves attending an accredited institution that offers undergraduate or graduate degrees in physical therapy. The following are the steps you need to take:

Find Accredited Programs

The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredits physical therapy programs at universities and colleges across the United States. You can visit its website to find a list of accredited institutions and programs in your state.

  • Go to
  • Select “Accredited Programs”
  • Select your state or search by program type or zip code
  • View results and compare programs based on accreditation status, tuition, location, courses, faculty, facilities, etc.

Attend Information Sessions

Once you’ve identified potential programs, attend information sessions offered by each school to learn more about their academic requirements, admission criteria, curriculum, clinical experiences, research opportunities, outcomes, and other aspects that may influence your decision.

You can also talk with current students, alumni, professors, and advisors to get insider insights into the program’s strengths and weaknesses and how it matches your goals and needs as a prospective student and future sports physical therapist.

Apply and Interview for Programs

After selecting a few programs that fit your criteria, apply for admission and complete all necessary requirements such as submitting transcripts, test scores, essays, recommendation letters, and fees. Make sure you meet the minimum eligibility standards set by each institution before submitting your application.

Once you have completed your applications, you may be invited to participate in an interview with the program’s faculty or staff members. This provides an opportunity for them to get to know you better and evaluate your communication skills, critical thinking abilities, problem-solving aptitude, professionalism, and passion for sports physical therapy.

“The best preparation for becoming a sports physical therapist is to attend a reputable program that covers foundational knowledge about anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, pathology, pharmacology, psychology, ethics, and healthcare systems, as well as specialized courses on sports injuries and rehabilitation strategies.” -Allison Hayden, PT, DPT, PhD, President of the Sports Physical Therapy Section

By following these steps, you can increase your chances of being accepted into a high-quality physical therapy program that prepares you for a successful career in sports medicine. Graduating from an accredited school also ensures that you are eligible to take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and obtain your state license to practice as a physical therapist.

Get Licensed

If you dream of becoming a sports physical therapist, you must first acquire the necessary license to practice. Here are the steps on how to obtain your license:

Research State Requirements

The state requirements for obtaining a sports physical therapy license vary from state to state. Therefore, it is essential to do your research and determine what specific criteria each state requires. Get in touch with your State Licensing Board to gather this information.

You can also find detailed information about licensing requirements by visiting the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy website: This body provides comprehensive resources concerning examinations, licensure policies, and regulatory entities.

Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

The next crucial step on your path to become a licensed sports physical therapist is to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). The NPTE tests your knowledge, skills, and abilities in the field of physical therapy.

To qualify for the NPTE exam, you need to have graduated from an accredited Doctorate in Physical Therapy program or be enrolled in a DPT course at an accredited college or university. Additionally, some states require proof of clinical experience before being able to sit for the exam.

You can take the NPTE in one of two ways: as the PT or PTA exam. 50 states offer both the PT and PTA exams under the jurisdiction of the FSBPT: Florida and Alaska only administer the PTA exam. Passing score varies per state but typically ranges from 600-700 points.

Complete State-Specific Requirements

In addition to passing the NPTE exam, most States have additional requirements that candidates must complete in order to be granted licensure.

In California, for instance, you must complete fingerprinting and background check procedures before applying for licensure. Tennessee requires the completion of an open book jurisprudence exam, while New York mandates coursework on child abuse reporting as part of its requirements.

This emphasizes the importance of researching state by state, to determine what other requirements need completion before applying for your license.

Apply for State Licensure

After meeting all necessary prerequisites mandated by a specific state, you are ready to apply for your sports physical therapy license. The application procedure typically involves paying fees, submission of credentials and filling out forms.

The waiting time varies from one state to another, typically taking 2-4 weeks or more in some cases, so be sure to plan accordingly.

“A good understanding of local state requirements goes a long way in reducing how overwhelming and stressful acquiring a sport’s physical therapy license could become”. – Emily Walsh, Founder, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

To Sum it Up: Becoming a licensed sports physical therapist is a process that requires effort and dedication. However, proper preparation can ensure your success in obtaining your license to practice responsibly. Remember to research each state requirement, prepare sufficiently for the NPTE exam and begin completing any state-specific requirements early enough. Applying for licensure is crucial. Good luck!

Gain Experience Through Internships

If you’re looking to become a sports physical therapist, gaining experience through internships is essential. Sports physical therapy focuses on the prevention and treatment of injuries related to sports and physical activity.

Internships provide aspiring sports physical therapists with invaluable hands-on experience in real-world environments that will help them prepare for their careers. The following provides some tips on how you can get started on finding internships as an aspiring sports physical therapist:

Research Internship Opportunities

The first step toward finding internship opportunities is doing research. You should seek out organizations or practices in your area that specialize in sports physical therapy. Additionally, see if there are any established programs at universities that offer clinical experiences working with athletes.

You may also want to look into professional organizations, such as the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) or National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), which could provide insight into available positions as well as helpful resources to assist you in your search.

Apply and Interview for Internships

Once you’ve identified potential internships openings, it’s time to apply and interview for those positions. Make sure your resume is up-to-date so that it reflects relevant coursework and experience. It wouldn’t hurt to include any extracurricular activities related to sports or physical therapy either.

When it comes to interviewing, conduct research about the clinic or program beforehand so that you can have intelligent questions prepared to ask them. This shows initiative and interest, both qualities valued by hiring managers. You may be asked about circumstances involving athletes who needed rehabilitation from an injury so be ready to respond while highlighting your awareness of safety measures when designing recovery exercises.

“I found I was most effective when I took care of an athlete from injury through rehabilitation and then made sure that he was taking care of himself properly.” – Bob Leslie, APTA member

Finding internship opportunities as an aspiring sports physical therapist requires a significant amount of research and preparation. By following the tips above while making use of available resources and organizations, you’ll be much better positioned to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Specialize In Sports Physical Therapy

If you are interested in becoming a sports physical therapist, it is important to specialize in this area. This can mean obtaining additional education or training beyond what is required for general physical therapy practice. One option is to complete a residency program that focuses on sports physical therapy. These programs typically last around 12 months and provide hands-on experience treating athletes with a variety of injuries.

Another way to specialize in sports physical therapy is to pursue advanced certifications. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers certification in Sports Physical Therapy. To obtain this certification, physical therapists need to have at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience working with athletes and pass an exam. Other organizations like the National Academy of Sports Medicine also offer specialized certifications and courses for sports physical therapists.

Additionally, getting involved in research related to sports injuries and rehabilitation can help you to develop expertise in this field. Conducting research can also make you more competitive when applying for jobs or residency programs in sports physical therapy.

Attend Continuing Education Courses

Continuing education is essential for any healthcare professional, but it is particularly important for sports physical therapists. Because there are constantly new developments and technologies emerging in the sports medicine field, staying up-to-date is crucial for providing the best care possible to patients.

One way to stay informed on current trends in sports physical therapy is to attend conferences and seminars. These events often feature leading researchers and clinicians who present on topics such as injury prevention and rehabilitation techniques. Trade shows are another valuable resource where you can learn about new products and technologies that may be useful in your practice.

In addition to attending events, many organizations offer online courses and webinars on various aspects of sports physical therapy. By regularly engaging in continuing education opportunities, you can expand your knowledge base, learn new skills and techniques, and connect with others in the field.

Collaborate with Sports Medicine Professionals

Sports physical therapists frequently work as part of a larger healthcare team. This can include collaborating with physicians, surgeons, athletic trainers, coaches, and other specialists to provide comprehensive care for athletes. Establishing relationships with these professionals is important for ensuring that patients receive optimal treatment.

Building strong partnerships with colleagues involves open communication, mutual respect, and a shared focus on the athlete’s well-being. It may require attending joint meetings and coordinating care plans to ensure continuity across different healthcare settings. Because of this, developing excellent interpersonal skills is crucial for anyone hoping to become a sports physical therapist.

Participate in Athletic Training Events

To gain experience working with athletes, participating in athletic training events can be an effective learning opportunity. These events may include volunteering at local sports teams or organizations, serving as a medical volunteer at community races or marathons, or providing first aid services during sporting events. Volunteering opportunities can help you build your resume, gain hands-on experience, and network with other professionals in your community.

In addition, many schools and colleges offer clinical education experiences in which students have the chance to work directly with athletes under the supervision of licensed sports physical therapists. These experiences not only provide valuable real-world experience but also allow students to see firsthand how different injury prevention and rehabilitation techniques are applied in practice.

“Becoming a good clinician requires both formal education and hands-on experience. To be successful as a sports physical therapist, seeking out opportunities to work closely with athletes can be key.” -Eric Shamus, PT, DPT, PhD

Becoming a sports physical therapist is a challenging but rewarding journey. By specializing in this area, pursuing continuing education opportunities, collaborates with other professionals and participating in athletic training events, aspiring sports physical therapists can take steps towards achieving their goals. Whether working with professional athletes or weekend warriors, these healthcare professionals play an important role in helping individuals recover from injuries and improve performance.

Stay Up-To-Date With The Latest Research And Techniques

Becoming a sports physical therapist requires continuous learning and keeping up with the latest research, techniques and trends in your field. Here are some ways you can stay informed:

Read Academic Journals

One of the best ways to stay current is by reading academic journals related to sports medicine, physiotherapy, biomechanics, and exercise science. Several open-access journals publish original articles, reviews, case studies, and meta-analyses that will add value to your practice. One such journal is the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, which publishes high-quality content on various musculoskeletal disorders and injuries, rehabilitation exercises, diagnostic techniques, and therapeutic interventions.

You can also subscribe to a professional association that offers journals or newsletters as one of their membership benefits – for instance, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy (IFSPT), or National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) offer plenty of resources to their members, including online courses, webinars, podcasts, and events where practicing PTs share their clinical experiences and discuss emerging topics in the field.

Attend Continuing Education Courses

Continuing education is an essential component of any healthcare profession, whereby practitioners have to fulfill certain requirements to maintain their license and enhance their skills and knowledge. As a sports physical therapist, you may attend workshops, conferences, seminars, or online courses offered by accredited providers like APTA’s Learning Center or IFSPT’s educational platform. These programs cover different domains of your practice area, from manual therapy and neurorehabilitation to sport-specific training and injury prevention.

To choose the right CEU course for your needs, consider factors like the level of difficulty, the accreditation status, the instructor’s credentials and experience, and the cost. You can also ask for recommendations from your peers or supervisors, or check reviews of previous attendees to assess the quality and relevance of the content.

Network with Other Physical Therapists

“The positive effects of networking are infinite.” -Lailah GiftyAkita

Networking plays a crucial role in expanding your professional circle, building relationships with colleagues, mentors, and potential employers, and acquiring new ideas and perspectives. You can attend local or national events hosted by PT associations, sports teams, hospitals, clinics, or research institutions, where you get to meet experts in your field, participate in discussions, and exchange best practices and feedback.

You can also join online groups or forums dedicated to sports physical therapy, such as Reddit’s r/physicaltherapy subreddit, Facebook’s Sports Rehab and Athletic Training Group, LinkedIn’s Physiotherapist Network, or Twitter’s #sportstherapy hashtag. These platforms enable you to share articles, case studies, questions, or challenges related to your work, interact with other members, and learn from their experiences and knowledge.

Participate in Research Studies

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, to think what nobody else has thought.” -Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

If you have an interest in advancing the science and practice of sports physical therapy, you can contribute to ongoing research studies or conduct your own research project. By doing so, you’ll expand your horizons beyond clinical care, develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, gain confidence in communicating your findings, and potentially make a significant impact on the lives of athletes and patients.

To find research opportunities, you can look up academic institutions or research centers in your area that focus on sports medicine or human performance, contact investigators whose studies align with your interests and expertise, or become a member of organizations like the Sports Physical Therapy Section of APTA or the International Society of Biomechanics in Sport (ISBS), which offer funding, resources, and opportunities for collaboration and publication.

Becoming a competent sports physical therapist requires dedication, passion, and lifelong learning. By keeping abreast of the latest advancements and techniques in your field, you’ll be better equipped to provide top-quality care to your patients, minimize injury risks, and optimize their functional outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sports physical therapist and what do they do?

A sports physical therapist is a healthcare professional who specializes in treating athletes and active individuals. They use exercise, manual therapy, and other techniques to help prevent and rehabilitate injuries, improve performance, and manage pain. They work closely with athletes to develop personalized treatment plans and provide ongoing support and education to help them return to their sport safely and efficiently.

What education and training is required to become a sports physical therapist?

To become a sports physical therapist, you must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited program. This typically takes 3 years of graduate-level coursework. Additionally, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and obtain a state license to practice. Many sports physical therapists also pursue additional certifications in areas such as sports medicine, orthopedics, and manual therapy.

What skills and qualities are important for success as a sports physical therapist?

Success as a sports physical therapist requires a combination of technical skills and personal qualities. Technical skills include knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, and exercise physiology, as well as manual therapy techniques and rehabilitation protocols. Personal qualities such as communication, empathy, and motivation are also crucial, as sports physical therapists must work closely with athletes to develop treatment plans and provide ongoing support and encouragement.

What types of settings do sports physical therapists work in?

Sports physical therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, sports medicine centers, and private practices. They may also work with sports teams at the professional, collegiate, or high school level. Some sports physical therapists work in research or academic settings, while others may provide consulting services to athletic organizations or businesses.

What is the job outlook for sports physical therapists?

The job outlook for sports physical therapists is strong, with a projected growth rate of 22% from 2018 to 2028. This is due in part to an aging population that is staying active later in life, as well as increased awareness of the benefits of physical therapy for injury prevention and rehabilitation. Additionally, the demand for sports physical therapists is likely to increase as more athletes seek specialized care to optimize their performance.

What steps can I take to prepare for a career in sports physical therapy?

To prepare for a career in sports physical therapy, it is important to focus on science and math coursework in high school, as well as gaining experience in sports or fitness-related activities. In college, pursue a degree in exercise science, kinesiology, or a related field, and gain experience through internships or volunteer work in sports medicine settings. After completing your DPT program and obtaining licensure, seek out opportunities to work with athletes and continue your education through certifications and continuing education courses.

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