Sports physical therapy specialist certification entails some maintenance guidelines that are in addition to and different from those of other specialties for initial certification, as well as for specialists seeking to maintain their certification, specifically regarding direct patient care and venue hours.
Review the direct patient hours and venue activity definitions below, and be sure to review the hours information for your level of engagement (initial certification vs. recertification or MOSC).
There is a modification to the direct patient care hour eligibility requirement for initial certification and recertification candidates. 100 hours of the direct patient care hour requirement must be documented as athletic venue coverage. Athletic venue coverage may include activities supporting or observing medical care provided in preparation for, during, or following practices, training, or competitions.
- Type of Duty: Supporting medical care
Time: Preparation (prior)
- Type of Duty: Observing medical care
- Type of Duty:Observing medical care
Applicants for specialization certification in sports physical therapy and applicants for recertification should use the following guidance in calculating venue coverage hours. Because each situation is different, there is no specific list of activities that may always be included or excluded as venue coverage. However, a guiding principle to consider for defining venue coverage is that such coverage includes: the activities in which a therapist participates immediately preceding, during, or immediately following an official competition or practice athletic events, or tactical athlete and/or military competitions or physical training. This work can be fee based or pro bono. Time spent providing support of medical or athletic training personnel in any of the stated circumstances may qualify. Hours may be performed in support of primary services provided by a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, certified athletic trainer, or physical therapist who is a board-certified sports clinical specialist.
Physical therapists should check with their state practice act and the regulations of the respective sporting organization to ensure acceptable involvement by the PT.
Some examples of approved venue coverage activities include:
Time spent providing injury management and consultation for athletes in venues where athletes practice and compete, such as interscholastic, club, intramural, collegiate, Olympic and professional practices and competitions.
- Time spent as part of a preparticipation physical medical team.
- Time spent providing medical support for running and cycling events, such as a holiday 5K, organized marathon, triathlon, and bike race.
- Time spent providing care and injury management for tactical athletes or military personnel in activities such as combative training, group physical training evolutions, and obstacle courses.
Sport Classification by Contact Level1
Limited Contact Sports
Boarding (skate, snow, and wake/knee)
Canoeing/kayaking (white water)
Field events (pole vault and high jump)
Skating (ice, inline, and roller)
Skiing (cross-country, downhill, and water)
Canoeing/kayaking (flat water)
Field (discus, javelin, and shot put)
1"Medical Conditions Affecting Sports Participation." Stephen G. Rice and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Pediatrics 2008;121;841.
Initial certification in sports physical therapy: For the direct patient care hour eligibility requirement, 100 hours must be documented as athletic venue coverage. This may include activities supporting or observing medical care provided in preparation for, during, or following practices, training, or competitions.
Candidates need to document a minimum of 50 venue coverage hours in contact sports. Another 50 hours minimum may be in contact, limited contact, or noncontact sports. All 100 hours must have been acquired within the past 10 years.
In response to Covid restrictions impacting access to venue coverage hours the past couple years, ABPTS and the Sports Specialty Council have waived the mandatory requirement for 2023 exam applicants that 50% of the venue coverage hours must be performed in association with a contact sport. In addition, applicants for this cycle may document a reduced 50 hours in any combination of contact, limited contact, or non- contact sports to fulfill the venue coverage requirement.
Candidates with limited capability to cover organized sporting events, such as military PTs and federal PTs employed outside the United States, may submit a request to receive credit for venue coverage hours provided while supporting military physical training or tactical athlete training such as SWAT and FBI physical training.
Recertification in sports physical therapy: There is an additional requirement for the direct patient care hour eligibility. One hundred hours of the direct patient care hour requirement must be documented as athletic venue coverage. Athletic venue coverage may include activities supporting or observing medical care provided in preparation for, during, or following practices, training, or competitions. 100% of hours may be performed in association with any contact, limited contact, or noncontact sport.
MOSC candidates must submit 33 venue coverage hours in either contact, limited contact, or noncontact sports in each three-year MOSC cycle. 100% of hours may be performed in association with any contact, limited contact, or noncontact sport.
The Description of Specialty Practice (DSP) for Sports Physical Therapy outlines the key competencies including: Rehabilitation/Return to Activity, Acute Injury/Illness Management, Sports Science, Medical/Surgical Considerations, Injury Prevention, and Critical Inquiry. During the current SCS application process, we require evidence of clinical practice to ensure that the candidate has not only learned the concepts of Sports Physical Therapy but also gains experience in the clinic with these concepts. We ensure that the candidate has been exposed and equipped with the particular concepts of Acute Injury/Illness Management with the emergency care certification requirement of having one of the following:
- Certification as an Athletic Trainer, Certified (ATC) or
- License as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or
- Certification as an Emergency Medical Responder (EMR)2
Note that this title was previously an Emergency Responder or First Responder)
What lacks in consistency and clarity is the experience of the candidate with utilization of these designations (ATC, EMT or EMR). With the current application process, there is no
requirement that ensures the candidate actively functions in any of these capacities. This dilemma becomes more apparent, when one looks further into the subdivisions of this Acute Injury/Illness Management competency. These subdivisions include the Examination, Evaluation, Diagnosis as well as Prognosis, Intervention, Outcomes of the acutely injured or ill athlete. The ability to complete those competencies in the sports physical therapy clinic on the acutely injured or ill athlete is rare. Conversely, the exposure to ensure proficiency not just knowledge of this competency is relatively easily attained on the athletic venue. These points were substantiated with the recent revalidation study, resulting in the 2013 Sports Description of Specialty Practice.
The Sports Specialty Council is attempting to rectify this dilemma by requiring SCS candidates to complete athletic venue hours as part of the application process, which will accomplish the following goals:
- Improve not just the knowledge of this competency but also the application of this knowledge, thus improving the possibility of not just equipping but also developing sports physical therapy specialists in acute injury/illness
- Provide more consistency between the different routes to qualify for SCS application
i.e. residency route vs. traditional application. Currently, all credentialed sports physical therapy residency programs requires 200 athletic venue hours.