Careers in sports
If you want a career in sports, you have two main options:
- choose a career that’s only available in the sports industry (eg athlete or sports coach)
- choose a career that’s available in a range of different industries, including sport (eg social media executive or accountant).
Below we’ve outlined some popular jobs within sport and how to get into them. If you’re interested in studying sport, also see our guide to studying sport and exercise science at university and our profile of former level 3 BTEC sport and exercise science student Nia.
As well as competing and travelling to competitions, athletes spend a lot of time in training. Some have an employment contract with a sporting organisation and receive a regular wage; others earn money ‘as and when’, for example through prize money or sponsorship deals. Many have another job as well, whether in sport or doing something completely different.
To get into most sports as a career, you realistically need to be already competing and winning at a high level while you’re still at school. There aren’t any qualifications required to be a athlete. However, it’s a good idea to fit some in alongside training as almost all athletes need a second career when they retire from sport. You might choose qualifications that will help you into one of the other careers on this list, such as coaching, or study something else that interests you.
Some universities are very geared up towards helping students of all subjects train and compete in sport to a high level so you could, say, study history or engineering while making the most of these opportunities. Our top unis for your lifestyle outline good universities for training and competing in a number of popular sports.
Sports coach/sports instructor
As a sports coach or instructor you’ll train people up in a particular sport, and/or lead group fitness sessions. You might work with children or adults of any level, and might be employed by a sports club, charity, community group, gym, sports governing body or school. A lot of positions are part-time, so you might need to coach for more than one employer or have a different job too.
To become a sports coach or instructor you’ll need a good level of ability in that sport and often a coaching qualification from the relevant sports governing body. These tend to involve a few days of face-to-face learning and sometimes some work to complete at home as well. For some jobs you’ll also need to have competed in that sport to a specified level yourself (eg at county level or regional level). For jobs working with children, previous experience working with children is often sought.
Sports development officer
Sports development officers help run initiatives aimed at encouraging people to get involved in sport. Sometimes these are aimed at everyone in a local community; other times they are aimed at a particular group, such as older people. Tasks can involve finding and applying for sources of funding, keeping track of budgets, managing sports coaches and volunteers, and planning, organising and promoting the initiatives, for example through social media. Sometimes the jobs are combined with a sports coaching role, meaning that you’ll lead some of the activities yourself.
You might be employed by a local authority, a sports governing body, a charity or a community association, for example. It’s likely that there will be some evening and weekend work involved, as this is when sports events and activities are most likely to be held.
Entry requirements vary. For all jobs you’re likely to require relevant experience (for example through work experience placements and/or volunteering). In terms of qualifications, some employers value a sports-related degree; others prefer a sports coaching qualification.
You can find out more about this role and how to get in by reading the sports development officer job description on our graduate careers site TARGETjobs.
PE teachers plan and deliver lessons, assess students and arrange matches with other schools/colleges.
To become a PE teacher you need a degree and to obtain qualified teacher status (QTS). You can either take an undergraduate (first) degree in physical education that includes gaining QTS, or take a degree in a related subject and then gain QTS afterwards – the most common way to do this is to take a one-year postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) before applying for jobs. In terms of relevant undergraduate degree subjects, Durham University states that you need a degree whereby ‘approximately 50% is comprised of sports or a similar subject’ in order to apply for its ‘PGCE secondary – physical education’ course. The University of Southampton say that your degree must have ‘covered theoretical and practical aspects of sport, health and physical education’ in order to apply for its PGCE in physical education.
You can find out more about becoming a teacher in our teaching careers section.
Sports lawyers advise their clients on the legal aspects of sport, and may also represent them in court. Their work can cover commercial agreements (for example regarding sponsorship and advertising), broadcasting rights for sporting events, employment contracts, transfers, injuries, sports regulation and disciplinary matters.
Lawyers are divided into barristers (who frequently speak in court, and provide advice to solicitors on specialist areas) and solicitors (who provide lots of advice directly to clients). On our graduate careers site you can read about working in sports law both as a barrister and as a solicitor.
By far the most common route to becoming a solicitor or barrister is by taking a degree (either in law or in something else) followed by further education and training. You can find out more about becoming a lawyer in our law careers sector.
Sports physiotherapists work with athletes (professional and amateur) to help them overcome and prevent injuries. For example, they may assess an injury, develop a treatment plan and deliver it, such as by manual therapy (manipulating body parts), massage, hydrotherapy or setting exercises. Some sports physiotherapists are employed by sports clubs – if you work with professional athletes you’re likely to attend training sessions and competitions/matches around the country or internationally. You could also work for a private physiotherapy clinic, or set up your own.
To become a sports physiotherapist you’ll need a degree in physiotherapy. You could do this either as an undergraduate (first) degree, or as a masters (a higher level degree) after studying a related subject first. Find out more in our article on how to become a physiotherapist and what they do.
Sports therapy is similar to sports physiotherapy – you’ll treat and prevent injuries using the types of techniques outlined above. However, your training will focus specifically on skills you’ll need to work with athletes, whereas physiotherapists are trained to deal with a much wider range of medical issues. A common route in would be to take a degree in sports therapy accredited by the Society of Sports Therapists. The sports therapy job description on our graduate careers site TARGETjobs has more information.
Leisure centre/gym manager
If you have strong organisational and people skills you could make a great manager for a leisure centre or gym. Typical duties include recruiting and managing staff, ensuring they are properly trained up and have up-to-date qualifications, making sure that the centre is well maintained (for example that it is clean and tidy and that gym equipment is in working order), overseeing the budget, promoting the centre and increasing its income, ensuring that health and safety policies are followed, organising staff rotas and assisting customers.
Depending on the size of the business and the level of the role, your job might be quite practical and hands-on, keeping everything running on a day-to-day basis, or more office-based with a focus on growing the business. Employers include local authorities, private sector gym chains, hotels, universities and some schools (particularly independent schools).
To get into this career you’ll usually need experience at a lower level in a leisure centre or gym, for example as a leisure centre assistant or fitness instructor. Once you’ve gained experience and trust, your next step could be to step into a supervisor role, taking responsibility for the centre and for staff during specific shifts. Employers often also ask for relevant qualifications – this varies from job to job, but you might, for example, be asked for a level 3 fitness instructor qualification or a lifeguarding qualification such as ‘trainer assessor’ from the Royal Life Saving Society.
You can read more about careers as a leisure centre/gym manager on our graduate careers site TARGETjobs.
If you’re a strong writer or confident speaker you could consider a career as a sports journalist. You could work for newspapers, websites, TV stations, radio stations or a combination of these. Taking a journalism qualification is helpful, either instead of going to university, at undergraduate (first) degree level or after studying a different subject at university. Read up on how to get into a career in journalism and explore the rest of our media careers section to find out more.
Similarly, media outlets need strong sports images to accompany their stories. You could work for a publication (print and/or web), as a freelancer, for a news agency or for an organisation that runs sporting events (such as UCI, organisers of the Tour de France, or the International Olympic Committee). Read our article on jobs in the media to find out more about photography careers. Taking a photography degree is a common route in, though not 100% essential.
Sports marketing, PR, communications and social media
These roles involve promoting sport and sports organisations through a variety of media. There’s quite a lot of overlap between them – some jobs will in practice cover several of these areas – and also with sports journalism. You might work for an individual organisation or for an agency that is paid by a number of different organisations to promote them. Tasks could include producing content such as articles or videos, running social media channels, writing press releases, contacting media organisations to organise or try to gain coverage, planning and organising campaigns, overseeing budgets and tracking results.
There isn’t one specific route into these careers. Some employers like a degree; others don’t mind. You could try to get directly into these careers at a sporting organisation, for example by gaining lots of voluntary experience, or get a similar job outside of sport and then transfer across once you’ve built up skills and knowledge. Alternatively, you could start your career in sports journalism. Whichever path you choose you’ll need strong writing skills and good knowledge of the sport you want to cover.