Most people dream of one day making it big in professional sports. For all but a lucky few, it doesn’t end up that way. For every superstar athlete or legendary coach, there are a thousand people who thought they could make it big – and didn’t. The road to a career in athletics doesn’t have to make it to the top to be successful, however. Many people earn their living by participating in athletics or coaching at the high school, collegiate, or minor league professional level.
The salaries in amateur and professional sports are as varied as the type of work available in each of the fields. The average coach in a collegiate athletic environment can expect to earn approximately $40,000 a year. For coaches at the high school level, it is much lower – closer to $25,000 a year. In high school sports, pay is typically attached to the tenure the coach has working for that school system. In collegiate athletics, pay is based primarily on your success on the field and your ability to motivate your athletes to succeed academically off the field.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
There are a number of different types of positions available in the world of athletics, depending on your education, background, and motivational skills. The jobs available are located all over the country geographically, and can involve working with people from every possible demographic.
The most prevalent type of athletics professional is the coach. A coach is typically the person on the team who runs practices, motivates players to give their best effort, develops strategies for winning the matches that they play, and determines the appropriate disciplinary action in the event of an infraction involving a player. It is not inaccurate to say that the coach is the “father” or “mother” of a team, and especially at the high school level, many athletes look up to their coach as an authority figure. A coach must have a thorough knowledge of the sport he or she coaches – its rules, its common strategies for winning, and more. They must also have the ability to analyze information – statistics, video, scouting reports of opposing teams. By combining all of this information, the successful coach is able to develop a game plan – a set of strategies to play his or her team’s strength against their opponent’s weaknesses in order to achieve victory.
Another common type of athletics professional is the club pro. Most often found at tennis clubs and golf ranges, the club pro is an athlete who makes a living giving advice to aficionados of sports that are typically played individually, such as tennis and golf. There is a coaching element to what the club pro does, but they don’t generally help a player develop a strategy for winning a match. Rather, the club pro helps the player improve their body mechanics – how to remove a slice from a golf swing, or how to improve a tennis backhand.
Most sports have referees, umpires, and judges to adjudicate disputes, keep score, and judge various aspects of the sport. Without these officials, most competitive sports would turn into anarchy. For men and women who are interested in a sporting career, but who did not become players or coaches, being a sports official is a way for them to contribute to the sport that they love in a manner that benefits everyone.
Training and Education Requirements
With such a varied range of possible jobs in athletics, it should come as no surprise that the educational requirement vary as well. Typically, coaches and club pros get most of their knowledge of a sport from playing the game themselves. For many athletes, a coaching career is the next logical step once their playing days are over. For coaching at the collegiate or high school level, a Bachelor’s degree in a related field – sports science, sports medicine, or physical education, among others – is typically recommended. This classroom education, combined with the real-world knowledge of the sport gained through experience as a player, gives the coach the credibility he or she needs to lead their team.
Certification requirements vary from state to state for coaching positions. Some states require no certification at all. Others require that coaches be trained in such fields as basic first aid and CPR, to aid an athlete in the event of a medical issue. This is especially true in high school athletics, as many students – who act like adults even though they are still children – overexert themselves to impress their friends and coaches.
There are three primary associations that deal with the sporting profession, each with their own areas of expertise. They are the National Association of Sports Officials, the National Athletic Trainers Association, and the National High School Athletics Coaches Association.
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