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Athlete or Coach

Job Outlook: 6% (As fast as average)

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What Athletes and Sports Competitors Do About this section

Athletes and sports competitors
Athletes and sports competitors practice under the direction of coaches and sports instructors.

Athletes and sports competitors participate in organized, officiated sporting events to entertain spectators.

Duties

Athletes and sports competitors typically do the following:

  • Practice to develop and improve their skills
  • Keep their sports equipment in good condition
  • Exercise, train, and follow special diets to stay in the best physical condition
  • Take instructions regarding strategy and tactics from coaches and other sports staff during practices and competitions
  • Follow the rules of the sport during competitions
  • Assess performance after each event and identify their strengths and weaknesses

Many people dream of becoming a professional athlete. Few people, however, make a full-time living from professional athletics—and when they do, professional athletes often have short careers with little job security.

When performing, athletes and sports competitors must understand the strategies involved in their sport while following its rules and regulations. The events in which athletes compete include team sports, such as baseball, football, hockey, and soccer, and individual sports, such as golf, racecar driver, and tennis. The level of play varies. Some athletes compete in regional events; others compete in national or international events.

Being an athlete involves more than competing in athletic events. Athletes spend most days practicing and improving their skills under the guidance of a coach or a sports instructor. They review videos to critique and improve their performance and technique. To gain a competitive advantage, athletes also study their opponents' tendencies and weaknesses.

Because of the physical demands required by many sports, career-ending injuries are always a risk. Some athletes work regularly with fitness trainers and instructors to gain muscle and stamina and to prevent injury. They also may work with athletic trainers or exercise physiologists to recover and rebuild from injuries, even minor ones.

Sports competition at the professional level is intense, and job security is always in question. Therefore, many pro athletes train throughout the year to maintain or improve their form and technique to remain in peak physical condition. Little downtime from the sport exists at the professional level.

Work Environment About this section

Athletes and sports competitors
Athletes and sports competitors are often exposed to all types of weather conditions.

Athletes and sports competitors held about 15,800 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of athletes and sports competitors were as follows:

Spectator sports 60%
Self-employed workers 17
Fitness and recreational sports centers 3

Athletes and sports competitors who participate in outdoor competitions may be exposed to weather conditions of the season in which they play their sport. In addition, many athletes must travel to sporting events. Such travel may include long bus rides or plane trips, and, in some cases, international travel.

Injuries and Illnesses

Athletes and sports competitors have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Many of these workers wear gloves, helmets, pads, and other protective gear to guard against injury. And although fatalities are uncommon, athletes and sports competitors experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.

Work Schedules

Athletes and sports competitors may work irregular schedules, including evenings, weekends, and holidays; part-time work is also common. During the sports season, they typically work more than 40 hours per week for several months as they practice, train, travel, and compete.

How to Become an Athlete or Sports Competitor About this section

Athletes and sports competitors
Athletes and sports competitors gain experience by competing in high school, college, or club teams.

No formal educational credential is typically required to become an athlete or sports competitor. Athletes must have athletic talent and extensive knowledge of their sport. They typically get such knowledge through years of experience at lower levels of competition.

Education

Although no formal educational credential is typically required to enter the occupation, most athletes and sports competitors have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Some play their sport in college, where they take courses that may lead to a degree. They must have extensive knowledge of the way the sport is played—especially its rules, regulations, and strategies.

Other Experience

Athletes typically learn the rules of the game and develop their skills by playing the sport at lower levels of competition. They often begin training at a young age and may compete on club teams or in high school and collegiate athletics. In addition, athletes may improve their skills by taking private or group lessons or attending sports camps.

Training

It typically takes many years of practice and experience to become an athlete or sports competitor.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some sports and states require athletes and sports competitors to be licensed or certified to practice. For example, racecar drivers need a driver’s license issued by their state and a certification or license from an automobile racing organization to compete in some races. State licensing boards and professional athletics associations, which serve as governing bodies of various sports, may revoke licenses and suspend participants who do not meet the required performance or training. In addition, athletes may have their licenses or certification suspended for inappropriate activity.

Advancement

Turning professional is often the biggest advancement that aspiring athletes make in their careers. They may begin to compete immediately, although some also may spend more time on the bench (as a reserve) to gain experience. In some sports, such as baseball, athletes may begin their professional career on a minor league team before moving up to the major leagues. Professional athletes generally advance in their sport by displaying superior performance and receiving accolades; in turn, they typically earn a higher salary. They also may receive endorsements from companies and brands.

Important Qualities

Athleticism. Athletes and sports competitors need athletic ability to compete against opponents.

Concentration. Athletes and sports competitors must focus when competing, which includes being able to block out distractions from fans and opponents.

Decision-making skills. Athletes and sports competitors often must make split-second decisions that affect the outcome of a play or the entire competition.

Dedication. Athletes and sports competitors must practice regularly to develop their skills and improve or maintain their physical conditioning.

Hand–eye coordination. Athletes and sports competitors must be able to gauge depth and distance to react and maneuver quickly during competition, such as to strike a fast-moving ball or guide a jumping horse.

Stamina. Endurance is important for helping athletes and sports competitors manage stress during events and ensure that their bodies remain in peak performance condition.

Teamwork. The ability to work toward a shared goal with others, including teammates and coaches, is essential for athletes’ and sports competitors’ success.

Professional athletes also may be required to pass drug tests.

Pay About this section

Athletes and Sports Competitors

Median annual wages, May 2021

Athletes and sports competitors

$77,300

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

$49,470

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for athletes and sports competitors was $77,300 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for athletes and sports competitors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Spectator sports $85,390
Fitness and recreational sports centers 79,610

Athletes and sports competitors may work irregular schedules, including evenings, weekends, and holidays; part-time work is also common. During the sports season, they typically work more than 40 hours per week for several months as they practice, train, travel, and compete.

Job Outlook About this section

Athletes and Sports Competitors

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Athletes and sports competitors

36%

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

13%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Employment of athletes and sports competitors is projected to grow 36 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 2,900 openings for athletes and sports competitors are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession of 2020. Geographic shifts in population may lead to an increase in the number of professional sports teams. Some professional sports leagues may expand to new cities in the United States, forming new teams and job opportunities for prospective professional athletes. Employment growth also will stem from an increased public interest in professional sports.

Expansion is rare in professional sports leagues because forming new teams is costly and risky. However, several leagues discussing future expansion plans could affect the demand for athletes and sports competitors over the projections decade.

An interim rule change in college sports and legislation for a Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) policy in many states will allow student-athletes to sign endorsements. As a result, there should be an increase in self-employment for athletes and sports competitors over the projections decade.

Employment projections data for athletes and sports competitors, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Athletes and sports competitors

27-2021 15,800 21,500 36 5,700 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about team and individual sports, visit

National Collegiate Athletic Association

National Council of Youth Sports

National Federation of State High School Associations

For more information related to individual sports, refer to the organization that represents the sport.

O*NET

Athletes and Sports Competitors

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