Athlete or Sports Competitor
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Salary Range: $40,000 to $59,999
Average Hourly: $
Number of Jobs: 16700
Jobs Added to 2029: 6300
Growth: Much faster than average
Go here to see salary and job data specific to the United Kingdom.
What Athletes and Sports Competitors Do
Athletes and sports competitors typically do the following:
- Practice to develop and improve their skills
- Maintain their sports equipment in good condition
- Train, exercise, and follow special diets to stay in the best physical condition
- Take instructions regarding strategy and tactics from coaches and other sports staff during games
- Follow the rules of the sport during competitions and games
- Assess their individual and team performance after each event and identify their strengths and weaknesses
Many people dream of becoming a paid professional athlete. Few people, however, beat the odds and make a full-time living from professional athletics—and when they do, professional athletes often have short careers with little job security.
When playing a game, athletes and sports competitors must understand the strategies involved while following the rules and regulations of the sport. The events in which athletes compete include team sports, such as baseball, softball, hockey, and soccer, and individual sports, such as golf, tennis, swimming, and skiing. The level of play varies greatly. Some athletes may compete in regional competitions, while other athletes compete in national or international events.
Being an athlete involves more than competing in athletic events. Athletes spend most days practicing their skills and improving teamwork under the guidance of a coach or a sports instructor. They review videotapes to critique and improve their own performance and technique. Athletes also must study their opponents' tendencies and weaknesses so as to gain a competitive advantage.
Some athletes work regularly with fitness trainers and instructors to gain muscle and stamina and to prevent injury. Because of the physical demands required by many sports, career-ending injuries are always a risk. Even minor injuries may put a player at risk of replacement.
Because competition at all levels is extremely intense and job security is always in question, many athletes train throughout the year to maintain or improve their form and technique and remain in peak physical condition. Very little downtime from the sport exists at the professional level.
Athletes and sports competitors often work irregular hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. They usually work more than 40 hours a week for several months during their particular sports season. They frequently work outside, so they may be exposed to all weather conditions.
Work Environment Details
|Fitness and recreational sports centers||3%|
Athletes and sports competitors who participate in outdoor competitions may be exposed to all 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 pads, gloves, goggles, helmets, and other protective gear to protect against injury. And although fatalities are uncommon, athletes and sports competitors experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.
Athletes and sports competitors often work irregular hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. During the sports season, they usually work more than 40 hours a week for several months as they practice, train, travel, and compete.
Employment of athletes and sports competitors is projected to grow 38 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.
About 3,400 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.
How to Become an Athlete or Sports Competitor
Although athletes and sports competitors typically have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, no formal educational credential is required for them to enter the occupation. They must have extensive knowledge of the way the sport is played—especially its rules, regulations, and strategies.
Athletes typically learn the rules of the game and develop their skills by playing the sport at lower levels of competition. For most sports, athletes compete in high school and collegiate athletics or on club teams. In addition, athletes may improve their skills by taking private or group lessons or attending sports camps.
It typically takes many years of practice and experience to become an athlete or sports competitor.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Some sports and localities require athletes and sports competitors to be licensed or certified to practice. For example, race car drivers need to be licensed to compete in the various races. The governing body of the sport 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.
Turning professional is often the biggest advancement that aspiring athletes can make in their careers. They often begin to compete immediately, although some 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 earn a higher salary. Others may receive endorsements from companies and brands.
Athleticism. Nearly all athletes and sports competitors must possess superior athletic ability to be able to compete successfully against opponents.
Concentration. Athletes and sports competitors must be extremely focused when competing and must block out distractions from fans and opponents. The difference between winning and losing can sometimes be a result of a momentary lapse in concentration.
Decisionmaking skills. Athletes and sports competitors often must make split-second decisions. Quarterbacks, for example, usually have only seconds to decide whether to pass the football or not.
Dedication. Athletes and sports competitors must practice regularly to develop their skills and improve or maintain their physical conditioning. It often takes years to become successful, so athletes must be dedicated to their sport.
Hand–eye coordination. In many sports, including tennis and baseball, the need to gauge and strike a fast-moving ball is highly dependent on the athlete’s hand–eye coordination.
Stamina. Endurance can benefit athletes and sports competitors, particularly those who participate in long-lasting sports competitions, such as marathons.
Teamwork. Because many athletes compete in a team sport, such as hockey or soccer, the ability to work with teammates as a cohesive unit is important for success.
Many professional athletes are also required to pass drug tests.