It is the dream of most sports fans to hit the major leagues one day, or to hear their name called at the NBA draft. For most of us, however, this is only a dream.
Luckily, our love for sports does not fade away once we realize just how narrow the playing field is for those who make their careers as professional athletes.
It is also lucky that today there are more ways than ever before to incorporate your love for sports into your day-to-day job. Fans can now aspire to many jobs besides serving as a commentator for ESPN or writing the sports column for the local paper.
While there are definitely positions out there for those of you who have aspirations of being the next voice we hear while the game is on, or who want to be the next face on the 11 o’clock news, the fact is that jobs for reporters and announcers are on the decline.
On the other hand, these days such professionals as event planners, psychologists, and even statisticians are finding jobs in the sports industry. You might wonder, “How come?” Well, with an aging baby boomer generation, a digital world that craves instant information 24/7, and a new-found knowledge of the long-term effects from sporting injuries, the world of sports now offers many more venues for employment than in days past.
While most of the positions listed below do not require any athletic prowess, there may be some minor athleticism required for some of the jobs—it is only natural that an umpire or referee would be able to run and keep up with their players, or that a photojournalist might need to run along the sidelines. Still, these are not the types of skills that might earn you the label “jock.”
So, if you are looking for a career change that will satisfy your desire to be near the action in the sports world, but you are definitely not a jock, be encouraged. You may already have all of the necessary skills and coursework under your belt that you need to make the switch to a job in sports.
A Word about Salaries
All of the salary figures and other statistical information listed below has been taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), unless otherwise indicated. The median salaries reflect what people earned as of May 2016. Keep in mind that salaries fluctuate depending on where you are located. Cities with a higher cost of living typically offer jobs with a higher salary to offset that cost; similarly, a reasonably affordable town usually does not bring with it top dollar in salaries.
Sports Careers for Non-Athletes
The jobs are listed alphabetically.
Many of these careers fall under Sport Management. See our ranking of The Best Online Master in Sport Management Degree Programs.
Athletic trainers assist patients with the prevention and treatment of muscle and bone issues.
What they do: As an athletic trainer, part of your job entails making instant assessments of injuries and delivering first aid services. You will also work under a physician, who will determine a treatment plan. You may also work with athletes to develop personalized programs to prevent future injuries from happening. Athletic trainers work in schools, colleges, medical offices, or for professional sports teams. Trainers who work in school settings sometimes have to teach classes; in those circumstances, teaching credentials are required for the job.
How to get there: As an aspiring athletic trainer, you will need to get your bachelor’s degree; a master’s degree is desirable but less common. However, if you wish to work as a college trainer, you’ll need to go ahead and get the master’s.
Most states require licensure or certification from the independent Board of Certification (BOC). In order to receive certification, you will need to pass the BOC exam, adhere to the BOC Standards of Practice, and continue to take courses throughout the duration of your career as an athletic trainer.
Growth outlook: The demand for athletic trainers is expected to increase by 30%, which is much faster than average, by 2020.
Median annual salary: $45,630 per year (BLS)
Coaches teach athletes what they need to know to be successful at their sport, prepare them for competition, and guide them through the game, if necessary.
What they do: As a coach, you are both a team leader and a mentor. Coaches lead their teams. They conduct practices and teach teamwork, sportsmanship, and responsibility. Coaches are also responsible for developing strategies to implement during games or matches in order to bring home the win. Some coaches also serve as athletic talent scouts or recruiting scouts. Many coaches also scout out new talent.
How to get there: Most coaches enter the field because they want to combine their love for the sport they once played (or still play, as the case may be) with their love for teaching. Thus, many coaches are also employed as teachers, since schools tend to favor their own teachers when hiring coaches. Those who wish to coach at the secondary or college level will need a bachelor’s degree; aside from these coaching positions, however, there is no degree requirement.
Most coaches start out as assistants in order to gain the experience needed to become a head coach one day. It can take years—and a winning record or two—to become a head coach.
Growth outlook: The growth outlook for coaches is expected to increase by 29% by the year 2020.
Median annual salary: $31,460 (BLS—Note: This figure includes coaches in all sports at all institutions; successful coaches in the major sports, such as football and basketball, at big name schools may earn much higher salaries, up to seven figures.)
Fitness directors oversee all aspects and operations of gyms and health clubs.
What they do: Fitness directors are responsible for handling all of the health-related administration of their facility, including establishing schedules for personal training sessions or developing incentive programs for their clients. They research and purchase safe, fun equipment and create health and athletic programs for their center. Fitness directors may also teach exercise or nutrition classes, as well as offer one-on-one training sessions.
How to get there: If you are interested in being a fitness director, you need to have knowledge of exercise and physiology. Most fitness directors start out as trainers or instructors who have a love for sports and healthfulness. A high school diploma is the minimum requirement; a two-year or four-year degree in a health or fitness related field with coursework in nutrition and physical education is more desirable.
Growth outlook: The demand for fitness directors/trainers/instructors is expected to grow by 24% by the year 2020.
Median annual salary: $38,160 (BLS)
A photojournalist takes photographs of people, places, and events for media purposes. A sports photographer is a photojournalist who specializes in sporting events.
What they do: A sports photographer/photojournalist is responsible for documenting the game, match, or other sporting event by capturing action shots that can be used to accompany articles or take the lead spot in print and online media venues. Sports photographers keep irregular hours, since they absolutely must be present at events; they also must be on their feet for long periods of time in order to snap the right shot.
How to get there: While a bachelor’s in photography can certainly be useful for the budding sports photographer, it is not an absolutely. More often than not, a creative viewpoint along with sharp photography skills and an intense desire for and knowledge of sports obviate the need for a degree. However, the bachelor’s is a requirement for some entry-level positions with smaller publishers and companies.
Many sports photographers begin at their local papers or as freelance providers. Beginners will need to begin building a portfolio of work to demonstrate their abilities.
Growth outlook: The growth outlook for photojournalists/sports photographers is expected to rise by 13% by the year 2020.
Median annual salary: $34,070 (BLS)
Physical therapists help patients to manage their pain and recover from sickness, injuries, and surgeries through rehabilitation.
What they do: As a sports physical therapist, you’ll provide care to athletes who are recovering from injuries or long-term illness. Part of your job will be to diagnose the patient, implement a treatment plan, and essentially teach him or her how to move the body again, post-injury. You will work with a staff of nurses and other personnel who may oversee the treatments you assign to the patient.
How to get there: As an aspiring physical therapist, you will need to pursue higher education and become Board-certified. A post-graduate professional degree is the standard, with the three-year pursuit and completion of the Doctor of Physical Therapy being the desired diploma.
Those seeking additional training and experience in specialty areas of care have the option to apply for a residency, which may last anywhere from nine months to three years, and then pass a Board exam. You will also need to acquire the appropriate license, which varies state to state.
Growth outlook: The projected demand for physical therapists is expected to increase by 39% by 2020.
Median annual salary: $85,400 (BLS)
Recreation workers create, design, implement, and lead leisure and sporting activities for a wide range of groups of people.
What they do: Recreation workers find employment in places like parks, camps, and any indoor facility that requires leisure activities, such as youth and senior centers, gyms, and YMCAs. In addition to teaching and leading sports, they also show others how to participate in a variety of activities, including games, camping, and hiking. Much like teachers, recreation workers are responsible for planning and organizing activities, introducing them to a group, and making sure everybody understands the rules and can participate.
How to get there: The bachelor’s degree is the basic requirement for any job in the leisure field. While you can actually obtain an entry-level position with a liberal arts degree, that will only take you so far. If you want to pursue an administrative position in this field, a degree in parks and recreation would be the appropriate field of study. Certifications are available from the National Recreation and Park Administration.
Growth outlook: The projected demand for recreation workers is expected to rise by 14% by the year 2020.
Median annual salary: $23,870 (BLS)
Sporting Event Planner/Coordinator
In the world of sports, an event planner organizes and plans for all aspects involved in hosting sporting events, as well as promoting the event itself.
What they do: As an event coordinator, you will meet with the team or athlete’s representatives and discuss all event needs, including arranging transportation, organizing the schedule, acquiring appropriate security and accommodation for media, and handling any audio-visual equipment needs. For example, you are the person in charge of making sure the Superbowl goes off without a hitch.
Event coordinators may also act as the liaison between the sporting team and the event facility. They are also responsible for negotiating contract costs, and they must make sure that all necessary equipment is functioning properly.
How to get there: Typically, a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and a few years of relevant work experience are what you need to get your foot in the door. Also, because the demand for event planners is growing, it may help to set yourself apart by obtaining the certificate to be a CMP (Certified Meeting Planner), which is offered through the Convention Industry Council.
Growth outlook: The demand for general event planners is expected to increase by 44% by 2020.
Median annual salary: $47,350 (BLS)
Sports psychologists work as part of a collaborative team to increase the mental well-being of athletes, as well as non-athletes.
What they do: Sports psychologists exist to ensure a healthy relationship between the mind and the body. While they primarily work with athletes, sports psychologists are also known to work with non-athletes in a variety of settings, utilizing their sports-centered techniques to help others achieve success off of the sporting fields.
As an applied sports psychologist working with athletes, you will help patients to enhance their personal performance by teaching methods of goal-setting. Clinical sports psychologists combine the teaching strategies from applied psychology with therapy modalities to assist patients who suffer from mental health problems like depression or eating disorders, or job-related stresses such as performance anxiety, poor self-esteem, and burnout.
How to get there: Often, future sports psychologists enroll in a clinical or counseling doctoral program, and then take additional classes in kinesiology, physiology, sports medicine, business, and marketing. A bachelor’s degree will grant an internship; a master’s or doctoral degree is the desirable diploma for employment. Certifications and specializations are available at those higher levels, as well.
While some are self-employed in private practice, many universities employ sports psychologists to work with their student-athletes.
Growth outlook: The projected demand for all psychologists is 22% by the year 2020.
Median annual salary: $75,230 (BLS)
Statisticians rely on advanced mathematics in order to examine and evaluate data.
What they do: Statisticians are the people responsible for pooling information and drawing conclusions that sports fans love to spout off—the “stats.” In the sports industry, statisticians are required to collect and analyze data regarding everything from simple stat-keeping to designing surveys and interpreting that information to assist with recruitment and drafting.
How to get there: For an entry-level position, a bachelor’s degree will suffice; however, it’s more desirable to have a master’s in statistics, mathematics, or survey methodology. Some advanced research jobs or collegiate positions will require a Ph.D.
Growth outlook: The demand for statisticians is expected to increase by 14% by 2020.
Median annual salary: $80,500 (BLS)
Umpires and referees are responsible for providing fair judgments in athletic events.
What they do: Umpires and referees preside over sports competitions and officiate. They are responsible for calling on their knowledge of the intricate rules and policies of each game in order to make appropriate calls and impose penalties for infractions. These officials enforce the rules of play to ensure a fair match and to determine a winner.
How to get there: If you want to be an umpire or a referee, it is crucial that you have not only a love for the game, but also a vast knowledge of all of its ins and outs. Even though there is no degree program available to become a sporting official, you can gain experience by starting out at local leagues on a volunteer basis. Secondary and college officials must register with the local governing agency that oversees athletics; you may also be required to pass an exam.
Professional umpires and referees aspire to the big leagues by starting out as a paid professional in the minor leagues and by attending a mandatory month-long umpire training school. Additionally, some umpire and referee positions require 20/20 vision, a clean driving record, a healthy body weight, and a certain degree of athletic ability.
Growth outlook: The demand for umpires and referees is expected to increase by 20% by the year 2020.
Median annual salary: $25,660 (BLS)