Work hours are often irregular; travel may be extensive.
Career-ending injuries are always a risk for athletes.
Job opportunities will be best for part-time coaches, sports
instructors, umpires, referees, and sports officials in high
schools, sports clubs, and other settings.
Competition for professional athlete jobs will continue to
be extremely intense; athletes who seek to compete professionally
must have extraordinary talent, desire, and dedication to training.
Nature of the Work
We are a nation of sports fans and sports players. Some of those
who participate in amateur sports dream of becoming paid professional
athletes, coaches, or sports officials, but very few beat the
long and daunting odds of making a full-time living from professional
athletics. Those athletes who do make it to professional levels
find that careers are short and jobs are insecure. Even though
the chances of employment as a professional athlete are slim,
there are many opportunities for at least a part-time job as a
coach, instructor, referee, or umpire in amateur athletics or
in high school, college, or university sports.
Athletes and sports competitors compete in organized,
officiated sports events to entertain spectators. When playing
a game, athletes are required to understand the strategies of
their game while obeying the rules and regulations of the sport.
The events in which they compete include both team sports—such
as baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer—and individual
sports—such as golf, tennis, and bowling. The level of play varies
from unpaid high school athletics to professional sports, in which
the best from around the world compete in events broadcast on
Being an athlete involves more than competing in athletic events.
Athletes spend many hours each day practicing skills and improving
teamwork under the guidance of a coach or a sports instructor.
They view videotapes to critique their own performances and techniques
and to learn their opponents’ tendencies and weaknesses to gain
a competitive advantage. Some athletes work regularly with strength
trainers to gain muscle and stamina and to prevent injury. Many
athletes push their bodies to the limit during both practice and
play, so career-ending injury always is 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 precarious,
many athletes train year round to maintain excellent form and
technique and peak physical condition. Very little downtime from
the sport exists at the professional level. Athletes also must
conform to regimented diets during their sports season to supplement
any physical training program.
Coaches organize amateur and professional athletes and
teach them the fundamentals of individual and team sports. (In
individual sports, instructors sometimes may fill this
role.) Coaches train athletes for competition by holding practice
sessions to perform drills that improve the athletes’ form, technique,
skills, and stamina. Along with refining athletes’ individual
skills, coaches are responsible for instilling good sportsmanship,
a competitive spirit, and teamwork and for managing their teams
during both practice sessions and competitions. Before competition
, coaches evaluate or scout the opposing team to determine game
strategies and practice specific plays. During competition, coaches
may call specific plays intended to surprise or overpower the
opponent, and they may substitute players for optimum team chemistry
and success. Coaches’ additional tasks may include selecting,
storing, issuing, and taking inventory of equipment, materials,
Many coaches in high schools are primarily teachers of academic
subjects who supplement their income by coaching part time. (For
more information on high school teachers, see the statement on
teachers—preschool, kindergarten, elementary,
middle, and secondary, elsewhere in the Handbook.)
College coaches consider coaching a full-time discipline and may
be away from home frequently as they travel to scout and recruit
Sports instructors teach professional and nonprofessional
athletes individually. They organize, instruct, train, and lead
athletes in indoor and outdoor sports such as bowling, tennis,
golf, and swimming. Because activities are as diverse as weight
lifting, gymnastics, scuba diving, and karate, instructors tend
to specialize in one or a few activities. Like coaches, sports
instructors also may hold daily practice sessions and be responsible
for any needed equipment and supplies. Using their knowledge of
their sport and of physiology, they determine the type and level
of difficulty of exercises, prescribe specific drills, and correct
athletes’ techniques. Some instructors also teach and demonstrate
the use of training apparatus, such as trampolines or weights,
for correcting athletes’ weaknesses and enhancing their conditioning.
As coaches do, sports instructors evaluate the athlete and the
athlete’s opponents to devise a competitive game strategy.
Coaches and sports instructors sometimes differ in their approaches
to athletes because of the focus of their work. For example, while
coaches manage the team during a game to optimize its chance for
victory, sports instructors—such as those who work for professional
tennis players—often are not permitted to instruct their athletes
during competition. Sports instructors spend more of their time
with athletes working one-on-one, which permits them to design
customized training programs for each individual. Motivating athletes
to play hard challenges most coaches and sports instructors but
is vital for the athlete’s success. Many coaches and instructors
derive great satisfaction working with children or young adults,
helping them to learn new physical and social skills, improve
their physical condition, and achieve success in their sport.
Umpires, referees, and other sports officials officiate
at competitive athletic and sporting events. They observe the
play, detect infractions of rules, and impose penalties established
by the rules and regulations of the various sports. Umpires, referees,
and sports officials anticipate play and position themselves to
best see the action, assess the situation, and determine any violations.
Some sports officials, such as boxing referees, may work independently,
while others such as umpires work in groups. Regardless of the
sport, the job is highly stressful because officials are often
required to make a decision in a split second, sometimes resulting
in strong disagreement among competitors, coaches, and spectators.
Professional scoutsevaluate the skills of both amateur
and professional athletes to determine talent and potential. As
a sports intelligence agent, the scout’s primary duty is to seek
out top athletic candidates for the team he or she represents.
At the professional level, scouts typically work for scouting
organizations or as freelance scouts. In locating new talent,
scouts perform their work in secrecy so as not to “tip off” their
opponents about their interest in certain players. At the college
level, the head scout often is an assistant coach, although freelance
scouts may aid colleges by reporting to coaches about exceptional
players. Scouts at this level seek talented high school athletes
by reading newspapers, contacting high school coaches and alumni,
attending high school games, and studying videotapes of prospects’
performances. They also evaluate potential players’ background
and personal characteristics, such as motivation and discipline,
by talking to the players’ coaches, parents, and teachers.
Irregular work hours are the trademark of the athlete. They also
are common for coaches, umpires, referees, and other sports officials.
People in these occupations often work Saturdays, Sundays, evenings,
and holidays. Athletes and full-time coaches usually work more
than 40 hours a week for several months during the sports season,
if not most of the year. Some coaches in educational institutions
may coach more than one sport, particularly in high schools.
Athletes, coaches, and sports officials who participate in competitions
that are held outdoors may be exposed to all weather conditions
of the season; those involved in events that are held indoors
tend to work in climate-controlled comfort, often in arenas, enclosed
stadiums, or gymnasiums. Athletes, coaches, and some sports officials
frequently travel to sporting events by bus or airplane. Scouts
also travel extensively in locating talent, often by automobile.
Umpires, referees, and other sports officials regularly encounter
verbal abuse by fans, coaches, and athletes. The officials also
face possible physical assault and, increasingly, lawsuits from
injured athletes based on their officiating decisions.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Education and training requirements for athletes, coaches, umpires,
and related workers vary greatly by the level and type of sport.
Regardless of the sport or occupation, jobs require immense overall
knowledge of the game, usually acquired through years of experience
at lower levels. Athletes usually begin competing in their sports
while in elementary or middle school, and continue through high
school and sometimes college. They play in amateur tournaments
and on high school and college teams, where the best attract the
attention of professional scouts. Most schools require that participating
athletes maintain specific academic standards to remain eligible
to play. Becoming a professional athlete is the culmination of
years of effort. Athletes who seek to compete professionally must
have extraordinary talent, desire, and dedication to training.
For high school coaching and sports instructor jobs, schools
usually prefer to hire teachers willing to take on the jobs part
time. If no one suitable is found, schools hire someone from outside.
Some entry-level positions for coaches or instructors require
only experience derived as a participant in the sport or activity.
Many coaches begin their careers as assistant coaches to gain
the knowledge and experience needed to become a head coach. Head
coaches at large schools that strive to compete at the highest
levels of a sport require substantial experience as a head coach
at another school or as an assistant coach. To reach the ranks
of professional coaching, a person usually needs years of coaching
experience and a winning record in the lower ranks.
Head coaches at public secondary schools and sports instructors
at all levels usually must have a bachelor’s degree. (For information
on teachers, including those specializing in physical education,
see the section on teachers—preschool, kindergarten, elementary,
middle, and secondary elsewhere in the Handbook.) Those
who are not teachers must meet State requirements for certification
to become a head coach. Certification, however, may not be required
for coaching and sports instructor jobs in private schools. Degree
programs specifically related to coaching include exercise and
sports science, physiology, kinesiology, nutrition and fitness,
physical education, and sports medicine.
For those interested in becoming a tennis, golf, karate, or other
kind of instructor, certification is highly desirable. Often,
one must be at least 18 years old and certified in cardiopulmonary
resuscitation (CPR). There are many certifying organizations specific
to the various sports, and their training requirements vary. Participation
in a clinic, camp, or school usually is required for certification.
Part-time workers and those in smaller facilities are less likely
to need formal education or training.
For example, there are two organizations that certify tennis
instructors and coaches—the Professional Tennis Registry, an international
organization, and the U.S. Professional Tennis Association. Both
organizations offer three levels of certification, but the requirements
are slightly different. Each level of certification is based on
the candidate’s National Tennis Rating Program rating, teaching
experience, and score on the organization’s written and practical
certifying exams. There are also minimum age requirements for
Each sport has specific requirements for umpires, referees, and
other sports officials. Umpires, referees, and other sports officials
often begin their careers by volunteering for intramural, community,
and recreational league competitions. To officiate at high school
athletic events, officials must register with the State agency
that oversees high school athletics and pass an exam on the rules
of the particular game. For college refereeing, candidates must
be certified by an officiating school and be evaluated during
a probationary period. Some larger college sports conferences
require officials to have certification and other qualifications,
such as residence in or near the conference boundaries, along
with several years of experience officiating at high school, community
college, or other college conference games.
Standards are even more stringent for officials in professional
sports. Whereas umpires for high school baseball need a high school
diploma or its equivalent, 20/20 vision, and quick reflexes, those
seeking to officiate at minor or major league games must attend
professional umpire training school. Currently, there are two
schools whose curriculums have been approved by the Professional
Baseball Umpires Corporation for training. Top graduates are selected
for further evaluation while officiating in a rookie minor league.
Umpires then usually need 8 to 10 years of experience in various
minor leagues before being considered for major league jobs. Becoming
an official for professional football also is competitive, as
candidates must have at least 10 years of officiating experience,
with 5 of them at a collegiate varsity or minor professional level.
For the National Football League (NFL), prospective trainees are
interviewed by clinical psychologists to determine levels of intelligence
and ability to handle extremely stressful situations. In addition,
the NFL’s security department conducts thorough background checks.
Potential candidates are likely to be interviewed by a panel from
the NFL officiating department and are given a comprehensive examination
on the rules of the sport.
Scouting jobs require experience playing a sport at the college
or professional level that makes it possible to spot young players
who possess extraordinary athletic ability and skills. Most beginning
scouting jobs are as part-time talent spotters in a particular
area or region. Hard work and a record of success often lead to
full-time jobs responsible for bigger territories. Some scouts
advance to scouting director jobs or various administrative positions
Athletes, coaches, umpires, and related workers must relate well
to others and possess good communication and leadership skills.
Coaches also must be resourceful and flexible to successfully
instruct and motivate individuals and groups of athletes.
Athletes, coaches, umpires, and related workers held about 212,000
jobs in 2004. Coaches and scouts held 178,000 jobs; athletes,
17,000; and umpires, referees, and other sports officials, 16,000.
Nearly 37 percent of athletes, coaches, umpires, and related workers
worked part time, while 20 percent maintained variable schedules.
Many sports officials and coaches receive such small and irregular
payments for their services— occasional officiating at club games,
for example—that they may not consider themselves employed in
these occupations, even part time.
Among those employed in wage and salary jobs, 30 percent held
jobs in private educational services. About 15 percent worked
in amusement, gambling, and recreation industries, including golf
and tennis clubs, gymnasiums, health clubs, judo and karate schools,
riding stables, swim clubs, and other sports and recreation facilities.
Another 9 percent worked in the spectator sports industry.
About 1 out of 4 workers in this occupation was self-employed,
earning prize money or fees for lessons, scouting, or officiating
assignments. Many other coaches and sports officials, although
technically not self-employed, have such irregular or tenuous
working arrangements that their working conditions resemble those
Employment of athletes, coaches, umpires, and related workers
is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations
through the year 2014. Employment will grow as the general public
continues to participate in organized sports for entertainment,
recreation, and physical conditioning. Increasing participation
in organized sports by girls and women will boost demand for coaches,
umpires, and related workers. Job growth also will be driven by
the increasing number of baby boomers approaching retirement,
during which they are expected to participate more and require
instruction in leisure activities such as golf and tennis. The
large number of children of baby boomers also will be active participants
in high school and college athletics and will require coaches
Employment of coaches and instructors also will increase with
expansion of school and college athletic programs and growing
demand for private sports instruction. Sports-related job growth
within education also will be driven by the decisions of local
school boards. Population growth dictates the construction of
additional schools, particularly in the expanding suburbs, but
funding for athletic programs often is cut first when budgets
become tight. Still, the popularity of team sports often enables
shortfalls to be offset somewhat by assistance from fundraisers,
booster clubs, and parents. Persons who are State-certified to
teach academic subjects in addition to physical education are
likely to have the best prospects for obtaining coaching and instructor
jobs. The need to replace the many high school coaches who change
occupations or leave the labor force entirely also will provide
some coaching opportunities.
Competition for professional athlete jobs will continue to be
extremely intense. Opportunities to make a living as a professional
in individual sports such as golf or tennis may grow as new tournaments
are established and as prize money distributed to participants
increases. Because most professional athletes’ careers last only
a few years due to debilitating injuries and age, annual turnover
in these jobs is high, creating some job opportunities. However,
the talented young men and women who dream of becoming sports
superstars greatly outnumber and will compete aggressively for
Opportunities should be best for persons seeking part-time umpire,
referee, and other sports official jobs at the high school level.
Competition is expected for higher paying jobs at the college
level and will be even greater for jobs in professional sports.
Competition should be very keen for jobs as scouts, particularly
for professional teams, because the number of available positions
Median annual earnings of athletes were $48,310 in May 2004.
However, the highest paid professional athletes earn much more.
Median annual earnings of umpires and related workers were $21,260
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $16,870 and
$31,390. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $14,160,
and the highest paid 10 percent earned more than $44,140.
In May 2004, median annual earnings of coaches and scouts were
$26,350. The middle 50 percent earned between $17,230 and $40,460.
The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $13,320, and the highest
paid 10 percent earned more than $57,800. However, the highest
paid professional coaches earn much more. Median annual earnings
in the industries employing the largest numbers of coaches and
scouts in May 2004 are shown below:
Colleges, universities, and professional
Other amusement and recreation industries
Other schools and instruction
Elementary and secondary schools
Civic and social organizations
Earnings vary by level of education, certification, and geographic
region. Some instructors and coaches are paid a salary, while
others may be paid by the hour, per session, or based on the number
Athletes and coaches use their extensive knowledge of physiology
and sports to instruct, inform, and encourage sports participants.
Other workers with similar duties include dietitians and nutritionists;
physical therapists; recreation workers; fitness workers; recreational
therapists; and teachers—preschool, kindergarten, elementary,
middle, and secondary.
Sources of Additional Information
For information about sports officiating for team and individual
National Association of Sports Officials, 2017 Lathrop Ave.,
Racine, WI 53405. Internet: http://www.naso.org/
For more information about certification of tennis instructors
and coaches, contact: