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 sportssuch as baseball,
basketball, football, hockey, and soccerand individual sportssuch 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 international television.
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
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, and supplies.
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
teacherspreschool, 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 prospective players.
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 instructorssuch as those who work for
professional tennis playersoften 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.
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
teacherspreschool, 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 coachesthe 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 level.
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 in sports.
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 examplethat 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 of self-employment.
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 and instructors.
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 these openings.
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 is limited.
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 schools
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 of participants.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,
Athletes, Coaches, Umpires, and Related Workers, on the Internet at
(visited June 21, 2006).