Athletes and sports competitors held about 13,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of athletes and sports competitors were as follows:
|Fitness and recreational sports centers||4|
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.
No formal educational credential is required for anyone to become an athlete or sports competitor. Athletes must have superior athletic talent and extensive knowledge of their sport. They usually get such knowledge through years of experience at lower levels of competition.
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.
Athletes and sports competitors typically have an interest in the Building and
Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as an athlete and sports competitor, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Athletes and sports competitors should also possess the following specific qualities:
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. The difference between winning and losing can often be a result of a momentary lapse in concentration.
Decision-making skills. Athletes and sports competitors often must make split-second decisions. Football quarterbacks, for example, usually only have seconds to decide whether to pass the football or run with it.
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. For 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 athletes 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 essential for success.
Many professional athletes are also required to pass drug tests.
The median annual wage for athletes and sports competitors was $51,370 in May 2019. 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 $19,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for athletes and sports competitors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Fitness and recreational sports centers||48,550|
Athletes and sports competitors often work irregular schedules, 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 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be primarily due to population growth and increasing public interest in professional sports.
Growth and 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, creating new teams and new job opportunities for individuals looking to become professional athletes.
However, expansion is rare in professional sports leagues. Creating new teams is very costly and risky, requiring strong support from fans and both local and state government. When leagues do expand, they typically create only one or two teams at a time. Conversely, some teams and sports leagues may disband altogether because of a lack of interest in the sport.
Instead of disbanding, some teams simply relocate to another city that has a greater interest in the sport and a larger fan base. In this case, no new jobs for athletes would be created.
Competition for professional athlete jobs will continue to be extremely intense. A very small number of high school or college athletes become professional athletes.
Most professional athletes can deliver peak performances for only a short time. Careers last just a few years because of debilitating injuries or retirements. Yearly replacement needs for these jobs is high and may create some job opportunities.
However, the talented young men and women who dream of becoming sports superstars greatly outnumber the number of openings.
For more information about team and individual sports, visit
For more information related to individual sports, refer to the organization that represents the sport.