Athletes and Sports Competitors

Summary

athletes and sports competitors image
Athletes and sports competitors participate in officiated sports events to entertain spectators.
Quick Facts: Athletes and Sports Competitors
2014 Median Pay $43,350 per year
Typical Entry-Level Education No formal educational credential
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 13,700
Job Outlook, 2014-24 6% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 800

What Athletes and Sports Competitors Do

Athletes and sports competitors participate in organized, officiated sporting events to entertain spectators.

Work Environment

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 often work outside, so they may be exposed to all weather conditions.

How to Become an Athlete or Sports Competitor

No formal educational credential is required to become an athlete or sports competitor. Athletes must have superior athletic talent and immense knowledge of their sport, which they usually get through years of practice and experience at lower levels of competition.

Pay

The median annual wage for athletes and sports competitors was $43,350 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of athletes and sports competitors is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Competition for most professional athlete jobs will remain very strong.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for athletes and sports competitors.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of athletes and sports competitors with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about athletes and sports competitors by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Athletes and Sports Competitors Do

Athletes and sports competitors
Athletes and sports competitors practice under the direction of coaches, sports instructors, or athletic trainers.

Athletes and sports competitors participate in organized, officiated sporting events to entertain spectators.

Duties

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 from coaches and other sports staff during games regarding strategy and tactics
  • 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 game strategies 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 skills and improving teamwork under the guidance of a coach or a sports instructor. They review videotapes to critique and improve their own performances and techniques. Athletes must also 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.

Work Environment

Athletes and sports competitors
Athletes and sports competitors are often exposed to all types of weather conditions.

Athletes and sports competitors held about 13,700 jobs in 2014. More than half were employed in the spectator sports industry.

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. Additionally, many athletes must travel to sporting events, which may include long bus rides or plane trips, and, in some cases, international travel. 

Work Schedules

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 in events.

Injuries and Illnesses

Athletes who play a contact sport, such as football or hockey, are highly susceptible to injuries. Because of this, many athletes wear pads, gloves, goggles, helmets, and other protective gear to protect against injury.

How to Become an Athlete or Sports Competitor

Athletes and sports competitors
Athletes and sports competitors gain experience by competing in high school, college, or club teams.

No formal educational credential is required to become an athlete or sports competitor. Athletes must have superior athletic talent and immense knowledge of their sport, which they usually get through years of experience at lower levels of competition.

Education

Although athletes and sports competitors typically have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, no formal educational credential is required to enter the occupation. They must have extensive knowledge of the way the sport is played, especially its rules, regulations, and strategies.

Other Experience

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.

Training

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, racecar 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.

Advancement

Turning professional is often the biggest advancement that an aspiring athlete can make in his or her career. 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, and in turn they earn a higher salary. Others may receive endorsements from companies and brands.

Important 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 and block out distractions from fans and opponents. The difference between winning and losing can often be a result of a momentary lapse in concentration.

Decisionmaking 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 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. 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 important for success.

Many professional athletes are also required to pass drug tests.

Pay

Athletes and Sports Competitors

Median annual wages, May 2014

Athletes and sports competitors

$43,350

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

$39,700

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for athletes and sports competitors was $43,350 in May 2014. 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 $20,190, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $187,200.

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 in events.

Job Outlook

Athletes and Sports Competitors

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

6%

Athletes and sports competitors

6%

 

Employment of athletes and sports competitors is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. 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 those 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 only create 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, 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.

Job Prospects

Competition for professional athlete jobs will continue to be extremely intense. Very few high school or college athletes become professional athletes. In a major sport, such as basketball, only about 1 in 3,000 high school athletes make it to the professional level.

Most professional athletes can deliver peak performances for only a short time. Careers last only 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.

Employment projections data for athletes and sports competitors, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Athletes and sports competitors

27-2021 13,700 14,500 6 800 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of athletes and sports competitors.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Coaches and scouts

Coaches and Scouts

Coaches teach amateur or professional athletes the skills they need to succeed at their sport. Scouts look for new players and evaluate their skills and likelihood for success at the college, amateur, or professional level. Many coaches are also involved in scouting.

Bachelor's degree $30,640
Fitness trainers and instructors

Fitness Trainers and Instructors

Fitness trainers and instructors lead, instruct, and motivate individuals or groups in exercise activities, including cardiovascular exercises (exercises for the heart and blood circulation), strength training, and stretching. They work with people of all ages and skill levels.

High school diploma or equivalent $34,980
Recreation workers

Recreation Workers

Recreation workers design and lead recreational and leisure activities for groups in volunteer agencies or recreation facilities, such as playgrounds, parks, camps, aquatic centers, and senior centers. They may lead activities such as arts and crafts, dance, sports, adventure programs, music, and camping.

High school diploma or equivalent $22,620
Umpires, referees, and other sports officials

Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials preside over competitive athletic or sporting events to help maintain standards of play. They detect infractions and decide penalties according to the rules of the game.

High school diploma or equivalent $24,090
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Athletes and Sports Competitors,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/athletes-and-sports-competitors.htm (visited February 14, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015