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Athletes and Sports Competitors

Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RODqcfjGEyY.
Quick Facts: Athletes and Sports Competitors
2021 Median Pay $77,300 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, 2020 16,700
Job Outlook, 2020-30 38% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2020-30 6,300

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 may work irregular schedules, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. They typically work more than 40 hours per week for several months during their particular sports season. They frequently work outside, so they may be exposed to all weather conditions.

How to Become an Athlete or Sports Competitor

No formal educational credential is typically required to become an athlete or sports competitor. Athletes must have athletic talent and an extensive knowledge of their sport. They typically get such knowledge through years of practice and experience at lower levels of competition.

Pay

The median annual wage for athletes and sports competitors was $77,300 in May 2021.

Job Outlook

Employment of athletes and sports competitors is projected to grow 38 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 3,400 openings for athletes and sports competitors are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

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 About this section

Athletes and sports competitors
Athletes and sports competitors practice under the direction of coaches and sports instructors.

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
  • Keep their sports equipment in good condition
  • Exercise, train, and follow special diets to stay in the best physical condition
  • Take instructions regarding strategy and tactics from coaches and other sports staff during practices and competitions
  • Follow the rules of the sport during competitions
  • Assess performance after each event and identify their strengths and weaknesses

Many people dream of becoming a professional athlete. Few people, however, make a full-time living from professional athletics—and when they do, professional athletes often have short careers with little job security.

When performing, athletes and sports competitors must understand the strategies involved in their sport while following its rules and regulations. The events in which athletes compete include team sports, such as baseball, football, hockey, and soccer, and individual sports, such as golf, racecar driver, and tennis. The level of play varies. Some athletes compete in regional events; others compete in national or international events.

Being an athlete involves more than competing in athletic events. Athletes spend most days practicing and improving their skills under the guidance of a coach or a sports instructor. They review videos to critique and improve their performance and technique. To gain a competitive advantage, athletes also study their opponents' tendencies and weaknesses.

Because of the physical demands required by many sports, career-ending injuries are always a risk. Some athletes work regularly with fitness trainers and instructors to gain muscle and stamina and to prevent injury. They also may work with athletic trainers or exercise physiologists to recover and rebuild from injuries, even minor ones.

Sports competition at the professional level is intense, and job security is always in question. Therefore, many pro athletes train throughout the year to maintain or improve their form and technique to remain in peak physical condition. Little downtime from the sport exists at the professional level.

Work Environment About this section

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

Athletes and sports competitors held about 16,700 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of athletes and sports competitors were as follows:

Self-employed workers 42%
Spectator sports 36
Fitness and recreational sports centers 3

Athletes and sports competitors who participate in outdoor competitions may be exposed to 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 gloves, helmets, pads, and other protective gear to guard against injury. And although fatalities are uncommon, athletes and sports competitors experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.

Work Schedules

Athletes and sports competitors may work irregular schedules, including evenings, weekends, and holidays; part-time work is also common. During the sports season, they typically work more than 40 hours per week for several months as they practice, train, travel, and compete.

How to Become an Athlete or Sports Competitor About this section

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

No formal educational credential is typically required to become an athlete or sports competitor. Athletes must have athletic talent and extensive knowledge of their sport. They typically get such knowledge through years of experience at lower levels of competition.

Education

Although no formal educational credential is typically required to enter the occupation, most athletes and sports competitors have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Some play their sport in college, where they take courses that may lead to a degree. 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. They often begin training at a young age and may compete on club teams or in high school and collegiate athletics. 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 states require athletes and sports competitors to be licensed or certified to practice. For example, racecar drivers need a driver’s license issued by their state and a certification or license from an automobile racing organization to compete in some races. State licensing boards and professional athletics associations, which serve as governing bodies of various sports, 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 aspiring athletes make in their careers. They may begin to compete immediately, although some also 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 typically earn a higher salary. They also may receive endorsements from companies and brands.

Important Qualities

Athleticism. Athletes and sports competitors need athletic ability to compete against opponents.

Concentration. Athletes and sports competitors must focus when competing, which includes being able to block out distractions from fans and opponents.

Decision-making skills. Athletes and sports competitors often must make split-second decisions that affect the outcome of a play or the entire competition.

Dedication. Athletes and sports competitors must practice regularly to develop their skills and improve or maintain their physical conditioning.

Hand–eye coordination. Athletes and sports competitors must be able to gauge depth and distance to react and maneuver quickly during competition, such as to strike a fast-moving ball or guide a jumping horse.

Stamina. Endurance is important for helping athletes and sports competitors manage stress during events and ensure that their bodies remain in peak performance condition.

Teamwork. The ability to work toward a shared goal with others, including teammates and coaches, is essential for athletes’ and sports competitors’ success.

Professional athletes also may be required to pass drug tests.

Pay About this section

Athletes and Sports Competitors

Median annual wages, May 2021

Athletes and sports competitors

$77,300

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

$49,470

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for athletes and sports competitors was $77,300 in May 2021. 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 $25,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for athletes and sports competitors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Spectator sports $85,390
Fitness and recreational sports centers 79,610

Athletes and sports competitors may work irregular schedules, including evenings, weekends, and holidays; part-time work is also common. During the sports season, they typically work more than 40 hours per week for several months as they practice, train, travel, and compete.

Job Outlook About this section

Athletes and Sports Competitors

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Athletes and sports competitors

38%

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

22%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Employment of athletes and sports competitors is projected to grow 38 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 3,400 openings for athletes and sports competitors are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020. Employment growth also will stem from 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, forming new teams and job opportunities for prospective professional athletes.

However, expansion is rare in professional sports leagues and typically results in formation of only one or two teams at a time. Forming new teams is costly and risky, requiring strong support from fans and both local and state governments.

Employment projections data for athletes and sports competitors, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Athletes and sports competitors

27-2021 16,700 23,000 38 6,300 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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 OEWS 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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 About this section

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 Help on Entry-Level Education 2021 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Coaches and scouts Coaches and Scouts

Coaches teach amateur or professional athletes the skills they need to succeed at their sport. Scouts evaluate athletes as possible recruits.

Bachelor's degree $38,970
Fitness trainers and instructors Fitness Trainers and Instructors

Fitness trainers and instructors lead, instruct, and motivate individuals or groups in exercise activities.

High school diploma or equivalent $40,700
Recreation workers Recreation Workers

Recreation workers design and lead activities to help people stay active, improve fitness, and have fun.

High school diploma or equivalent $29,680
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.

High school diploma or equivalent $35,860
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Athletes and Sports Competitors,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/athletes-and-sports-competitors.htm (visited July 02, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Monday, April 18, 2022

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2020

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2020, which is the base year of the 2020-30 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2020-30

The projected percent change in employment from 2020 to 2030. The average growth rate for all occupations is 8 percent.

Employment Change, 2020-30

The projected numeric change in employment from 2020 to 2030.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2020-30

The projected numeric change in employment from 2020 to 2030.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2020 to 2030.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2020 to 2030.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2020 to 2030.

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.