Bureau of Labor Statistics

Athletes and Sports Competitors

athletes and sports competitors image
Athletes and sports competitors participate in officiated sports events to entertain spectators.
Quick Facts: Athletes and Sports Competitors
2020 Median Pay $50,850 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

Summary

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 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 required for anyone to become an athlete or sports competitor. Athletes must have superior athletic talent and an extensive knowledge of their sport. They usually 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 $50,850 in May 2020.

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

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

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.

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 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.

Education

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.

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, 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.

Advancement

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.

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

Decisionmaking skills. Athletes and sports competitors often must make split-second decisions. Quarterbacks, for example, usually have only 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. In 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 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 2020

Athletes and sports competitors

$50,850

Entertainers and performers, sports and related workers

$47,080

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

The median annual wage for athletes and sports competitors was $50,850 in May 2020. 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 $20,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

In May 2020, the median annual wages for athletes and sports competitors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Spectator sports $58,110
Fitness and recreational sports centers 50,060

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.

Job Outlook

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

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

Occupational Title

Athletes and sports competitors

SOC Code27-2021
Employment, 202016,700
Projected Employment, 203023,000
Percent Change, 2020-3038
Numeric Change, 2020-306,300
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

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 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.

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

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 2020 MEDIAN PAY
Coaches and scouts Coaches and Scouts

Coaches teach amateur or professional athletes the skills they need to succeed at their sport.

Bachelor's degree $36,330
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 $40,510
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 $28,440
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 $28,940

Contacts for More Info

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 8, 2021

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 January 25, 2022).

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/ooh Contact OOH

View this page on regular www.bls.gov

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