Athletes and Sports Competitors

What Athletes and Sports Competitors Do

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RODqcfjGEyY

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 $51,370 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of athletes and sports competitors is projected to grow 10 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Competition for most professional athlete jobs will remain very strong.

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.

Athletes and sports competitors held about 13,600 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of athletes and sports competitors were as follows:

Spectator sports 58%
Self-employed workers 14
Fitness and recreational sports centers 5

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.

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 Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Coaches and Scouts

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

Bachelor’s degree $34,840

Fitness Trainers and Instructors

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

High school diploma or equivalent $40,390

Recreation Workers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $26,350

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 $28,550

For more information about team and individual sports, visit

National Collegiate Athletic Association

National Council of Youth Sports

National Federation of State High School Associations

For more information related to individual sports, refer to the organization that represents the sport.

O*NET

Athletes and Sports Competitors


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 ).