Professional Sports Athlete Career Info

Mar 08, 2019

Find out the facts about living a career as a professional sports athlete. Learn about the many requirements, in addition to the benefits that may first spring to mind.

Career Definition for a Professional Sports Athlete

Professional sports athletes compete in sporting events that serve as entertainment for spectators. Some sports are team-oriented, such as basketball, football, baseball and soccer while other sports, like tennis and golf, are focused more on individual performers. In addition to competing in sporting events, athletes must practice their sport and participate in extensive physical conditioning and training in order to stay competitive. Some top professional sports athletes also endorse products and make public appearances.

Education None required, but athletes are typically discovered competing in high school and college sports; study in exercise, training and nutrition will be required
Job Skills Competitive mindset, excellent hand-eye coordination, great motor skills, superior physical fitness, and dedication to training
Median Salary (May 2017)* $51,370 (all athletes and sports competitors)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 7% (all athletes and sports competitors)

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Required Education

No specific education level is required to be a professional sports athlete, but they are often discovered while competing in high school or college games. Most athletes learn about their sport and improve their athletic skills in school. It is a good idea for people interested in professional sports athletics to study weight training, nutrition and exercise selection.

Skills Required

Professional sports athletes need to have a competitive mindset, excellent hand-eye coordination, great motor skills, and a high level of physical fitness. They should also be able to deal with difficult physical and mental conditions and have to be able to maintain a high level of concentration and discipline while training and competing.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, the median salary for athletes and sports competitors was $51,370 annually as of May 2017, but top earners can make exponentially more than that. The number of jobs available for athletes and sports competitors, including professional athletes, is expected to increase as fast as the average in the coming years (seven percent between 2016-2026, according to the BLS), and competition for professional positions will be extremely fierce. Professional sports athletes must be among the best performers at their chosen sports to remain employed, and they often have brief careers. There is also the potential for a serious career-ending injury at any time.

Alternate Career Options

Some related careers include:

Coach and Scout

Usually needing a bachelor's degree, these professionals teach skills to professional or amateur athletes and often travel to attend sporting events. A faster than average employment growth of 13% was projected from 2016-2026 by the BLS. The annual median salary for coaches and scouts was $32,270 in 2017; hours may be irregular, with duties and pay only lasting through specific seasons.

Fitness Trainer and Instructor

Training requirements for these jobs vary widely but include a mandatory high school diploma and often encompass various types of training and certifications to enable instructors and trainers to instruct people of all types in exercise and strength training. Faster-than-average job growth of 10% was anticipated by the BLS from 2016-2026, and a median wage of $39,210 per year was reported in 2017.

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