Sports Professional

The Job and What's Involved

Sports professionals are paid to compete in their chosen field in front of audiences. They combine exceptional talent for their sport with determination and commitment.

The satisfaction of competing at the top can be great. However, most sports people are amateur and relatively few break through to professional level. Of those who do, only a small number achieve the glory and financial rewards of the household names.

Sports that have professional participants include:

Team sports such as football, rugby, cricket, basketball, hockey and ice hockey.

Individual sports such as athletics, tennis, boxing, cycling, swimming, horse racing, golf and snooker.

When not competing, sports professionals spend much of their time training. They must maintain their overall fitness and stamina, as well as honing the specific skills required in their sport. Those in team sports train with their fellow team members.

Sports professionals depend on advice and assistance from coaches, nutritionists, psychologists and other specialists to help them achieve peak performance.

Sports people may be required to give occasional press and broadcast interviews. The best known names are often paid to take part in advertising campaigns for products, from foods to sportswear.

Professional sports can only be played at the peak of fitness, so careers tend to be short - usually only 10 to 15 years. Injuries may cut them even shorter. Sports professionals generally have a second career they can turn to when their playing career is over, or in case their success does not match their hopes.

Competitions and matches usually take place at weekends and in the evenings.

Sports professionals train on most days, and may do so early in the morning or late in the evening, especially if they are in education or have a second job.

Some sports are only played at certain times of the year so participants have an off-season period - though they are expected to keep up training.

Sports people train indoors and outdoors. They may be exposed to all weather conditions while training and competing.

A lot of time can be spent travelling to competitions. Overnight stays and long periods away from home are common. Foreign travel is common for those competing at international level.

Earnings may start at around £6,000 for apprentices. Advertising and sponsorship deals can increase income for high-profile sports people.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 50,000 professional sportsmen and women in the UK. Opportunities are limited and depend on the number of competitions and the popularity of the sport.

Most sports people are unable to earn a living from competing. Many supplement their earnings with a full-time or part-time job. This may be related to the sport, for example in coaching.

Sports professionals have almost always been competing at a high level from an early age. Most start playing for school teams or in local amateur clubs. Those who show promise are generally spotted early by coaches or talent scouts.

Progression to professional level often starts by being invited to take part in trials for a club. Participants may then advance to county, regional or junior national level.

Most established sports have a national governing (or representative) body (NGB) that can provide information on local clubs and the best way to progress in the sport. The websites of Sport England and CCPR each list some NGB's.

Education and Training

A high level of aptitude and enthusiasm are often the only essential attributes to become a sports professional. Only golf has set academic requirements. The Professional Golfers' Association requires players to have at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.

However, GCSE's/S grades can be useful in a range of sports. Sports professionals' performance may benefit from knowledge of subjects such as anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, psychology and nutrition. Continuing education may also form a basis for a career after competing. Some sports professionals take higher qualifications to help with their future second career.

Help may be available for young sportsmen and women:

  • In England, the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) supports young people to develop in their sport. NGB's select candidates for awards of sporting services up to the value of £3,000.
  • The Athlete Support scheme in Scotland and Elite Cymru in Wales provide support for the most promising young athletes. Applications are through the NGB's.
  • Some universities run sponsorship schemes. They support sports people to pursue their training while studying.

An Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence is available. It is aimed at young people with realistic potential to reach the highest levels in their sport. It is currently offered by selected clubs in some sports, including football, golf and rugby union.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Sports professionals maintain and improve their skills through training and competition. They follow an intensive training regime designed to maximise their potential in their chosen sport.

Apprentices study for NVQ/SVQ Level 3 in Achieving Excellence in Sports Performance.

The Apprenticeship covers:

  • Technical, tactical, physiological and mental aspects of the individual sport.
  • Lifestyle management.
  • Health and safety.
  • Communication skills.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A sports professional needs:

  • Outstanding talent in their sport.
  • The dedication and self-discipline to train constantly and improve performance.
  • Excellent physical fitness and stamina.
  • To be highly competitive.
  • To be able to follow advice on diet and lifestyle.
  • To be mentally robust to cope with the pressure of major competitions.
  • To be able to recover quickly from defeat or disappointment.
  • To work well within a team, including with coaches and other specialists as well as fellow players.

Your Long Term Prospects

Careers in professional sport are highly competitive. Whether participating in a team sport or performing individually, progress depends on results achieved in competition.

After completing their playing careers, some sports professionals move into related areas. They may coach in their sport or manage teams. Some become sports journalists or commentators. Others pursue business interests which they may have set up while in sport.

Get Further Information

SkillsActive, Castlewood House,
77-91 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1PX
Tel: 020 7632 2000

Sport England, 3rd Floor,
Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square,
London WC1B 4SE
Tel: 08458 508508

Sports Council for Wales, Sophia Gardens,
Cardiff CF11 9SW
Tel: 0845 045 0904

sportscotland, Caledonia House,
South Gyle, Edinburgh EH12 9DQ
Tel: 0131 317 7200

Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS),
City Sports Centre, off Northumberland Road,
Northumbria University,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST
Tel: 0191 243 7356

UK Sport, 40 Bernard Street,
London WC1N 1ST
Tel: 020 7211 5100

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