Written by Joanna Hughes

Have your passions always involved a swimming pool, tennis court, football field, or ballpark? If so, you may feel like your job will never be as fulfilling as your athletic endeavors. Well, we’ve got good news for you: many career paths are suitable (and uniquely satisfying!) for sports fans. Read on for a roundup of five potential fields for athletes.

1. Sports Medicine

Mention of sports medicine usually brings thoughts of orthopedic surgery to mind. And with good reason: “Orthopedic surgeons are devoted to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles,” according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS). For an eye-opening view of the degree to which orthopedic surgeons support athletes, check out Becker’s Spine Review’s impressive roundup of professional athletes treated by orthopedic surgeons in a single month alone.

While many sports injuries fall under the domain of orthopedic surgeons, they’re not the only doctors who work with athletes. Also specializing in this area? Sports medicine physicians.

Says the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), “A sports medicine physician has significant specialized training in both the treatment and prevention of illness and injury. They are ideally suited to provide comprehensive medical care for athletes, sports teams or active individuals who are simply looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Sports medicine physicians specialize solely in non-surgical sports medicine and serve as team physicians at the youth level, NCAA, NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA, MLS, and NHL, as well as with Olympic teams.”

The field of sports medicine is booming, according to data from MarketWatch. Between 2017 and 2023, it’s projected to grow at a CAGR of 8.9 percent to reach a staggering $9,655.5 million by the end of 2023.

Of the difference between orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians, meanwhile, the AMSSM says, “Both are well trained in musculoskeletal medicine. Sports Medicine Physicians specialize in the non-operative treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. Orthopedic surgeons are also trained in the operative treatment of these conditions. However, approximately 90 percent of all sports injuries are non-surgical. The Sports Medicine Physician can maximize non-operative treatment, guide appropriate referrals to physical and occupational therapies, and if necessary, expedite referral to an orthopedic/sports surgeon.”

There are many jobs in healthcare for non-doctors, too. These include athletic trainers, who work with athletes, coaches, physical therapists, and doctors to prevent and treat sports injuries; physical therapists; who relieve pain and increase movement in athletes suffering from injuries; nutritionists, who advise athletes and teams about the best foods to consume; and biomechanists, who study how athletes can move better and reduce their risk of injury.

2. Sports Management

Comprising a range of careers, including coaches, general managers, facilities managers, event coordinators, directors of operations, sports agents and recruiters, athletic directors and more, sports management may the perfect fit if you’ve got a mind for business along with your love of athletics.

While landing a job in this thriving yet intensely competitive field can be tricky, a sports management degree can help you stand out from the crowd. Sports management professor John Wolohan told WorkInSports.com, “The benefit of a sports management degree is that it provides the student with a basic foundation of the sports business. It takes the student from being a fan, and teaches them that there is more to the sports business than rooting for your team.”

3. Sports Psychology

“Sport psychology is a proficiency that uses psychological knowledge and skills to address optimal performance and well-being of athletes, developmental and social aspects of sports participation, and systemic issues associated with sports settings and organizations,” the American Psychological Association (APA) explains.

If this sounds like a satisfying job to you, be prepared for more schooling: the APA further reveals that sports psychology is a proficiency acquired after the completion of a doctoral degree; it’s also one of the major areas of psychology and psychologist licensures.

According to sports psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Jones, however, the fulling nature of this work is worth the investment. “What I love about my work within sport psychology is helping athletes and teams, who are already excelling in their sport, close the gap between their current level of performance and their potential,” he says.

4. Journalism, Communication, and Media Relations

No mention of sports journalism would be complete without mention of Howard Cosell, the legendary American sports journalist who made an unforgettable name for himself in radio, television and print media over the course of his decades-long career.

But Cosell is just one of many journalists who specialize in reporting on sports events. If you’ve ever watched a televised professional sports game or the Olympics, a sports journalist likely colored your impression of the event. In recent years, meanwhile, sports journalism has evolved in response to the digital age. While newspapers were once the primary domain of these media professionals, many are now employed by sports news websites as well as team websites.

If working “the beat” as a sports journalism doesn’t appeal to you, public relations and media relations also fall under the auspices of communication. These professionals are responsible for managing public perception between organizations, the public, and the media. Duties may include writing press releases, generating internal documents from the administration to the staff, creating media guides containing information and statistics, and producing team magazines.

Of the “gate-keeping” nature of his work, Milwaukee Brewers media relations manager John Steinmiller Jr. told WorkInSports.com, “In a media relations job you are the gate that sits between internal information and public knowledge, deciding what gets out and what stays in. That’s what they mean by ‘coordination of communication to the news media’. It’s not always ‘if’ you decide to share or comment on information, but when and how it will be shared.”

Sports photography is also an exciting potential path -- and involves a lot more than people realize. For example, sports photographers covering basketball games might install remote cameras in everything from the ceiling to underneath the basket before games, while those covering a downhill ski race may ski the course ahead of time to find the perfect place to shoot.

In order to distinguish yourself as a sports photographer, one attribute can help you stand out from the rest: creativity. Getty Images chief sports photographer Al Bello reveals, “The ones that stand out among the rest of the media covering the event. There’s no greater joy than when I can get a photograph surrounded by a hundred other photographers and come away with something different. ‘How can I get a different picture than everyone else?’ If everyone can get a great picture, there would be no great pictures."

5. Business and Finance

If you have excelled in athletics, sports-related jobs like the ones listed above are great career contenders. However, many of the same qualities that support success in sports are also transferable to other fields.

Take the business and finance world, for example. While jobs in this sector may not directly relate to sports, they require many of the same characteristics, and can therefore be very satisfying -- and lucrative -- for former athletes.

Research published in the Human Kinetics Journals concludes, “Participation in sport built confidence and character in high-pressure situations. Student-athletes needed to manage change and failure on a continuous competitive basis. They needed to encourage and influence team members to pursue team goals rather than individual praises.”

In fact, according to Stan Beecham, author of Elite Minds: How Winners Think Differently to Create a Competitive Edge and Maximize Success, playing elite sports facilitates the development of attributes found in many great leaders.

The takeaway? Wherever your academic and professional interests lead, a background in competitive sports may give you an invaluable inside edge on the career track.

ArticleEducationStudent Tips
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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