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Sports professional

Sports professionals are skilled and talented sportsmen and women, who are paid to compete in their chosen sport.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: Variable average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll usually start at an early age, by joining a club or amateur organisation and getting instruction and training. 

Most sports professionals are 'spotted' early on by a talent scout.

For some sports you’ll need to meet very specific entry requirements, like:

  • horse racing requires jockeys to be a certain height and weight
  • boxing has divisions according to weight

If you have the potential to succeed, you could get help from:

  • sponsorship schemes run by some universities to provide support to carry on training whilst studying
  • The Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) – national governing bodies (NGBs) select young people in higher or further education to receive awards of sporting services
  • the advanced apprenticeship in sporting excellence – aimed at 16 to 19 year olds who show promise of achieving the highest levels in their sport
You can get details of local clubs and advice on the best way to progress in your particular sport from the NGB for the sport. Sport England has a list of NGBs.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • commitment, self-discipline and dedication
  • excellent physical fitness and stamina
  • the ability to cope with considerable psychological pressure

3. What you'll do

Sports you could take part in professionally include:

  • individual sports – athletics, boxing, tennis, snooker, cycling, golf, horse racing and other equestrian sports
  • team sports – football, cricket, basketball, rugby, hockey and ice hockey

You’ll:

  • compete in matches and competitions
  • keep up and improve your skills with regular practice
  • maintain your general fitness and stamina by training
  • make sure your diet and lifestyle help you to achieve peak performance
  • take advice from coaches, nutritionists, exercise professionals, sports psychologists and doctors

If you became well-known as a sports personality you might also:

  • give media interviews
  • promote products by appearing in adverts

4. Salary

Few people in sport are professionals. Most are amateurs, who compete at the highest levels, but don’t make money from their sport.

Many have a full-time or part-time job to supplement their income, and may earn money by coaching or instructing their sport.

The most successful sports professionals may earn extra money by advertising products.

You’ll have to pay for travel, equipment and coaching out of your earnings.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

Your hours and working conditions will vary depending on your sport, but you’ll train almost every day. This could be early in the morning or late in the evening, and for some sports could be outdoors in all weather conditions.

Competitions and matches usually take place in the evening or at weekends. You’ll spend a lot of time travelling in the UK or overseas, and could spend long periods away from home.

6. Career path and progression

In the more physical and contact sports, your career would usually be short. Many professionals finish their sporting career by the age of 35. 

After your career ends, you could stay involved in sport by moving into areas like coaching, refereeing, team management, sports journalism or sports centre work.

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Last updated: 21 December 2016