Careers for Women in Sports

Published on June 22nd, 2011


Nature of the Work: Think of the best coach you’ve ever had. What made her great?

Coaches have the extraordinary opportunity to use their sports knowledge to help their athletes excel at their sport and, perhaps, grow personally in the process. As anyone who has been on a team knows, coaches become an important part of an athlete’s life. Coaches prepare their athletes both physically and mentally for the rigors of competitive or recreational athletics. They instruct athletes on the fundamentals of their sport and provide general athletic training. Coaches set up and run practices, at which they set up drills to improve athletes’ skills and conditioning. Utilizing their intimate knowledge of a particular sport, they advise athletes on proper form and technique, prepare team strategies and oversee the execution of these strategies.

Coaches may also oversee a variety of managerial duties, such as administering a budget, arranging accommodations and transportation to and from events, and dealing with equipment and uniforms. Duties and responsibilities of a coach vary widely with the level and age group of athletes. High school coaches, for instance, are often teachers in the school and deal with all aspects of running a team. Professional and college coaches tend to specialize in an area or two of their sport and work only in that realm. Both head and assistant coaches are also responsible for recruiting athletes.

Education and Training: Coaching children and teenagers is largely a part-time job. Coaches should have an extensive knowledge of their sport, some training in injury prevention, and have taken classes in child development. When hiring a coach, schools and clubs also consider prior coaching experience and playing history in the sport, whether it was at the high-school, college or professional level. Generally speaking, schools search for coaches internally before hiring someone from the outside. Accordingly, many middle- and high-school coaches teach in the school where they coach.

In college and professional athletics there exists a coaching hierarchy. At the top of the hierarchy is the head coach, followed by assistant coaches, followed by graduate assistants. Generally, coaches work their way up the ranks from an entry-level position, where you would gain coaching knowledge and experience. Head-coaching positions at large colleges or in professional sports require years of coaching experience and demonstrated success at the lower levels. As always, networking in the coaching community of a particular sport helps open doors for entry level and advancement positions.

Job Outlook: As schools expand their sports offerings and youth leagues grow, opportunities for coaches, especially part-time, are expected to increase about as fast as the average for all jobs. Those who seek coaching positions possessed of teaching certification will be in the best stead. Competition will remain stiff for college and professional-level coaching positions.

Salary Range: Professional – $35,000 to $2 million; College – $25,000 to $2 million; High School – $20,000 to $75,000

Athletic Trainer

Nature of the Work: Athletic training is an allied health profession that pulls from several domains of knowledge and skills. An athletic trainer can work in many settings, such as an industrial setting, physical therapy clinic, high school, doctor’s office, performance enhancement center, or college/university. Athletic trainers specialize in the prevention, evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of athletic injuries, as well as first aid and emergency care. In addition, athletic trainers often take on roles in performance enhancement, nutrition counseling, and screening for illness and mental health concerns.
Athletic trainers work closely with physicians, chiropractors, dieticians, physical therapists, sport psychology consultants, and strength and conditioning coaches to provide for the wellbeing of athletes and physically active individuals.

Outlook: Athletic training is growing in popularity across many settings, including physical therapy clinics, high schools, colleges, professional teams, as well as industrial and corporate settings.

Education and Training: Athletic Trainers get a bachelor’s degree from a nationally accredited Athletic Training Education Program. This education includes course work as well as clinical rotations. Upon completing a bachelor’s degree, athletic trainers must pass the national certification exam. The athletic trainer must then fulfill the state’s requirements to practice, usually by obtaining a license. More than 70% of athletic trainers go on to get a Master’ and or Doctorate degree.

Average Salary: 39,000-75,000 per year


Nature of the Work: Nutritionists (also known as dieticians) apply food and nutrition to health in a scientific manner. They are concerned with the treatment of illness through proper nutrition. After carefully evaluating the diet and needs of clients, nutritionists advise them on how to improve their health by modifying food intake. Nutritionists often treat patients suffering from hypertension, diabetes and weight problems.

Within the field there are four major areas of practice: clinical, community, management and consultant dietetics.

Clinical dietitians work in institutional settings where they provide nutritional services for patients. They assess patients’ nutritional needs, develop and implement nutrition programs, and evaluate and report the results. While devising the proper nutritional regimen for a patient, nutritionists work with other healthcare providers to coordinate a comprehensive treatment plan. In smaller institutions clinical dieticians may assume managerial duties.

Community dietitians work with individuals and groups in smaller, more intimate settings like public health clinics and HMOs where they evaluate individual needs. Based on their assessments, these nutritionists develop nutritional care plans designed to promote good health and prevent disease. They then instruct individuals and their families on proper execution of the plan, which may include advising on grocery shopping, cooking methods and principles of healthy eating.

Management dietitians develop and implement nutritional plans on a massive scale. Working in healthcare facilities, prisons, schools and corporate cafeterias, management dieticians are responsible for administrative tasks in addition to planning a menu. They administer a budget and purchase food and supplies for their organizations. Management dieticians oversee the food service workers they hire and train, which may including other dieticians. They also make sure that their operation is in accordance with all safety and sanitary regulations.

Consultant dietitians apply their often-extensive experience in the profession to their work for healthcare facilities or in a private practice. Most dieticians become consultants only after years of work, usually as a clinical or community dietician. They assess their client’s nutritional needs and devise an appropriate program to meet the client’s goals, be it cholesterol reduction or weight loss. Where consultant dietitians’ work is largely dictated by their past experience and area of specialization, some work for sports teams, making sure athletes are eating for optimal performance and health.

Training and Education: Dietitians and nutritionists need at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management or a related area. Registered Dieticians need a degree in nutrition or dietetics, a minimum of six months in an internship at an American Dietetic Association-approved facility and a passing grade on the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s exam. Most states have laws governing certification as a dietician and requirements vary.

Job Outlook: The profession is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations as demand increases for dieticians from an aging population and as people become more concerned with healthy eating.
Opportunities for dieticians are growing specifically in food manufacturing, advertising and marketing, where they analyze foods, create nutrition-related literature and devise healthier products, as interest from the general public in nutrition has increased.

Salary Range: $22,000 to $100,000.


Nature of the Work: Irregular hours and tight deadlines are the price you pay for free entry into hundreds of sporting events a year. Reporting can be hectic — news can happen at any time and usually does. When news breaks and the editor calls, reporters must be prepared to drop everything at a moment’s notice and run, notebook in hand, to the newsworthy event. This unpredictability and “always on call” condition attract many to the field, though it is also one of the most common complaints. New media writers experience largely the same stresses, as Web sites have deadlines just the same as print. Reporters covering a steady beat may develop some rhythm to their days, but it is precarious routine. Sporting events can extend beyond deadlines, and writing under time pressure is always a danger. Depending upon what area of sports they’re covering, reporters may find themselves anywhere from a posh press suite in the Astrodome to at a dusty baseball field compiling all their own statistics for a high-school game. Despite all the demands of the profession, sports writers are involved with sports all day, every day.

Most writers work in print, for newspapers and magazines, though Web sites are proliferating and hungry for content. Some reporters are employed full-time by a paper or organization, while others freelance and sell their work on an individual basis. Regardless of the publication, an ability to find and break stories and communicate in way readers understand is essential to successful reporting. Reporting skills are most important, though sports expertise is a plus. Sports reporters must also be able to meet deadlines with consistent, largely error-free work.

Education and Training: Employers generally prefer candidates with journalism degrees or a demonstrated ability to write effectively. More important than a degree is experience reporting. Employers look to see what you have done for your newspaper or in your internship. Budding sports reporters should take every opportunity to build their portfolio by writing for their school newspapers or Web sites. A large part of good reporting comes from experience, knowing how to find a story or wheedle a quote from a stubborn source. Larger metropolitan newspapers expect 3-5 years experience of candidates, which is generally gained at local papers or online news sites.

Job Outlook: Through consolidation of the industry jobs in journalism are expected to grow more slowly than average. Competition will remain intense, and openings will most likely be in smaller, niche publications. Expertise in a subject matter will put you in good stead.

Salary Range: $25,000 to $75,000.

Sports Psychologists

Nature of the Work: What happens when a pitcher suddenly stops performing? If there isn’t anything physically wrong, management may send her to a sports psychologist who will try to address and treat the player’s concerns. Sports psychologists are psychologists first and foremost, but have specialized during their education to work with athletes’ unique stressors. Once a fringe profession, sports psychology has gained currency as managers have come to realize the importance of the mental aspect of sports, and as a result more teams have added them to their staff.

Sports psychologists work with people involved in sports at all levels looking to enhance their performance and enjoyment of sports. As specialized counseling psychologists, sports psychologists use their extensive training to help an athlete determine which “mental tools” suit him or her best and, using that knowledge, establish a mental training routine, a sort of strength training for the mind. This often includes defining and setting goals and evaluating past performances. Sports psychologists also find themselves working to bring athletes who have suffered multiple concussions back to their physical and emotional peak. A psychologist’s duties may include travel with the team and he or she must be able to integrate him/herself effectively in order that athletes feel comfortable seeking guidance.

Education and Training: Psychologists need an advanced degree, usually a doctorate, and state certification in order to practice. Sports psychologists will have taken extra classes related to sports and may have even majored or minored as an undergraduate in a sports-related field. Thousands of schools nationwide offer doctoral degrees in psychology. Athletic experience helps psychologists better understand and better relate to the stresses associated with sports and, in turn, can help them become better clinicians.

Outlook: Psychology as a profession is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all jobs. A growing awareness of the importance of mental health in sports performance has lead to more opportunities for sports psychologists at all levels and in professional sports especially.

Average Salary: $58,000 to 90,000 per year