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Best College Degrees for Athletes
What to study for a career in sports

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Involvement in sports is a great way to stay in shape, make friends, and even help pay for your education. From youth leagues right up to college and even beyond, sports do more to build character than almost any other pastime. You learn how to work as part of a team, how to lead, and how to bounce back from adversity. Whether you’re winning or losing, you are developing as a person, and that’s what keeps the diamonds, gridirons, pools, and gyms filled with active youth.

Of course, the number of people who ever receive a paycheck for playing a sport is very small. That’s why so many athletes focus on how their chosen sport can help them leverage the education it takes to get into a particular career field. It should come as no surprise that all those years of playing sports often impact an athlete’s career interests.

If you want to stay involved in a sport long after your playing days are over, there are several college majors that can prove to be very beneficial. These ten fields of study will steer you into a good job that still lets you be involved in sports even if your jump shot isn’t what it used to be.

1. Sports Journalism

When you turn on the TV for a live game, you’ll see and hear a number of people providing play-by-play and commentary on the game. Some of them are former athletes who took a crash course in being a TV personality, but most of them are journalists by trade, people who completed a college degree in that field.

The same is true of the people anchoring those sports talk shows on TV and radio, the writers who fill the websites of sports networks, and many of the people operating podcasts, blogs, and other sports outlets. In addition, many of the publicity people working for professional and college teams have similar degrees.

If you want to work your way into one of those jobs, you’ll want that same degree. Google your favorite sideline reporter or studio anchor, and you’ll find that many of them played sports in college while working on a degree in journalism. They then used their connections with former teammates and coaches to get a foot in the door, and the rest was history.

How do you know if this is the right direction for you? It’s fairly simple. If you’re one of those sports fans who enjoy spending as much time talking about what happened in the game as they spend watching the game itself, this could be just the path for you. If you love to hear about the stories behind the athletes–their childhood, their contract negotiations, their charity endeavors–you should definitely consider sports journalism. If writing, public speaking, and the use of technology come easy to you, don’t hesitate to dig a little deeper into how to enroll in a sports journalism program.

2. Recreational Facilities Management

Your athletic career probably started with a local youth league, using facilities operated by your city or county. In time, you may have played on a school team that had access to facilities within the school, but you probably still made use of public pools, golf courses, or other recreational areas that were not part of a school. Each of those locations has equipment, buildings, and fields that must be maintained, and that is where a career in recreational facilities management can take you.

A major in recreational management can provide you with the tools you need to be successful in operating many different kinds of facilities. This could include community recreation centers, exercise complexes on college campuses, and many other locations. It is a great choice if you want to continue your involvement in sports. You will not just have the opportunity to be around athletes, but you will also have a hand in choosing what types of equipment, facilities, and classes are available to them.

In addition to an interest in sports of all kinds, you will need several specific skills to be successful with a major in leisure facility management. First, it’s a career about people, so communication skills are a must. You should be able to convey your ideas clearly both verbally and on paper. Second, you may be managing a number of employees as well as volunteers. That means hiring, training, supervising, and evaluating them. This major also requires skill with budgeting and financial management as well as with general business management. The more of these things that you like, the better your chances of really enjoying a major in leisure facility management.

3. Education

As you think back over the coaches you have had during your sports experience, many of them were probably teachers. School teams rarely have outside people serving as coaches. Instead, they draw on their own faculty to find people to lead their young athletes, and most of those faculty members are former athletes themselves.

That’s what makes education a great opportunity for you as an athlete. A degree in education does several things for you. First, it provides a secure income and a solid retirement–two of the things you should be looking for with any job. Second, it’s an incredible career choice, giving you the opportunity to help shape young lives in so many ways.

Of course, for an athlete, the appeal of a career in education is the chance to build even stronger relationships by coaching during your time outside the classroom. Countless people cite coaches as some of the most important mentors in their lives. When you can work as both a coach and a teacher, you will be well-positioned not just to be around sports for your entire working career but also to do something positive for the future of your community.

There are a number of essential skills you will need to be successful as an educator. Teachers need to be very detail-oriented, patient, and punctual. You should have those skills plus good speaking and writing abilities, skill with technology, and some preference for what topic you would like to teach. Being an educator requires a lot of patience with children, from the very needy primary grades to the boisterous high school level. Finally, first aid and CPR will probably be required by your employer, so it might be a good idea to get some training ahead of time.

You might also want to think about whether you’d like to move into other positions later on, such as counseling, administration, or other specialized work in the school system.

4. Physical Education

If history, English, or math isn’t your bag, it is still possible to get into the education field. Majoring in physical education is actually a very logical choice for an athlete. After all, your primary job will be to help young people stay physically active and fit. Once again, you’ll be in a good position to serve as a coach too, maintaining your involvement in sports and giving you two avenues for helping young people reach their goals.

In general, a degree in physical education will involve most of the same things that other education degrees, including good speaking and writing skills, organization abilities, and a creative mind that can figure out what to do with 30 students when rain has canceled your plans to do an outdoor sport.

You will also need to be prepared to focus on your own physical fitness. Spending six hours a day involved in demonstrating and supervising sports is a very demanding career, and you’ll need to stay on top of your own strength, stamina, and flexibility if you expect to be as involved in the day’s last class as you were in its first. As in general education, make sure you’re comfortable with first aid and CPR too.

5. Turf Management

If you come from a background in outdoor sports like golf, football, soccer, or baseball, you’ve spent a lot of time on turf. Most likely, you’ve thought nothing of it unless the grass had bare patches or looked brown when your team took the field. The healthy conditions you typically saw for a game did not just happen. They took a great deal of knowledge, time, and attention from a groundskeeping crew. At the professional and college level–and even at some high schools–that crew likely includes someone with a degree in turf management.

Good sports turf is a combination of good soil, good seed, and good work. When all these things are in place, athletes will take a field that provides a beautiful backdrop for their action. After the final buzzer, there will be divots to repair, areas to re-stripe, mowing, fertilization, and irrigation to do.

All that establishment and upkeep takes knowledge, and with a degree in turf management, that knowledge can come from you. This could be the major for you if you already have a background in farming or landscaping, but no experience is necessary. It’s a major for people who are good with science, like to spend their time outdoors, and have a good eye for detail.

Good turf managers should be skilled with power equipment and the tools it takes to maintain it. You’ll also need good people skills to help you supervise your staff, and you’ll likely need to be good with budgeting to make sure you properly allocate funds for things like payroll, fuel, equipment maintenance, fertilizer, and so forth.

6. Sports Administration

From an athlete’s perspective, you may never see all the things that go on behind the scenes in running a sports program. Athletic directors may just seem like the people who show up at most games and hire new coaches when there’s a vacancy.

Of course, there is much more that must be done to keep a sports program going, and a degree in sports administration or sports management can qualify you to do those important jobs. Athletic administrators must take care of everything from booking qualified referees to ensuring compliance with Title IX. They oversee records such as athlete physicals, sports statistics, and academic eligibility of student-athletes.

A major in sports administration will involve extensive study of business management, sports law, and ethics. You’ll also learn about marketing so that you can help create those exciting banners, shirts, hype videos, and other team products. The degree will guide you through human resources as well so that you can effectively assess candidates for job openings and evaluate your existing staff to help them become successful.

To do well in this major, you’ll need strong skills in math, writing, and public speaking. You will thrive in sports administration if you are very detail-oriented and skilled with multi-tasking. It will also be important for you to start networking right away since many sports administration majors serve internships that can ultimately lead to permanent jobs after graduation.

Working in sports administration can get you on board with any number of colleges and universities, in every size and every location you can imagine. In addition to the top-tier professional teams, there are also minor leagues, semi-pro organizations, and other teams where you can get a start in the professional ranks. This creates lots of opportunities for you to put your degree to work while still being involved in any of a number of different sports.

7. Psychology

Either from your own experience or from watching others play a sport, you know there have been times when an athlete just didn’t seem to be in the game. It was clear that you (or they) had something going on that was distracting from a total focus on the game, and the scoreboard showed it.

In this situation, the athlete might have needed help from a sports psychologist. These professionals are able to help athletes work through whatever mental distractions they have so that they can focus on their performance. They also help maximize performance even when there aren’t any stressors or other problems in the athlete’s life.

Because emotions and focus have become such a big issue, psychology is a fast-growing field for sports. The news is full of stories about athletes who have stepped away from their sports due to the stress and demands being placed on them, and those who don’t have that issue are always looking for ways to improve their mindsets just as much as their physiques.

Not surprisingly, this is a field that requires you to have real people skills. You must be able to get people to open up to you about their fears, their struggles, and possibly even some very private things. Your ability to get to know them very personally is key to providing them with positive outcomes, not just in their sports but also in their lives.

A degree in psychology will involve a very intense study of human emotions, motivation, fears, and trauma. Your degree can help you move into a variety of other fields, including counseling and medical school. A degree in psychology can be just the beginning of a variety of careers that can build perfectly onto your background in sports.

8. Nutrition

It seems that every athlete has an idea of what is best to eat on game day. Most of those theories come from advertisements, friends, or other sources that do not carry the credibility of a qualified, neutral person. With a degree in nutrition, that person could be you.

We are all interested in the fuel we use to power us through our days, whether the day involves sports or not. For the high-performance athletes in college and professional competition, that interest must be an obsession. The athlete needs to know the impact of every bite and every drink of anything they take in, and the only way he or she can fully understand that is to get the advice of a qualified nutrition expert.

If you’ve found yourself wondering why you felt energized for one game and sluggish for another one, you just might be asking questions that can be answered with a degree in nutrition. Majoring in nutrition will require good science skills. You’ll study chemistry, organic chemistry, physiology, microbiology, and much more, then learn how all those fields apply to what a consumer has to choose from at the local grocery store. Once you understand those basics, you can begin to specialize in the intense metabolic demands of athletes at every level, learning the requirements of their bodies to provide appropriate supplies of energy and hydration without diminishing their muscle mass or adding to their body fat.

A degree in nutrition will also give you a great deal of flexibility. From your bachelor’s degree, you can launch into any of a number of master’s programs that can take you in many different directions.

9. Sports Medicine

There is no escaping the potential for injuries in sports. From the kindergarteners playing t-ball right up to multi-million dollar professionals, everybody gets hurt a few times. The likelihood increases with the level of competition, from high school through college and into the pros.

Your own playing career has probably had those interruptions, and if the injury was significant, you’ve probably spent some time with a sports physician. For many athletes, the experience of a major injury helps them discover an exciting career prospect by exposing them to the world of sports medicine. Their time with a sports physician inspires them to pursue the education it takes to help other athletes recover from their own mishaps.

A career as a sports physician often starts with a degree in sports medicine. This major takes an athletically oriented approach to the knowledge necessary to be successful in medical school or another advanced area of training.

Sports medicine can be a very high-stress occupation because your skill could be the difference between a career that continues and a career that ends. For that reason, you must be very good at handling the pressure to perform–something you’ve probably developed through your experiences as an athlete.

As far as your academic strengths and interests, sports medicine is obviously a science-heavy major. In addition to the usual chemistry, biology, and anatomy, you’ll learn more about the unique needs of sports medicine patients and how you will be trained to address them as your education continues.

10. Physical Therapy

Continuing on the topic of injuries, the care you received after a sprain or a fracture probably did not end with a physician. Instead, you likely spent considerable time rehabilitating your injury with a physical therapist.

Physical therapy is all about restoring the body to the state it was in prior to an injury or illness, or at least getting as close to that state as possible. Physical therapists step in when doctors have completed their work of repairing the damaged structures, working with the patient to restore the flexibility, strength, and range of motion that existed before the injury.

Athletes are very frequent clients of physical therapists, but there are many other people in need of this specialized care. This large potential base of patients also provides a lot of job security for physical therapy.

Physical therapy is performed in a variety of settings. You could be employed by a pro or college team, providing services in their facilities and only for their athletes and staff. Other physical therapists work in hospitals, nursing homes, home health, and rehabilitation centers, helping people bounce back from joint replacements, strokes, heart attacks, fractures, and every other kind of setback you can imagine.

Like many health care fields, a degree in physical therapy will require good science skills. You’ll also need to be comfortable talking with people one-on-one. Physical therapists have to develop plans of therapy in conjunction with doctors, so you’ll spend some time writing as well. Finally, you need to be a people person, somebody who really cares about others. Your determination to help someone recover may be the most powerful motivation they have, so you have to take a personal interest in their progress.

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Get our emails in your inbox, and you’ll get acceptance letters in your mailbox

Get our emails in your inbox, and you’ll get acceptance letters in your mailbox

Find Your Degree

Find Your Degree