Nicole Sperekas, Ph.D. is a child and youth sports psychologist and a former competitive swimmer and swim team coach. Nicole is an advisor to flyburst and frequent contributor to our blog. She is the author of A Sport for Every Kid.
Most parents can probably tick off the many benefits of youth sports for their children: fun, fitness, social skills, exercise (especially given concerns about childhood obesity), etc. But few parents mention youth sports participation as a path to a future career in sports. If they do, they might talk about their child being a physical education teacher or perhaps a coach some day.
Coaching is certainly a common career destination, especially for youth athletes who at minimum played a sport at least through high school but ideally, through college. But not all youth are interested in teaching or coaching as a future career.
This conversation came up with my godson. A good athlete, he played baseball and basketball on school teams through high school, but he was not good enough in either to continue playing on the college level. He had always heard me say that when thinking about a career, try to inventory some of your passions and if reasonable, try to identify a career that encompasses a passion. So he thought about coaching because sports were his passion. But he knew he didn’t want to coach so he dead-ended there in terms of career exploration and basically, was clueless as to any career interest until his junior year of college.
At about that time, I was speaking with his mother, and I found out that he had no career ideas. I knew he followed sports as a passionate and knowledgeable fan so I began to suggest some ideas to him that would build on his passion for sports. First, I threw out sports journalism because I had always felt he was a good writer. When this was met little enthusiasm, I then pointed out that he loved golf and still played golf with friends whenever he could. I mentioned various careers that involved golf – one of which was being a golf course superintendent. He lit up and said that that was something he could picture himself doing. He began asking questions about that and I directed him to various websites where he could learn more about that career and how to credential himself to pursue that career field. (Unfortunately, this conversation took place in his junior year of college – a college that had no sports management or golf course management degrees. Thus, if he continues with his interest in this area, he will have to pursue one- to two- year programs that also require internships post college.) I suggested that he look into either working part-time at a golf course, or seek an internship at a golf course so that he could sort of test his interest a bit before finalizing this as his career choice. He immediately looked around and found an internship at a nearby golf course for the fall semester of his senior year. He really enjoyed it, learned a lot, and decided that being a golf course superintendent was for him.
Sports are a big business and the many careers in the sports field are increasingly requiring people to have special training or courses of study. Thus, many junior colleges, colleges, and universities offer courses in sports management, sports medicine, (yes, coaching), athletic trainer, sports agent, athletic director, recreation director, sports promotion, journalism (sports writer and sports broadcasting), sport psychologist, peak performance specialist and researcher, sports statistician, umpiring/judging/refereeing, etc.. Some programs do not require college degrees but one-two year intensive programs of study, training, and internships. The neat thing is that none require that a person had to be a star athlete when he played youth sports. Some participation in sports, even if only for a few years is enough as well as a continued interest in that sport or sports in general as a passionate and knowledgeable fan beyond her active playing years.
Some kids are elite athletes and may be good enough to be offered college athletic scholarships. A very few go on to play professionally. But for many kids, participation in sports is only for a few years. This is fine as they can learn many important lessons from playing sports. And who knows, they may even go on and have a successful career in some area of sports.
Here are a few books parents can read to help identify various sports careers and what children will have to do to pursue them.
Career Ideas for Kids Who Like Sports, by Diane Lindsey Reeves
The Comprehensive Guide to Careers in Sports, by Glenn M. Wong
Career Opportunities in the Sports Industry, by Shelly Field