By Adrienne Herrenbruck, Ph. D, ACSM-EP  |  04/26/2024

careers in sports


Pursuing a career in sports and health sciences could be a dream job if you enjoy being around sports; discussing fitness, athletes’ physical health, athlete mental health, or wellness topics; or helping people reach their physical fitness goals. Also, there are many sports management jobs that require strong administrative and sports marketing skills to:

  • Organize sporting events
  • Perform work for a professional sports team, a school athletic department, or a corporate organization
  • Develop marketing strategies for athletic events, sports professionals, and sports marketing firms

In the competitive sports world, there are a wide range of opportunities. For instance, potential careers in sports or health sciences can include:

  • Personal trainer
  • Sports team psychologist
  • Athletic director
  • Sports manager
  • Sports marketing professionals
  • Sports agent


Determining Which Careers in Sports and Health Sciences Are Right for You

If you like sports and health sciences, it’s important to explore all the possible career paths available to you. It’s also useful to consider your interests and professional goals.

Some types of sports careers are more suited to people who have an entrepreneurial mindset, a strong knowledge of business principles, and want to own their own business. Other roles may require working in a team environment and collaborating with others in the sports industry, such as working as a coach for professional sports teams.

Sports Coach

Coaches are needed in a variety of fields. A coach may focus on team sports coaching or one-on-one fitness clients. Typically, coaches work with athletes or personal clients to elicit high performance and behavioral change.

Also, coaches are vital in the educational sector. There are multiple opportunities, such as:

  • K-12 physical education
  • Middle school and high school sports
  • Sports programs at the college level

Both head coaches and assistant coaches also need skill sets that allow them to work with an athletic director, athletic trainers, and others in the sports industry to best lead their sports teams.

Depending on the level of coaching, some university athletic departments require a master’s degree in sports and health sciences to work in their sports program.

Sports Club Coach

Local sports clubs, such as gymnastics or other club-level teams, also require coaches. This path may be satisfying to people who are self-motivated and prefer to be an entrepreneur as they seek coaching positions.

Behavioral and Wellness Coach

If you prefer individual coaching, behavioral coaching may suit your preferences. Individual behavioral and wellness coaches can serve a variety of populations. For instance, you could provide professional athletes with one-on-one coaching or focus on individual clients to change their wellness and health behaviors.

Personal Trainer

Personal training is a common career path for students interested in exercise science and sports. Whether you choose to work with a specific population (such as a professional athlete or a major-league baseball team) or the general public, becoming a personal trainer involves a fun and fast-paced environment.

Career paths worth pursuing might include working for a corporate fitness facility or building a clientele of your own. Having a foundational knowledge of exercise science will allow you to guide clients to meet their specific goals using customized exercise programs. 

Strength and Conditioning Coach

If you are interested in developing exercise programs but specifically want to work with sports teams, becoming a strength and conditioning coach in the sports industry can be a consideration. A strength and conditioning (S&C) coach works with athletic teams to build strength and help athletes excel on the field. 

Additionally, S&C coaches develop position-specific training programs for a variety of sports. They help team members to avoid injury by strengthening their bodies and conditioning their metabolic systems for optimal performance.

Strength and conditioning coaches can work anywhere from high schools to professional teams. Depending on the size of the school or organization, you may work with one sports team (such as a football or basketball team) or the entire athletic population. 

Exercise Physiologist

Exercise physiologists often work in cardiac rehabilitation. For instance, patients who have undergone a cardiac event (stent placement, heart attack, or open heart surgery) will begin monitored exercise to safely get back to a high quality of life. 

Exercise physiologists develop safe and effective protocols for a variety of cardiac patients, as well as monitor cardiac activity via electrocardiograms. In addition, they take other measurements such as blood pressure during activity to monitor the strain put on a patient’s heart.

Generally, exercise physiologists are commonly employed in a hospital fitness center. They work alongside nurses, cardiologists, and other health care professionals to help patients recover and return to daily living activities in a safe way.

Some organizations require specific certification, such as Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Exercise Scientist

Exercise scientists can work in areas such as cancer rehabilitation. Patients who are currently battling cancer or recovering from cancer treatment may be placed in cancer rehabilitation where an exercise scientist can monitor and aid them with normal life activities.

Exercise Science Research Technologist

A more science-based career option for someone with an interest in sports and health sciences is to work in a research lab and collect data. Many research companies hire exercise science research technologists for working in a wet lab, in a physiology lab, or with biomechanical equipment. This type of work can entail measuring an individual’s VO2 (the volume of oxygen the body consumes) max, body composition, blood lactate levels, and joint movement angles.

Clinical Exercise Physiologist

A clinical exercise physiologist is a fitness professional who works with patients who suffer from a chronic disability or disease. For instance, a clinical exercise physiologist will prepare specific protocols that take into account special accommodations for their patient.


Exercise Science Jobs That Require Advanced Education or Certification

There are some careers in sports and health sciences that require more advanced education or certification from a professional organization.

Athletic Trainer

A Certified Athletic Trainer works with sports teams to treat acute injuries during training sessions and competition. This type of trainer is typically certified by the National Athletic Training Association and has a master’s degree.

An athletic trainer works with coaching staff and athletic directors to keep athletes safe during a variety of emergency situations, including severe weather. If an athlete suffers a sports-related injury, the athletic trainer works with the injured individual to ensure that person gets proper care and rehabilitation before being pronounced ready to “return to play.” 

Other opportunities for athletic trainers include working in industrial settings such as production plants or offices to prevent employees from suffering injuries due to repetitive movements or ergonomic problems. This type of athletic trainer can develop athletic programs to ensure that employees have proper body mechanics to decrease their risk of injury. 

Physical Therapist and Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapists work with patients to help them regain mobility and perform activities of daily living after an acute or chronic injury. These therapists commonly pursue a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT), which is required to practice. 

Physical therapists work with a large range of clients. They may have clients who are children, teens, or adults. Also, they can work with professional athletes.

A physical therapist assistant (PTA) works with physical therapy clients one-on-one during sessions. They work under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist but do not develop and oversee full therapy programs.

Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist focuses on helping individual patients to successfully perform the activities of work and daily living. An occupational therapist helps patients to become more independent and can work in various settings such as schools, hospitals, and clinics.

This type of occupation commonly requires a master's degree in OT before professional practice. 


Chiropractors focus on relieving pain and helping patients to increase their mobility through joint manipulations and spine adjustments. A Doctorate of Chiropractic (DC) is required to practice in this field. 

Physician Assistant

If you desire to work with other medical professionals, including sports physicians, becoming a physician assistant (PA) may be a great choice. Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician and carry out various tasks, such as obtaining a patient’s medical history, diagnosing injuries or illnesses, or prescribing medications.

This profession requires a graduate degree, and students often choose to work in a particular area of the medical field. Becoming a PA does not require going to medical school, but it involves taking a two-year program after you complete a bachelor's degree.


Coaching and Wellness Careers

For sports lovers, there are various opportunities available in the coaching and wellness industry.

Wellness Coach

Wellness coaching is a general term for someone focused on healing people with a holistic approach to their overall well-being. Whether working on physical, mental, or spiritual health, a wellness coach approaches each client or group with the goal of developing well-rounded health.

Health Promotion Coordinator

Health promotion coordinators are concerned with public health. They may work in a commercial gym setting or a clinic, focusing on various strategies to promote overall well-being and to help people to build a lasting and healthy lifestyle.

Health promotion coordinators may also create community activities, such as 5K runs, walkathons, and other sports events. Their work leads to improved physical health, and they educate the general public on taking small steps to improve health and wellness.

Community Recreational Program Director

If you’re interested in helping communities get more active and enjoy a healthy lifestyle, pursuing a career path as a community recreational program director could be satisfying. Recreational program directors work with other city or community leadership to promote healthful in different ways, such as improving parks and greenways, creating athletic events, or organizing community programs. 

This type of role requires a knowledge of human physiology and psychology, event management, and athletic program development.

Resort Director

Resort directors use their knowledge of fitness and wellness to build programming and educational experiences for their guests. Resort directors may work on cruise ships or at luxury resorts to help travelers stay active. Some resorts focus solely on this process and serve as a complete wellness resort.

Corporate Wellness Coordinator

If you desire to work with others to improve their overall well-being, including every aspect of health and wellness, corporate wellness is another area of interest that may be a good fit. Corporate wellness coordinators build programs and wellness incentives for workplace employees. 

Many studies have shown that there is a huge return on investment for companies that provide a wellness program to employees. The benefits include a decrease in the number of sick days, a lower turnover rate, and improved employee job satisfaction.

Corporate wellness coordinator can work to provide annual health fairs or create a yearly wellness incentive program where employees gain benefits for achieving certain health goals, such as abstaining from tobacco, or walking a certain number of steps daily. They may also oversee a corporate fitness facility. 


Nutrition Career Opportunities

For students who prefer to help individuals and athletes to improve their nutrition, the nutrition industry offers multiple career paths.

Sports Nutritionist

Nutrition is a foundational component of the sports industry. Whether they focus on professional athletes, student athletes, or the general population, sports nutritionists build a foundation for their clients' health and well-being. Proper nutrition can help with increased performance, improved health and metabolism, and injury prevention.

Nutrition Coach

Nutrition coaches help others improve their health by optimizing their diet. While nutrition coaches are not registered dietitians, they can give general nutrition advice to help people build healthy, lifelong eating habits.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

To prescribe specific nutrition protocols and work with all populations, including people in professional sports, becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is required. This type of profession requires a master's degree and a dietetics internship. Each state has various laws associated with becoming an RDN, so it is important to research your state’s requirements.

Sports and Health Sciences Degrees at APU

A degree in sports and health sciences can provide students with the knowledge to pursue many career opportunities in the fitness, health, sports, and wellness fields. Whether you want to work one-on-one with clients, help professional sports teams, or teach corporate employees, American Public University (APU) strives to provide students with fundamental knowledge and skills through a well-rounded curriculum.

Our degree choices include:

At American Public University (APU), we also offer different concentrations in our undergraduate and graduate degrees, including:

  • Coaching studies
  • Exercise science
  • Fitness and wellness professional studies
  • Nutrition for health and fitness
  • Esports business administration
  • Esports coaching and athlete development

Each of these concentrations enables students to tailor their education to meet their needs and acquire a unique skill set suited to different careers in sports and health sciences.

An added benefit of being an APU student is our relationship with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Because of our partnership, students receive proprietary information and NASM discounts for certifications such as Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach.

Students who complete the B.S. in sports and health sciences will be eligible to take the gold standard certification of Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Our classes are taught by knowledgeable faculty members who have experience in the field. Courses start monthly – sign up today!

About the Author
Adrienne Herrenbruck, Ph. D, ACSM-EP

Dr. Herrenbruck is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sports and Health Sciences. She earned a B.S. in exercise science/wellness at Murray State University, an M.S. in exercise science from Georgia State University, and a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky. Dr. Herrenbruck is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Her research interests focus on skeletal muscle physiology, and she has a passion for discussing the convergence of science and healthy living.

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