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Sports Science Majors: Salary and Career Facts

A sports medicine major can train you to coach athletes, teach physical education or help people avoid or recover from injury. Learn about degree and course options, potential careers, job requirements and salaries.

What Does an Individual With a Sports Science Major Do?

Individuals who major in sports science have several different career options available. For instance, many choose to become athletic trainers. Athletic trainers diagnose and treat muscle and skeletal injuries in athletes. Often, they are hired by high schools, college athletic departments or professional sports teams to work with their athletes, but they can also get jobs in clinical settings. Another option is a job as a physical education teacher at the elementary, middle or high school level. Some teachers offer general physical education courses that include instruction in a variety of team and individual sports, such as basketball, volleyball and tennis. Some high school teachers also provide courses in more specialized topics, such as yoga. Another career option is a position as a sports coach at the youth, high school, college or professional level. Depending on the sport, coaches design and implement training programs for their athletes. They also provide relevant advice on fitness, motivation and competition strategy.

The following table provides some information about possible careers for sports science majors:

Career Athletic Trainer Coach Physical Education Teacher
Degree Required Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree
Licensure Requirements License required in most states Certification may be required License required to work in public school
Key Responsibilities Diagnose musculoskeletal injuries; provide emergency treatment; plan rehabilitation programs for athletes Supervise practice sessions; advise athletes on training and competition strategies Teach students about sports and fitness; supervise students in the classroom and other school settings
Job Growth (2018-2028)19%* 3%* 3-4%* (for all elementary, middle and high school teachers)
Median Salary $47,510* (2018)* $43,231 (2019)** $44,097 (2019)**

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What is the Sports Science Major?

Bachelor's degree students interested in sports science can often major in the subject through a university's exercise and sports science, physical education or health and recreation department. A bachelor's degree in sports science usually requires completion of 126-147 credit hours and may be completed in 4-5 years.

Some schools allow you to choose between a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Art designation as you complete your sports science degree. If you like physics, chemistry and biology, a Bachelor of Science may be what you want. The designation may be awarded after completion of a specific number of science-related courses, in addition to the main degree requirements. Bachelor of Arts degrees in the field are generally more focused on the social science aspects of the discipline, like exercise psychology and how sport relates to culture.

What Careers Can I Have?

Graduates of sports science programs may find work as physical education teachers, sports coaches and athletic trainers. Though each of these careers requires a specific skill set and educational emphasis, they all involve work with other people. Majoring in sports science is a good choice if you want to spend your workday interacting with others.

Physical education teachers work with students in K-12 settings to teach classes that keep kids active. Some physical education teachers incorporate education in habits that could help students stay healthy throughout their lives. A physical education teacher typically plans activities for classes, oversees student activity to ensure safety and evaluates students based on their participation and skill level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), coaches for elementary and high school sports are often teachers who have been hired to take on the coaching role, in addition to their regular duties (www.bls.gov).

Athletic trainers help athletes and other individuals avoid injury or recover following an injury. These individuals evaluate injuries, assist in physical therapy activities and provide instruction on proper technique for physical therapy equipment. A trainer may travel with a sports team, according to O*Net Online (www.online.onetcenter.org).

How Much Can I Earn?

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for athletic trainers was $47,510 per year in 2018, and that those working in the promotion of performing arts, sports, and similar events earned the highest average annual wage. The same report indicates that approximately 26,890 athletic trainers were employed in 2018. Between 2018 and 2028, job opportunities for athletic trainers are expected to increase by 19%.

According to a survey by online salary database Payscale.com, in November 2019, physical education teachers' earnings ranged from $30,000-$72,000 annually. This includes commissions, bonuses and profit sharing potentials. Payscale.com also reported that the median salary for athletic coaches was $43,231 in November 2019.

What Do I Need Besides My Degree?

Depending on the concentration you choose, preparation for a sports science career may not stop with your degree. You may have to gain additional credentials for your intended job as a teacher or a personal or athletic trainer. Each field has separate licensing and certification requirements, and job resource databases like the BLS indicate that these requirements may also vary by state.

Professional organizations for athletic trainers, like the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), may offer certification programs that require completion of classes offered through the organization itself or through completion of examinations. For positions in physical education or coaching, you will probably need to complete licensure programs outlined by the state where you wish to teach or coach.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Even if you decide not to major in sports science, you can still pursue a career related to sports. For instance, as a fitness trainer, you could teach fitness classes at a recreation center or club, in activities such as group cycling or aerobics. You could also offer individual training services. For this job, you only need a high school diploma. Alternatively, if you want to conduct research in sports science, you could consider becoming a biological technician in an academic lab that focuses on a topic related to athletic performance. The minimum educational requirement for an entry-level position is a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field.