Careers in sports, off and on the field

All play and no work? All work and no play? Sports destroys this artificial distinction and brings body, mind and heart together like no other job does!

But as every spunky kid waking up for morning practice has been warned, building a career in sports is risky. Some years ago, a Canadian firm called Online Casino put together a somewhat hilarious chart on your chances of becoming a sports professional — higher than your odds of becoming a movie star but much lower than those of setting up a successful start-up!

But there are many ways of staying close to the sport you love even if you don’t go pro!

Different roles

Sports managers take on sports-based business roles such as event management, team management, sports marketing and even working with sports equipment companies. Since the phenomenal success of the Indian Premier League (cricket), India has seen a surge of sports events and leagues — you have the Pro Wrestling League by ProSportify, the Pro Kabaddi League by Mashal Sports, local cricket and football leagues and numerous marathons. A passion for sports and a degree in business are great tools to enter this profession.

Sports coaches are certified players who train players at schools, or coach district or national-level teams at sports associations, or set up their own sports academies. They design regular sports and exercise routines, select players for matches and tournaments, train teams and individuals and accompany them to sports events at all levels. Various levels of education include diploma, bachelor’s and master’s related to physical education. Several retired or even aspiring players work as coaches.

Sports journalists and analysts write about sports or anchor sports events live on TV, radio and electronic media. Yes, they get tickets to all big games and get to hobnob with players, but like all journalists, they need to establish themselves in the “sports beat”, building networks and covering events exhaustively before they get on to the big league. Sports journalists research and comment on matches, controversies, player selection and game formats in popular columns and blogs. Sports people with a degree in journalism will naturally make great anchors and analysts.

Gaming professionals leverage their hand-eye co-ordination in the virtual space and compete in online gaming competitions for the prize money, and sometimes, for sponsorship amounts. Successful gamers specialise in a genre and a platform like Xbox or PlayStation. Gaming professionals practise, learn strategies, watch other gamers, read up on the game and maintain regular gaming schedules much like offline sports stars. They may also record and broadcast their gameplay on YouTube and other video sites and gather a following — and a source of funds! The whole area of gaming is nascent and growing, and one needs to learn the ropes to build a reputation.

Adventure sports professionals could be expedition leaders, instructors, entrepreneurs running adventure resorts or facilities managers at such resorts. Expedition leaders lead biking, trekking or kayaking groups — mapping the course, planning strategy, sourcing equipment as well as managing the group during the expedition. Instructors teach amateurs and tourists technical skills like using adventure equipment, climbing, skiing or sailing. They could work with institutes providing certificates and licences. Outdoor trainers use their adventure skills and business knowledge to run offsite programmes for companies that create learning around risk, achievement, team work, leadership, etc.

Okay, so now that you know how many things you can do apart from going pro, what if you want to be a professional sportsperson?

Start early

And that often means pre-teen. Even most late bloomers in sports were playing pro level in some other sport before switching to the one that brought them fame. Consider Jimmy Graham who switched to football from basketball in his freshman year in college or Dhoni who switched from being a goalkeeper at his local football club to playing U-16 national level cricket. Even these rare stories culminate by the time the player is 16 or so. By 18, a star is born!

The message is simple — if you dream of becoming a professional sportsperson, you should have earned some national visibility by 16 or you are most likely competed out already! Harsh as it sounds, this is usually a family decision — a high level of mentorship is needed for a young kid to live the life of strict nutrition, fitness and practice regimes that sports demands and then to survive the emotional highs and crashing lows of professional wins and losses.

Of course, you can just be a sport hobbyist — running, playing sports in community clubs and participating in amateur tournaments — while you hold down your day job.

Leading institutes offering sports management:

    National Academy of Sports Management, Mumbai

    George College, Kolkata, West Bengal

    Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology, West Bengal

    International Institute of Sports Management (IISM), Mumbai

    Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Kolkata

    Institute of Sports Management, ISST, Pune

    Tamil Nadu Physical Education and Sports University, Chennai

    Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education, Gwalior

The author leads the India office of a California-based career guidance firm, Stoodnt, and is the author of The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Careers.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 10:44:30 PM |

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