Working in elite sport or any sport for that matter is an extremely rewarding career. I consider myself very fortunate to have the position and experience I hold and consciously appreciate it every single day. I’m all about pursuing your passion and doing what you love in life. I understand why it appears so attractive to young individuals/aspiring coaches. I would like to offer some simple advice and an honest perspective.
You may be aware that this profession is rather competitive, very hard to get into and unpaid internships come under scrutiny by some (usually coaches who have got an MSc, done a couple years of unpaid work and are still struggling to get a job). But before you embark on your 3 years of undergraduate degree, have your university explained to you exactly how difficult it will be to get a job once you graduate? I doubt it.
To me this doesn’t seem fair. As I understand it now costs £9,000 per year for tuition fees alone. That’s £27,000 before you even think about accommodation, food and general costs of living. So please read this before you send in your application.
Let me start by saying that when I did my MSc, there were no more than 5 university’s offering a post grad course in S&C in the UK, even less with an undergrad course. I also completed near enough 3 years of unpaid internships before I got my first paid role in S&C (and that was only part time). Now nearly every uni in the UK offers both undergrad and post grad courses. That makes thousands, if not 10’s of thousands, of students studying sports science and strength & conditioning every year!
Then consider how much the world of sport has evolved in the last 5-10 years. It certainly has, nearly all sport has become more professional, S&C is commonly more valued and better practiced. BUT how many new jobs do you think that’s led to? Maybe a couple hundred if you consider all pro football clubs, their academies, rugby, Olympic sports, the EIS, semi pro clubs and schools? And please bear in mind that these jobs are already taken, I’m not giving mine up any time soon.
As part of the World-Class Coaching Podcast, I regularly round up available jobs in this profession across the world. It is rare for me to mention more than 10 jobs per month! 5 or 6 of those may be based in the UK. That’s not for wanting to keep the content down, merely I struggle to find them. That makes around 60 to 80 (being generous) advertised S&C jobs available in the UK per year, compared to >10,000 aspiring coaches coming out of uni. Don’t forget about the 9,950 students from the previous year, and thousands before that who still don’t have a job and haven’t yet given up on their dream to work in professional sport.
Furthermore, of those 60-80 jobs that may be advertised each year, pretty much all of them will now require an MSc and previous experience in a high level sports coaching environment. So it’s almost certain you won’t be getting a job straight on the back of 3 years undergraduate study.
That might be ok for you? You probably want to go travelling after uni anyway right? So do that for a year, come back study an MSc whilst doing a couple years unpaid internships. I’m sure your parents will be happy to support you financially during this time. And once you’ve been to uni, travelled the world a little and experienced some freedom, you’ll be more than happy to move back home and live with them. Just like your mum will be delighted to have you there all the time to cook for and do your washing. Then when you catch up with the 10’s of thousands of other aspiring coaches who’ve now got their MSc, maybe some a PhD and a few years unpaid work experience, what will you do to distinguish yourself as something different? More importantly how are you going to pay back that student loan which must be sitting up in the regions of £50,000 or more by now?
You could always do some personal training to support yourself of course. And I don’t belittle that for a second, it will aid your skills as an S&C coach immensely. Only you can do a PT course for a couple grand in 6 weeks vs £50,000 in 5-6 years! Oh of course even if you have the BSc & MSc, you’ll still need to do a PT qualification to get insurance or be able to work in a gym.
Please stop and think about all this for a second. Is it all worth it?
If the fact of seriously being outnumbered in the job market and the cost of time, money & effort hasn’t put you off yet, what else can I say to change your mind?
Start by understanding that you’re not special, there are always better coaches, those who have more knowledge and most importantly those who have more friends!
Once you have an undergrad, it’s pretty certain that you’ll need to complete at least a couple years of unpaid internships, obtain your UKSCA/NSCA/ASCC accreditation, complete an MSc and personally know someone before you’re even considered for an interview.
Unpaid internships are still commonplace and vary massively in quality. If you’re lucky enough to get some work experience with a professional sports team, it won’t be anything luxurious. You’ll probably be making protein shakes and taking urine samples in return for a free t-shirt.
I could go on but I hope you’ve got the picture by now. If you haven’t, feel free to contact me for more advice. I went through this process several years ago and it’s only got tougher since. I know so many coaches who’ve given up and turned to personal training or other career paths. Those who wanted to work in sport because they never wanted an office job and now they work in recruitment or something similar. Those who have finally got jobs after 4 or even 5 years of unpaid internships! And those who continue to study PhD’s not because they ever planned to, but because they couldn’t get a coaching job.
Finally if you’re still set on pursuing a career as an S&C coach then good luck to you, it’s a hugely rewarding career just don’t dismiss how hard it’ll be to get there. Here’s my top 5 pieces of advice for aspiring coaches:
- Coach, coach, coach as much as you can! Practical application is your biggest learning tool.
- Volunteer your services with whichever sports teams/athletes you can. Accountable experience as part of a well structured interdisciplinary team is essential for working in elite sport. Don’t dismiss unpaid work experience opportunities, money isn’t the only form of value.
- Make sure it’s worth it. Internships very a great deal in quality. If you’re offering your services for free, you need to be getting something out of it. Always ask:
- “Is there a structured learning programme?”
- “Who will be my mentor(s)? What experience do they have? What can they teach me? And how much opportunity will I have to learn from them?”
- “How have previous interns valued that internship? What did they get out of it? And did it lead to a job for them?”
- “Will there be an opportunity to coach? Programme? And how will responsibilities progress?”
- Network: the old motto “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” goes a long way.
- Understand WHY you want to do this and what your purpose is in life.
Good luck, it’s not impossible.