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How to build a career in sports

arnk7gq799hdk9cmr504The dream of becoming a professional sportsperson may only be achieved by a select few, but that doesn’t mean a career in the world of sport is unattainable. We’ve spoken to three people who have successfully built a career in sport to find out what it takes.

The Sports Development Manager

Paul Coates is sports development manager for the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority on the edge of London – which had its moment in the global spotlight when it played host to some of the most-exciting action of the 2012 Olympics.

Sports development officers are tasked with providing opportunities for all sections of the community to participate in sport and physical activity, while sports development managers oversee them and work to more strategic goals in the same field.

What led you to sports development as a career?
‘I’ve always had an interest in sport and I started off working within a leisure facility part time, earning some extra money during my college studies. I enjoyed this type of work but felt I could offer more than just facility management. I found my way onto a university course studying Sports Development and since completing my degree I’ve worked for a number of local authorities.’

What’s the best bit about the job?
‘Earlier in my career the best parts of the job were seeing community members engaging in sports activity for the first time or watching hard-to-reach young people doing something positive with their lives through sport, thanks to the sports projects I had coordinated.

‘In management, for me the best parts of the job are things like opening world-class sports venues, successfully applying for millions of pounds of external sports grants, managing a team of sports development officers and successfully being awarded major sporting events.’

What’s the most challenging part?
‘I would say managing staff and ensuring that they are happy in their role, along with managing multiple projects at the same time. Recently some of the biggest challenges are a direct result of the current financial climate, where leisure is one of the first services to receive cuts.’

What advice would you give someone who wanted to get into a similar role?
‘Jobs within sports development are competitive and most employers will require experience as well as a relevant qualification. Gain as much experience as possible, even if this means working voluntarily until you find a paid position. Try to get a good understanding of various leisure sectors, from local authorities, national governing bodies, the voluntary sector and the private sector. Don’t go into this industry if you want to work 9 to 5 or if you want to be paid loads of money!’

Sports development officers might earn £13k to £29k depending on seniority and location, while sports development managers can earn up to £40k.*

The Sports Therapist

Nicola Dinsdale works as a sports therapist at the NJD Sports Injury Centre – a family business which she runs with her father in Clitheroe, Lancashire. They specialise in cycling-related issues, but Nicola is a former professional footballer and has also worked with nearby Blackburn Rugby Club.

Sports therapy is a hands-on activity, working around the body looking, feeling and testing for dysfunction and imbalances with the aim to get athletes back to full fitness as soon possible.

What led you to sports therapy as a career?
‘I have always wanted to work in sports, so when I found the sports therapy degree course at Teesside University I saw it as a great opportunity to follow a career path I was passionate about.

‘My dad ran a small sports injury clinic, so that gave me an early opportunity to get involved with working with athletes. It also offered me clinical hands-on experience during and after finishing university.’

What’s the best bit about the job?
‘I like the challenge of working with patients with overuse injuries; it’s like a jigsaw trying to put the pieces together to work out what is going wrong with the patient. When you can give someone pain relief and then help build up their strength and fitness enabling them to return to work or their sport, it is very rewarding.

‘I have also been fortunate to work as a volunteer therapist with a top-level football team in Ghana and more recently at the London 2012 Olympics. These experiences have been career highlight as I have had the opportunity to work with the world’s elite athletes.’

What’s the most challenging part?
‘It’s a hands-on physical job which involves long days and unsociable hours, and I often feel it’s me needing the treatment by the end of the day! However I get the chance to meet and work with all sorts of interesting people who make the job fun and interesting.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to get into a similar role?
‘I can’t stress how important getting work experience is in sport. It’s a very competitive working environment, and the best way to improve your knowledge and hands-on skills is first hand, working alongside experienced professionals. I persisted with my work experience in rugby when I first graduated and it resulted in a paid job and endless hours of experience which made me a better therapist, and I loved every minute of it.’

A sports therapist working in a clinic can expect to earn between £17k and £28k, dependent on experience. Therapists working privately or with a professional team can be paid up to £35k.*

The Sports Administrator

Paul MacLeod is a marketing executive with Wigan Warriors, the most-successful Rugby League club in the world and Super League champions in 2013.

Sports administrators help ensure the smooth running of a sports club or organisation. Duties can include organising events, running sports facilities and dealing with the public and other organisations.

What led you to work in sports administration as a career?
‘I wanted to combine my passion for sport with a degree in marketing and advertising. Before I got this job I worked on the online marketing for MBNA’s sports affinity card portfolio – which included the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.’

What’s the best bit of the job?
‘It is an exciting and innovative field. Marketing roles within sport very often bring a lot of diversity and involve working on a variety of products and events, and with a range of partners. It means that no two weeks are the same.’

What’s the most challenging aspect?
‘Time management. Sport is centred around events and having around 15 home matches per season can sometimes mean it is difficult not to get distracted from overall marketing goals for the growth of the Club, especially when working in a small team.’

What advice would you give to someone looking for a similar role?
Do what you can to get a foot in the door. Jobs in sports marketing can be difficult to come by and you have to seize any opportunity you can to get yourself noticed. Volunteering and ticket sales positions can be a great way of doing this whilst also helping to develop a wider skill set.’

Starting salaries for administrators in sport vary from around £15k to £22k, with £24k or more on offer for more experienced staff. Director level administrators or senior managers can be paid £90k or more.*

*Salary figures taken from Prospects, the Government’s official careers advice website

Image: Nicola Dinsdale

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