The Sports Industry: The Best Degree Choice for Your Career

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the sports industry in the United States was worth $60.5 billion in 2014 and is projected to arrive at a worth of $73.5 billion in 2019. This makes it one of the largest and steadily growing industries in the American economy. And while a handful of sports may be important to other nations, sports as a whole in America are a major cornerstone of our culture, making the sports industry of America one of the largest, most diverse, and most thriving industries of its kind in the world. For those looking to the industry for career opportunities the United States is the ideal place to start. With countless, thriving sports markets and equally innumerable career paths associated with them, professionals in the industry have immense freedom of choice in terms of career options available to them at each level of experience.

The expansiveness of the industry, however, does have certain drawbacks. Professionals seeking the upper reaches of career opportunities, for instance, will find that education, specialization, and experience are absolutely crucial for success and advancement. And with 63% of Americans being sports fans, professions in the industry are both highly competitive and highly demanding. Depending on your career choice, you might be required to master a knowledge base and skillset that would otherwise be associated with multiple degrees or professions. This makes it of fundamental importance for prospective students to understand the prerequisites and requirements of the career they choose. Below you can find an exploration of the best degree choices available for coaches followed by: The best options for General Managers of Sports Franchises, Fitness Program Coordinators, Wellness Managers, Athletic Trainers, and Nutritionists/Dietitians.

Choosing a Degree Based on Career Goals:

Athletic Coaching

Check out athletic coaching degrees here.

General Management

Check out general management degrees here.

Fitness Coordinator

Check out fitness coordinator degrees here.

Wellness Manager

Check out wellness manager degrees here.

Athletic Trainer

Check out athletic trainer degrees here.

Nutritionist / Dietitian

Check out nutritionist and dietitian degrees here.

Best Degree Types for Coaches

Professional coaching requires dedicated, passionate, and business savvy professionals with the strong personalities required to the maximize performance of their athletes. So that they may lead teams to financial success, and to inspire large groups of people. The unique and exciting career path of the coaching industry is strongly tied to the economy, and so due to the recent recession the number of high-end coaching positions has become highly limited, thus making available positions both exclusive and competitive. This also means that coaching degrees are undeniably crucial in achieving success in the industry. In this article we will explore some of the best degree options available to coaches–both current and prospective.

Coaches take on a variety of roles in their profession–ranging from nutrition and fitness to principles of business management–and so coaching degree programs often emphasize interdisciplinary curriculums, which address the broad social, psychological, and physical sciences that all contribute to a coach’s professional playbook. This is not to say, however, that the best degree for a coach is the one that covers the most information in these disciplines. In fact, school and sports organizations tend to value specialization over generalized knowledge. For this reason the best degree types for coaches are those that lead to specialization in an area that is of major importance to the field of sports science and management.

There Are Five Major Degree Types that represent both the most popular and the most useful options in terms of becoming a professional coach, especially in the higher reaches of the industry. These five degree types are as follows: Kinesiology and Physiology (see degree below), Sports Management (see degree below), Physical Education (see degree below), Exercise and Sports Medicine (see degree below), and Nutrition and Fitness (see degree below). Each of these degrees provide a strong foundation on which to build the skills and knowledge required of a top-tier coach, but they also represent very different knowledge bases which in turn can lead to distinguished specializations and lucrative career opportunities that are unique to the degree.

As mentioned above, however, specialization is a major component to taking on the higher end positions in the coaching industry. This can be achieved through pursuing degree-specific specializations, by gaining high-level coaching experience, or by continuing education to the graduate level. Many schools and sports organizations require coaching education at the graduate level before considering employment. For current professional coaches looking to step up their careers, who may not be able to attend traditoinal degree programs, online master’s coaching degree programs offer an excellent option to improve their resume without leaving their current coaching jobs.

Check out our Coaching Education Rankings Below:
The 15 Best Online Coaching Education Masters Degrees
The 10 Best Online Sports Management Masters Degrees
The 10 Best Online Physical Education Masters Degrees
The 9 Best Online Sports Psychology Masters Degrees

Best Degrees for General Managers

A General Manager (GM) of a team or sports franchise is a ‘people person’ extraordinaire and a jack of all trades with less intensive focus on the physical sciences required by coaching positions. The required skillset can be boiled down to that of sports and business management, administration and marketing, and public relations. A GM of a sports team or franchise manages all aspects of the big picture success of the team or franchise–from press releases, to team policies, to strengthening and conditioning strategies, to managing budgets and revenues. While the coach may micromanage players and direct things on the field, the GM is in charge of all things off field, which arguably entails a much more diverse skillset and knowledge base. The amount of responsibility that falls on the GM for the success of the team or franchise is enormous, especially in higher tier competition, requiring the team’s athletic and financial success as well as positive public opinion.

This immense responsibility means that professionals must demonstrate more than just aptitude in any one area to become a GM. First they must have experience, knowledge, and mastery of their chosen sport. They must also have graduate level education in sports management (see degree below), business (see degree below), or a related field (see degree below). And most importantly, they must have years of real-world experience with every level of the sport’s organization–and this is what sets the profession of General Manager apart from the rest. While many professionals may be able to bypass such requirements through excellent performance in school, by successful networking, or through targeting less competitive areas of the industry, the GM’s career is defined by its variety of unique responsibilities and challenging skillsets–many of which cannot be learned in the classroom. This is not to say that prospective GMs cannot prepare for successful careers through obtaining degrees, in fact, it is essential to such success, but the GM career requires that professionals go beyond the classroom or any one degree in order to master the broad knowledge, skill sets, and experience that makes one an asset to and a figurehead of a sports team or organization.

  • Salary Range (Career Averages):$50,000, to average of $75,000, to the ceiling of $250,000+
  • Education Requirements: At least Master’s in Sports Management, Business, or related field. Real-world experience of sports organization’s numerous levels and functionalities.

Check out our Sports Management Rankings Below:
The 10 Best Online Sports Management Masters Degrees
The 10 Best Online Communications and PR Bachelors Degrees
The 10 Best Online Communications and PR Masters Degrees

Best Degrees for Fitness Coordinators

Fitness Program Coordinators are professionals who specialize in the health and fitness of others through designing, implementing, and overseeing fitness programs. These professionals usually work in gyms, schools, or health facilities but they can also work in the corporate sector as consultants or managers. Fitness Program Coordinators do not only specialize in the knowledge of what makes up fitness i.e. physiology, nutrition, and kinesiology; they specialize in putting this knowledge to work in actionable plans, programs, and schedules that make individuals live healthier lives and reach higher levels of fitness. Due to increasing cultural awareness of the importance fitness and health, these professionals are in high demand with salaries in the top 90% of sports and fitness careers, making it an excellent return on investment in terms of degree costs and career outlook.

The preferred area of study for this profession reported by employers is Physical Education (see degree below) or Nutrition and Fitness (see degree below) with at least a completed bachelor’s degree. In the case of limited real-world experience, however, a master’s degree in these same areas of study is highly recommended. Graduate level study in these areas is also a requirement for positions at the higher end of the job market. Students can get a jumpstart on the competition and accelerate their careers by specializing in a certain area of Fitness Program Coordination such as corporate health programs, school fitness programs, or sports organization athletic program coordination. At the end of the day, however, experience is a valuable asset in this job market with a large percentage of Fitness Program Coordinators holding Business Management (or similar) degrees. While this degree likely has the most applicability to the Fitness Program Coordinator profession, it also evidences the fact that students can still break into the field without holding the ideal degree.

  • Salary Range (Career Averages):$41,800, to average of $76,000, to the ceiling of $128,000+
  • Education Requirements: At least Bachelor’s in Physical Education, or Nutrition and Fitness. Master’s degree (in same areas) required in cases of limited experience or higher end positions. Real-world experience benefits any Fitness Program Coordinator.

Check out our Fitness Coordinator Rankings Below:
The 10 Best Online Nutrition Masters Degrees
The 10 Best Online Physical Education Degrees

The Best Degrees for Wellness Managers

The Wellness Manager is very similar to the Fitness Program Coordinator aside from one important difference: while the Fitness Program Coordinator will mainly focus on programs that develop the fitness of individuals or groups, the Wellness Manager employs a broader focus on the interdisciplinary aspects of health. This broader focus means that they can take on a wider variety of jobs including: Corporate Health Policy Manager, Corporate Health and Wellness Director, Program Health and Wellness Director, Health and Productivity Analyst and Wellness and Health Researcher/Scholar. Essentially, these jobs can be divided into three types of responsibility: managing and directing health programs in the corporate sector, managing and directing health programs for smaller businesses and communities, or managing health programs for individuals through private practice–the most uncommon of the three.

Because Wellness Managers often work over groups of employees, communities, and individuals and require their trust, the profession requires higher levels of education–with at least a master’s degree in a related area of study with the most applicable being the Health and Wellness Management Degree. Unlike the fitness program coordinator, a wellness manager is required to specialize in more than the complexities of physical fitness. Wellness managers and the Health and Wellness Management Degree focus on the broader spectrums of health. The degree is one of the newest degrees in the public health industry, developed in response to the growing need for leaders who integrate all the various dimensions of health into actionable plans. The degree education is defined by an interdisciplinary approach that combines aspects of many of the other degrees listed in this article: kinesiology, fitness and nutrition, physical education, and management. The Degree curriculum is then further distinguished by its focus on synthesizing these diverse areas of knowledge into all encompassing health plans and strategies which incorporate managerial skills of leadership, presentations, and interpersonal dynamics.

While students can certainly achieve success as Wellness Managers with a graduate degree similar to the Wellness Management Degree, the degree is simply too complimentary to the career path to ignore. And since the degree was developed directly in response to the same need that Wellness Managers address, it is unquestionably the best degree choice. For some students this degree may not be an option, however, in which case a Masters in Physical Education (see degree below) or a Masters in Fitness and Nutrition (see degree below) are great alternatives.

  • Salary Range (Career Averages):$47,00, to average of $72,000, to higher salaries of about $100,000
  • Education Requirements: Master’s in Health and Wellness Management suggested, with alternatives: Master’s in Physical education/ Master’s in Fitness and Nutrition.

Check out our Wellness Manager Rankings Below:
The 10 Best Online Nutrition Masters Degrees
The 8 Best Online Health and Wellness Management Bachelors Degrees
The 10 Best Online Health and Wellness Management Masters Degrees
The 10 Best Online Physical Education Masters Degrees

The Best Degrees for Athletic Trainers

As mentioned in the beginning of the article the American sports industry is growing at a rapid pace. And as the industry grows, so does the awareness of sports injuries which then emphasizes the importance of their prevention and intervention. And this is where Athletic Trainers come in–they work with all manor of athletes to treat current injuries and prevent future ones. While the job market of athletic trainers is subject to the ebb and flow of work that results from segmented sports seasons, school semesters, etc. the overall job market is growing at three times the national average

Athletic Trainer positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with a preference for a Master’s of Athletic Training and Sports Medicine. An Athletic Training and Sports Medicine Degree focuses on the medical techniques for treatment and prevention of sports-related injuries. Degree curriculum covers kinesiology, applied physiology, anatomy, and biomechanics; and relates these areas of studies to trends in the sports industry and athletic communities to better understand common injury types, treatment devices, and preventative strategies through nutrition and fitness. While these areas are certainly covered in other degree programs mentioned in this list the degree of Athletic Training & Sports Medicine ensures that students are sufficiently prepared for a career in the field through encompassing curriculum, education of state regulations, certification exam preparation, etc.–while other degrees may leave such preparation up to the student.

Athletic trainers may work for schools, sports organizations, or private health clinics, however, regardless of the location their responsibilities remain the same for the most part. They assess and diagnose injuries, and treat injuries immediately so that the athlete will gain further injury. Athletic trainers use tape, bracers, and other devices on athletes to support their athletic movements in the case of past or impending injury. Athletic trainers are also present at most sports events, so as to provide immediate care in the case of medical emergencies. While a degree in Athletic training is likely the best option for a career in the field, state certification is the only true requirement. This certification usually only requires an undergraduate degree in a related field and a passing grade on the exam. Degrees in physical education (see degree below), kinesiology (see degree below), or nutrition and fitness (see degree below) are good alternatives.

  • Salary Range (Bachelor’s Degree):$26,170, to average of $44,640, to the highest salaries of $65,970
  • Education Requirements: State certification, a minimum of a Bachelor’s in Athletic Training (or related field), Physical Education, Kinesiology, or Nutrition and Fitness degrees are alternatives.

Check out our Athletic Trainer Rankings Below:
The 10 best Online Nutrition Masters Degrees
The 10 best Online Kinesiology Masters Degrees
The 6 best Online Kinesiology Bachelors Degrees
The 10 Best Online Physical Education Masters Degrees

The Best Degrees for Nutritionists / Dietitians

A Nutritionist or Dietitian works to help individuals better understand the relationship between food and health. They can work in a variety of environments and positions to educate, counsel, or conduct research. Nutritionists can also partake in a variety of professional responsibilities such as: overseeing meal plans, conducting one-on-one counseling sessions, testing or developing new food products, or conducting research into eating disorders, diets, etc. While the requirements to become a nutritionist in name are low, the requirements to become a lifelong successful nutritionist are a bit more demanding and less obvious. To obtain the title of nutritionist one must simply graduate with a bachelor’s in nutrition or a closely related field, and pass the state certification exam. In searching for a program it’s best to seek out those that have been accredited by the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics.

In the Nutrition/Dietetics Degree you will study the chemistry behind food and the effects it has on the human body through consumption. Curriculum covers biochemistry, food types, biology, nutritional sciences, and anatomy. In this degree program you will learn how different types food interact with the body’s biosystems, what types of disorders can result from too little or too much caloric consumption, and that what consists of an ideal diet is largely dependent on individual factors, which of course are also core areas of study. Advanced degree programs will become more specialized to focus on one of the aforementioned subjects, which then allows graduates to apply that specialty to their profession and increase their earning potential.

Nutritionists often become experts in sports nutrition whether by degree specialization or by experiential expertise. Sports nutrition is the area of nutrition and dietetics where the nutritionist examines the physical demands of the athlete’s sport and thus prescribes a meal plan and/or caloric intake parameters along with any other nutritional advice to meet individual needs. This meal plan is designed to keep the athlete healthy through adequately fueling the body for the demands of sports and to avoid insufficient or excess eating, vitamin deficiencies, or other negative reactions to specific diets. To become a sports nutritionist a graduate degree in the field is required along with the necessary state certifications. While closely related degrees may function to allow certification, an accredited degree in Nutrition/ Dietetics is highly suggested for long-term career advancement and success.

  • Salary Range (Bachelor’s Degree):$33,980, to average of $55,920, to the highest salaries of $90,000+
  • Education Requirements: State certification, a minimum of a Bachelor’s in Nutrition/Dietetics (or closely related field) with graduate study suggested.

Check out our Nutritionist / Dietitian Rankings Below:
The 10 Best Online Nutrition Masters Degrees

Degree Types

The Kinesiology and Physiology Degree will focus on the physical and chemical sciences behind the amazing feats of athleticism that coaches seek from their players. Major areas of study in this degree will include biomechanics, strength and conditioning, and anatomical kinesiology. Coaches with degrees in Kinesiology and Physiology will have mastered the knowledge of the human body’s capacity for movement and action, and are often employed as strength and conditioning coaches or as athlete training consultants. The principles of kinesiology and physiology are applicable to any sport in the world, and thus it represents one of the most highly marketable and dynamic degree options available to coaches.

The Sports Management Degree is designed around interdisciplinary learning outcomes with subject areas ranging from business, to finance, to physical education and leadership skills. Coaches with this degree will thus be prepared to pursue positions of leadership within schools, sports organizations, or private athletic companies. The responsibilities of a sports manager are varied and diverse–with many requirements differing from job to job–and so sports management degrees frequently offer degree specialization tracks in order to grant coaches opportunities to hone marketable skills that meet the specific requirements of their desired position of employment.

The Physical Education Degree covers a very broad range of skills and touches on everything from the science of human action and movement (kinesiology), to the psychology of team motivation, to the philosophical principles of coaching. Coursework in the degree will cover such areas as motor skill development, nutrition, and ethics in sports. Because of the broad skillset the degree provides it is probably one of the most universally applicable options available to coaches, and thus it represents an excellent starting place for those looking to enter into the coaching world. And that is not to say that it is a degree for beginners, in fact, many of the top-tier coaches in the NFL, NBA, and MLB hold advanced degrees in physical education. Furthermore, many physical education degree programs require students to shadow coaches, intern with sports teams or athletic organizations, granting them highly valuable real-world learning experiences. This gives students with the Physical Education Degree a slight advantage when seeking employment.

The Exercise and Sports Medicine Degreeis designed to educate coaches on how to push athletes to their limits without causing injury, however, the degree also focuses on how to handle athletic injuries, so that players can return to the field in the best health and shortest downtime. And so as the name of the degree implies, coaches with this degree will focus a great deal of their time on the medical practices involved in treating injured athletes, maximizing recovery methods after intensive performances, and in keeping athletes at ideal levels of health on and off the field. Courses in this degree program will take courses in prevention and intervention in situations of athlete injury, exercise physiology and practices, and the ethics of health in sports.

The Nutrition and Fitness Degreewill prepare coaches to maximize their athletes’ health levels through proper nutrition and reasonable training regimens. Health is probably the most important factor to a coach concerning his athletes, and so this degree is designed to educate coaches in how to maintain it through studying biochemistry, nutritional cycles, and the relationship between caloric intake and efficient exercise. Coaches with specialization in nutrition and fitness are highly valued by sports organizations, as often multiple nutritional coaches are required to personal monitor athletes of larger teams. This also means that the job market is more accepting of coaches with this degree.