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Career Options in Sport & Recreation: School Leaver

For those of us who haven’t been plucked out for a career as a professional sportsperson, there are lots of alternative careers within the sport and leisure industry. So what could you do as a school leaver?

School leaver opportunities in sport & recreation

- Intermediate apprenticeships

- Advanced apprenticeships

- Training courses

- University study

Apprenticeships, apprenticeships, apprenticeships. They’re all over the place in the sports and leisure industry, and a certainly a valid route for school leavers with GCSEs and/or A-levels who are interested in turning a passion for a certain sport or fitness into a career.

You could take on a gym and fitness instructor apprenticeship (at intermediate or advanced level), if you’d like to become something along the lines of a yoga or pilates trainer, fitness instructor or personal trainer. There are also opportunities like leisure operations apprenticeships for training in a role like a groundsperson or recreations/leisure assistant or attendant.

Intermediate apprenticeships will require you to have at least five GCSEs or the equivalent. The time will usually be split between working for an employer (usually a sports club or leisure centre) and study at college to meet all of the study elements of the programme. This could also include study for awards in things like first aid, couching, lifeguarding or community sports leadership depending on the focus of the apprenticeship and your own preferences.

During an apprenticeship you’ll gain knowledge of how the sports and leisure works as a business area, as well as the right knowledge and skills for a particular role. It’s possible to work up to management positions at leisure centres and clubs from the basis of an apprenticeship.

You could also take a course to help you train up to become a life guard, football coach, rugby coach etc. Not everyone can work with the top league teams and superstars of the game, but just think how much sport goes on around us, every day at every level! Involvement with a team, whether it be at local or top flight levels, can be equally rewarding if you’re working in the sport you love. You might have to fund these courses yourself, or they might be an option through an apprenticeship. The qualifications are something you’ll have to earn if you want this to be your career.

There are also university courses which focus on different aspects of the sports and leisure sector, from the science side of things to the managerial and operations areas. So if you’d like to explore sport in this way with the university experience before entering work and achieve good A-level results, this could be an option for you too.  

Setting the school leaver record straight

Obviously if you’re snapped up to play sport at a lucrative professional level from a young age, the odds are that your career path won’t be university-based anyway. The school leaver route of the Wayne Rooneys and Andy Murrays of this world is not for everyone (leaving school does have the tendency to make you think realistically about your options); however there’s plenty you can do in the world of sport and recreation that doesn’t require you to pick up a university education.

There are a tried-and-tested number of apprenticeships across the country that follow a government approved structure and proper training for a career path in sport and recreation. So if you want to leave school, stay local and head into this sector right now, there will be plenty of career progression opportunities. Apprentices at places like gyms and leisure centres for instance are known to have worked their way up to managerial positions in the space of a few years.       

Formal education: Should I stay or should I go?

There are certain career paths within sport & recreation which require degree-level knowledge. If you want to train up in a career such as a physiotherapist or sports psychologist for example, you are going to have to stick with formal education for a few more years to gain A-levels (or the equivalent) if you haven’t already, and then study for a relevant degree.

If you’d like the university experience and are a top performer in your chosen sport with the potential to go far, then sports scholarships could be something to consider to help you achieve the best of the studying and sporting worlds. A sports scholarship could provide you with some financial support for fees or living costs, as well as access to potentially very expensive training equipment and a support network of expert trainers and coaches whilst you also study for a degree in the subject of your choice. There are a number of Olympic medalists and professional sportspeople who take this route, which means that they don’t miss out on gaining a degree as they train.

However, if you know you want to become a couch, fitness instructor, manager, or work in operations in sport and recreation, the choice to stay or go really is up to your own personal preference. There are degree courses widely available focussing on areas such as sports science, sports coaching and sports management, so if you’d like to set up your career in this way then go for it; if you want to start earning a salary and getting experience on the job right away then an apprenticeship could be more suitable.