For students interested in sport, playing for or coaching a famous team are not the only ways to work in a vocational sport position. Lisa Symonds has advice on supporting students who want to work in the the sport industry

There are more than 200 possible roles in the sport and active leisure sector, yet many school leavers are only aware of the traditional options, coaching and instructing. If they consider themselves ill-equipped for these jobs, they are likely to abandon all thoughts of a career in sport or leisure.

In reality, the sport and leisure industry is one of the country’s fastest growing sectors, and with the battle against inactivity and obesity high on the government agenda, the demand for skilled
staff to deliver its objectives will only continue to rise.

It can be the teacher’s role to open young eyes to the endless possibilities and variety on offer within the sector, and provide advice on how to go about making their active leisure ambitions a reality.

Main areas of employment

Sport and recreation
621,000 people in the UK are employed by some 231,000 sport and leisure businesses and organisations. There are jobs in the public, private and voluntary sectors. From grass-roots community sports projects aimed at promoting family physical and mental wellbeing to support for professional athletes performing at international level; the UK’s sport and recreation sector relies heavily on a continuous supply of skilled staff and volunteers, especially if we are to live up to our Beijing promise in 2012.

The sport and recreation umbrella covers the day-to-day running of amateur and professional sports clubs as well as generating sports activities in non-traditional environments to promote active and healthy lifestyles with aims including engendering community cohesion or engaging those previously disenfranchised from sport.

Career pathways in sport and recreation include: Performance, coaching, officiating, sports development, administration, sports or leisure facility management, physiotherapy, nutrition, psychology, teaching, sports marketing, events management, youth and community work, public relations, hospitality, journalism and media, sports law and retail.

Further information

Health and fitness
More than 50,000 people are employed by around 3,500 private fitness clubs and over 1,500 leisure centres across the country. The industry is one of the fastest growing in the UK economy and is estimated to be worth around £1.5bn a year. As well as rapid growth within the private sector, the government is more and more reliant on the industry helping it fight against illness and obesity, and the industry must respond by providing a skilled workforce ready to fill the growing number of vacancies in the health and fitness sector.

The health and fitness umbrella covers the supervision of exercise and physical activity; whether it is in a private gym or a local authority run leisure centre. The sector offers a varied range of careers from basic reception work in a leisure centre to the technical instruction of new members in a private club. Often, particularly in smaller clubs, staff are expected to combine roles, so there is demand for people with a broad skills base.

Career pathways include: Instruction and training, management, reception, membership sales/administration, finance management/assistance, maintenance, food and drink, beauty therapy, crèche work, children’s activities, cleaning.

Further information:

  • The Fitness Industry Association
  • The Register of Exercise Professionals

The Outdoors
This increasingly popular sector covers all aspects of outdoor recreation and education from teaching climbing to schoolchildren to supervising a paint-balling day for a team of human resources staff. The roles on offer are as broad and varied as the sector itself and can be played out on land, up mountains, in the water or the air.

The outdoors umbrella can be divided into five – often overlapping – sub-areas and can operate in the commercial, public, charity and voluntary sectors:

Recreation outdoor courses and holidays taken for leisure purposes only

Education – includes the delivery of formal school-based opportunities for young people (eg, geography field trips) to the more experiential activities aimed at personal development (eg, camping or orienteering)

Exploration and expedition – the delivery of educational or recreational/adventure tourism programmes, for example teaching field trips for youngsters in the UK or gap year charity opportunities abroad for undergraduates

Development training – the use of outdoor training as a tool to boost personal development and improve team-building popular amongst non-sporting businesses

Sports development – includes competitive sport and related coaching and awards, such as involvement in competitive outdoor pursuits, and the training of teachers, youth workers and technicians in outdoor pursuits.

Career pathways include: Instruction and training, teaching, youth work, technical work, administration, event organisation, health and safety, programme development and play work.

Further information:

Play work
Play is now recognised as a critical part of a child’s early life and key to their personal and social development. There is a high respect for the country’s play workforce and the invaluable contribution they make to the early life of young people. Over 132,730 people are employed in play work, 95% of whom are female. Play work involves the organisation and delivery of play outside the curriculum for four- to 16-year-olds and can take the form of after-school clubs, holiday play schemes, adventure playgrounds, parks and breakfast clubs.

The Daycare Standards, used to regulate play settings for children under eight, means that play workers must hold training and qualification standards of a high standard.

Career pathways include: Play worker, manager, development worker, training provider, specialist play worker (working with children who have special needs).

Further information

  • SkillsActive Play Work
  • Play Work Partnerships
  • Surestart Childcare Careers

What next?

Suggested next steps for the student interested in any of the above areas of work.

Work experience
Industry employers prize quality work experience, so it is advisable to support your student in securing a placement within a relevant organisation.

Out-of-school-hours activity
After-school club involvement or volunteering with a local leisure organisation is a valued addition to a student’s cv.

Academic grounding
English and Maths at GCSE level and potentially PE at GCSE or A-level carry weight with recruiters in this sector.

Vocational qualifications
See panel, right.

Other qualifications
First aid, health and safety, introductory coaching awards, Sports Leadership awards and life guarding qualifications can all improve a student’s chances of employment.


As well as traditional GCSE, A-level and honours degree pathways, there are several vocational routes to active leisure success.

Apprenticeships in the active leisure sector are the perfect way for students to earn, learn and gain workplace experience with a view to employment or further education. There are various levels of apprenticeship available, each leading to National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). Apprenticeships available include: Apprenticeship in Active Leisure and Learning (16-19), Advanced Apprenticeships in Sporting Excellence (AASE – 16-18 yrs), and Young Apprenticeships (14-16 yrs). To find out more, visit

Diploma in Sport and Active Leisure
Come 2010, the Diploma in Sport and Active Leisure will provide 14- to 19-year-old students with a broad knowledge and understanding of all aspects of the sport and active leisure industry. Mixing theory with practice and with learning carried out both in the classroom and workplaces, the diploma – created in partnership with industry employers – aims to fill the industry skills gap with work-ready employees.To find out more, visit

Foundation degrees A foundation degree is a higher education qualification designed alongside employers which aims to develop the vocational skills and knowledge of those looking to work in specific areas of the industry. Typically, a foundation degree will be studied for two years at college, followed by one year at university. These degrees can be taken in a wide range of subjects, from adventure sports management to community-based physical exercise.

To find out more, visit

NVQs are work-related, competence-based qualifications directly linked to the skills and knowledge required to carry out a role. Students who are on work placement or who have a part-time job can study for relevant NVQs, or follow this path of study as part of an apprenticeship. To find out more, visit

, the government’s sector skills council for active leisure and learning, is a one-stop-shop for those interested in training for any career in the industry.

SkillsActive offers case studies, tips on finding work, qualification pathways and a course finder. To help your students to do their own research, there is ‘Ask Dougie’ – a service featuring a virtual adviser, ‘Dougie’, who can offer young people personalised career advice via email and set a series of questions to determine which active leisure career might suit them.

Find out more
Jobs with Balls Online recruitment site complete with career tools section

and company directory.

Leisure Opportunities
Vacancies, news, trends and training opportunities within
the sector.

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