Sports Science Degrees: Courses Structure, Specializations & Career | Top Universities

In the modern world, sport has become extremely big business. From the multi-billion dollar elite world of professional sport to the equally significant personal fitness sector, the impact of sport on both individual lives and the global economy cannot be understated. As long as civilization has existed, we’ve looked for ways to increase sports performance, raise levels of physical fitness and wellbeing, reduce the risk of injury, speed up recovery, and bring communities together through this shared celebration of the human body and its capabilities.

Sports science careers range from roles in sports management and marketing through to personal training, physiotherapy and nutritional consultancy. Whether you like the idea of being involved in the world of international sports celebrities, or want to help all kinds of people improve their lives through sports participation, a sports science degree could provide the professional knowledge and training you need.

 

What do sports science degrees cover?

A relatively young discipline, gaining popularity in the last quarter of the 20th century, sports science reflects the seriousness with which sports and fitness are approached today. This is a relatively multidisciplinary subject, drawing on fields such as physiology and biomechanics to measure what is happening in a sportsperson’s body; psychology to analyze the role of the mind in performance; nutrition to help athletes fuel their bodies correctly; and business and sports management to understand the financial and operational sides of the sports industry.

Entry requirements for sports science degrees

As for all subjects, entry requirements will vary depending on the institution. Typically, applicants will be expected to show strong aptitude in the sciences, particularly areas such as human biology and psychology, and of course a keen interest in sport is essential. The most popular sports science courses can be fairly competitive, and not all universities cover this subject, so you may need to look beyond the most familiar names to find a course that’s right for you.

Course structure and assessment methods

Sport science degrees usually last for three or four years at undergraduate (bachelor’s) level and one or two years at master’s level. Teaching will typically be conducted via lectures and seminars, but you can also expect laboratory sessions (when studying exercise physiology and biomechanics); practical sessions (in gyms, sports halls, fitness rooms, swimming pools, courts and on sport fields); and independent research and study. Students are expected to develop theoretical knowledge alongside applied practical skills. Assessment is based on coursework; written, oral or practical exams; and laboratory reports. Towards the end of the course, you may be required to write a dissertation and/or conduct a piece of independent research. 

Sports science specializations

Although sports science may seem like an already specialized area of study, the field in fact offers a large selection of further opportunities to specialize. As an undergraduate, you’re likely to be introduced to a range of different fields of sports science, before choosing one or several areas in which to specialize.

Sports management

The field of sports management considers the sports sector from the perspective of business, operations, finance and policy. Students may consider the role of the sports industry in economies and communities; how to maximize profits in different types of sports organization; how sports management and marketing works for major sports brands; and how to support access to sports for those who want to participate. This specialization aims to equip students with core business skills including marketing, organizational management and accounting, as well as giving them an understanding of sports governance, policy and related economic and legal issues.

Sports physiotherapy

Sports science meets medicine (albeit a very specific type of medicine) in sports physiotherapy, a field which focuses on the prevention and treatment of injuries that occur as a result of participating in sports. If you specialize in sports physiotherapy, you will also learn about different aspects of athlete management and performance enhancement. Most sports physiotherapy courses offer opportunities to gain hands-on experience through clinical practice, in preparation for professional sports therapy roles.

Physical and sport education

For those with an interest in teaching sport, this branch of sport science explores the techniques, theory and skills involved in teaching young people (or adults) about sports and fitness. A physical and sport education specialization is likely to include modules covering youth physical education, coaching and psychology. The goal is to prepare students for future sports science careers focused on establishing and supporting healthy lifestyles and athletic development in others.

Sport psychology

As the name suggests, sport psychology focuses on the psychology surrounding sport, analyzing questions such as what motivates a sportsperson to perform, how a team works together, and how cultural and lifestyle issues can affect performance. If you choose to specialize in sports psychology, you’ll study the various factors that can affect athletes’ performance and wellbeing, exploring issues of self-confidence, motivation, concentration, stress and anxiety. You will also learn how to help athletes optimize their performance and excel in high-pressure environments.

Sports nutrition

Courses specializing in sports nutrition focus on how what we eat affects our ability and concentration when participating in sport or exercise. You will learn about the influence of food on health and wellbeing, exploring different vitamins, supplements and regimes, and learning how to recommend dietary changes based on each individual’s needs. Sports science careers in this field include roles in research and product development, as well as consultancy-based positions, providing advice to people at each stage of the sporting ladder on what to eat to stay on top of their game.

Sports science careers

The extensive scope and reach of the sports sector means a wide variety of professions are open to sports science graduates. The career you enter will largely depend on which field of sports science you’ve chosen to specialize in, as many sports science careers require specialized knowledge and skills. Additional work experience alongside your degree will also help when competing for job opportunities.

Personal trainer/fitness instructor

Personal trainers and fitness instructors help those pursuing exercise to engage in activities safely, as well as challenging them to develop their fitness levels. Personal trainers typically provide one-on-one sessions, while fitness instructors lead group activities and classes. Both may work freelance and/or be employed by a gym or other organization. As well as leading sessions, additional aspects of the role may include setting and tracking clients’ personal fitness goals, and providing general health and nutrition advice.

Sports coach

After completing a degree in sports science, you may choose to become a sports coach for a professional or amateur sports team. Your role will be to give direction, instruction and training to individual players and to the team as a whole. The main goal is to help athletes improve their performance. Of course, in order to be a sports coach, you need to have highly specialized knowledge of the particular sport in question.

Fitness center/gym manager

A fitness center or gym manager is responsible for the day-to-day management of an organization dedicated to sports, leisure, health and fitness. This role may involve managing budgets, overseeing the maintenance of facilities and equipment, ensuring compliance with relevant regulations, directing marketing campaigns, and implementing strategies to increase membership and profitability. This career path is likely to appeal to those with an aptitude for team leadership and an understanding of business administration and finance.

PE teacher

Physical education (PE) teachers help children and young adults develop their physical abilities and try to engage them in sports and healthy lifestyles. To work as a PE teacher within a school, you’ll usually need to complete an additional qualification (such as the one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education in the UK), but you may also find employment in organizations such as charities and community centers. Like many sports science careers, this requires excellent communication skills, and an understanding of youth psychology may also help.

Sports therapist

A sports therapist helps athletes to train and compete safely, and to recover from injuries. While the role is specifically concerned with conditions arising from sports participation, sports therapists do need a broad understanding of human anatomy and some basic medical skills in order to practice. Aspects of the role include conducting physical assessments; treating injuries through techniques such as massage, strapping or electrotherapy; developing and tracking rehabilitation programs; and liaising with other sports and health professionals.

In addition to these sports science careers, you could also use your sports science degree in a range of other sectors, including policy development, non-profits and charities, marketing and advertising, healthcare, youth work, events, hospitality and leisure or outdoor pursuits.

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Key Skills

Common skills gained from a sports science degree include:

  • Knowledge of how the human body works
  • Ability to measure and analyze data scientifically
  • General laboratory skills
  • Understanding of the role of the mind in performance
  • Team-working skills
  • General research skills
  • Motivational skills
  • Understanding of management strategy
  • Communication skills
  • Time management skills
  • Ability to present results of research/analysis clearly
  • Experience of using advanced information technology
  • Understanding of basic business administration topics
  • Knowledge of the wide role that sports and fitness play in the modern world