Studying sports in college may seem too good to be true, but if you're a sports fan, you don't have to leave your interest in sports behind when you go to college. Many colleges and universities offer a variety of sports-related majors ranging from health and physical fitness to coaching to parks and recreation leadership.
Sports-Related Majors in College
If you love studying sports, there are many majors from which you can choose to explore your passion. Sports enthusiasts commonly choose majors in the health sciences that allow them to learn about muscle groups. Majors in the fields of communication and marketing will also allow you to interact with athletes and watch sports for a living.
Sports Communication Major: If you want to be one of the on-air announcers calling plays or describing the action on the field, choose a sports communication major. Usually housed within journalism or communication programs, the sports communication major will teach you how to write and speak more effectively on the subject of sports.
Sports and Fitness Administration Major: Of all the sports degrees, this one requires the most organizational skills. Sports administrators organize both large-scale sporting events and smaller things like athletic clubs. Sports administration majors learn the business and legal side of athletics. If you like being in charge and planning events, this is the major for you.
Sport Studies Major: The sport studies major is an interdisciplinary major. Its core classes are drawn from a variety of fields such as history, psychology and sociology. Unlike other sports majors in college, this major uses other subjects to examine the influence of sports on culture through a critical lens.
Physical Education Teaching and Coaching Major: These sports degrees will be located within colleges of education. Students who pursue degrees in physical education will learn teaching techniques and educational psychology in addition to achieving a foundation in exercise physiology.
Health Education Major: Much like physical education majors, health education majors earn degrees from colleges of education. Health education teachers usually work at middle schools or high schools but not always. Some health educators work for governmental agencies, assisting with public health initiatives that prevent diseases and spread awareness of potential public health concerns. Although this major doesn’t necessarily sound sports-related, it can be. Some professional health educators focus on helping people learn how to lead healthy lives through exercise and proper nutrition.
Professional Golf Management Major: The professional golf management major combines sports with business concepts. Golf management majors will learn how to manage golf courses, facilities and related organizations. Of course, learning how to play golf is also a must.
Parks and Recreation Major: Parks and recreation majors learn how to create and run programs at community parks, city organizations, national monuments and more. Parks and recreation majors combine the fun of sports majors with the seriousness of government majors and management. To run a successful parks and recreation program, you will need a good grasp of government-funding rules. Being able to work well with others is a must.
Leisure Facilities Management Major: Leisure facilities managers maintain public parks, pools and community centers. However, their job includes much more than making sure there’s enough chlorine in the pool. Future leisure facilities managers study business and management in addition to sports so they can learn how to balance a budget and work well with the various crews on their staff.
Other Sports-Related Majors: Many sports degrees vary from school to school, and the differences are often regional. For example, Sierra Nevada College offers a ski area management degree, but the same degree isn't offered at any college in Florida. Florida Keys Community College, on the other hand, has a degree specifically for diving business and technology. The moral here is that there is a college major for every niche sport you can imagine. Search for exactly what you want in a college before applying, and you may be surprised at what you find.
Exercise and Health Majors
Occupational Therapy Major: Choosing this major will put students on a career path to become occupational therapists. Similar to physical therapists, occupational therapists work with all kinds of people to help them function better in their work and home lives. Some work in clinics and hospitals. Others visit their patients in their homes. It is important to note, however, that additional certification is necessary beyond this major to become an occupational therapist.
Sports Medicine Major: Sports medicine is one of the most common sports degrees. Sports medicine graduates often continue on to graduate school to become physicians or physical therapists. They can also find jobs working with athletes at the high school, college and professional levels.
Health Sciences Major: Majoring in general health sciences gives students the flexibility to learn about aspects of health ranging from exercise physiology and nutrition to public health and medicine. Earning a health sciences major will give you a broad science education that will be applicable to a variety of future careers, including some that are related to sports.
Health and Wellness Major: Some sports majors in college choose to focus on health and wellness. In this major, you will learn about nutrition, exercise science and community health. Graduates who have earned health and wellness degrees can work at athletic centers, organize wellness initiatives for corporations, train private clients or go on to graduate or professional school.
Exercise Science Majors: Exercise science majors focus on the process of human movement. Their classes will include a foundation in anatomy and physiology, but later in the major, they will be able to take courses in nutrition, rehabilitation and exercise. Exercise science majors most often go on to become coaches, personal trainers or athletic trainers for team sports.
Athletic Training Major: Athletic training majors learn how to help athletes prevent and treat injuries. At many universities, this major is very hands on, with some classes that include clinical experience with the university’s football, basketball and soccer teams. This major prepares students to pass the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Board of Certification exam. Students who pass this exam will be able to find work as athletic trainers after college.
Physical Therapy Degrees: Physical therapists don’t just work with athletes. Physical therapists work with everyone, including children and the elderly as well as athletes of all ages in order to help them recover from injury. Physical therapists need to earn a Master of Physical Therapy or a Doctor of Physical Therapy to practice on patients. However, if you would like to choose a major that will lead to physical therapy school, pick an exercise or sport science program that fulfills your graduate school prerequisites. Some schools also offer majors designed especially for pre-physical therapy students.
If you want to be a physical therapist someday, you could choose to become a physical therapy assistant first. Being a physical therapy assistant will give you the hands-on experience you crave. Physical therapy assistants help people of all ages and exercise levels recover from injuries and illnesses.
Exercise Physiology Major: Many sports majors in college decide to learn more about how the human body works. Studying exercise physiology can teach students how the average human body moves and functions. Exercise physiology majors can go on to study medicine or physical therapy at the graduate level. They can also work at athletic clubs as physical trainers.
Careers That Require Sports Degrees
Unlike with some career paths, you may not have to focus on sports in college if you want to have a career in athletics. Most professional athletes do not have sports-related degrees. However, if you would like to have a career that focuses on sports health or education, you may need a specialized degree.
Athletic trainers, physical therapists and occupational therapists all have to pass specialized tests so that they can be licensed to perform their jobs. These careers require you to take the right classes that will prepare you to pass these exams. Without the appropriate degrees and licenses, you won’t be able to operate as a medical professional in these fields.
Other sports-related jobs may require training and licensure in related fields. For example, all physical education teachers have to pass a certain number of education courses and then score well enough on multiple teaching exams to earn a teaching certification.
People who run athletics facilities will benefit from degrees in business or management, but neither are required. Other sports-related occupations may require special certifications maintained by the governing body of that sport or activity. Scuba-diving instructors, for instance, must earn their scuba certification in addition to their divemaster credentials before they can teach a single class. Before you sign up for a specific major, look to see what kind of training and certification your dream career requires.
The Best Sports Management Programs in the U.S.
If you’re dreaming of a career that allows you to work closely with athletes, sports management and administration may be the ideal career path for you. However, not all schools offer this major. In the United States, some of the top programs are at the University of Florida, the University of Michigan, the University of Miami, the University of Texas at Austin and Pepperdine University.
At the University of Florida, students can earn a Bachelor of Science or a master’s degree in sports management, both of which can be completed online. The program prepares students to work in a variety of sports-related fields by providing education in management, marketing, finance and sports law.
In the University of Michigan’s sports management program, students can earn a bachelor’s degree and pursue a career with a major sporting body like the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB or MLS or with a professional sports team like the Detroit Red Wings. Other graduates go on to become agents for professional athletes or journalists at major news organizations like ESPN.
At the University of Miami, students can study sports administration as a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree or as a minor. Students go on to work on the business and management side of major sports teams, such as the Miami Heat and the Florida Marlins. This major at UM also includes plenty of hands-on learning experience with some of South Florida’s most renowned professional sports teams.
At the University of Texas at Austin, sports management majors study principles that will help them excel in careers in sports management, sports marketing, education, business and the entertainment industry. In this program, students are required to complete an internship to learn from experience in their future career field. This is such a sports-obsessed school that it’s not surprising that this major is incredibly competitive. Only 150 students are allowed to enroll.
In Pepperdine University’s sports management program, students can pursue their studies as a sports administration major. The program prepares students for numerous sports-related careers by instilling in them effective communication and management skills. Students in Pepperdine’s sports administration major will focus on writing, research, leadership, marketing, finance, media skills, ethics, law and sports regulations.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.