Job Descriptions, Definitions Roles, Responsibility: Athletes, Coaches, Umpires, and Related Workers
We are a nation of sports fans and sports players. Interest in watching sports continues at a high level and recreational participation in sports continues to grow. Some of those who participate in amateur sports dream of becoming paid professional athletes, coaches, or sports officials but very few beat the long and daunting odds of making a full-time living from professional athletics. Those athletes who do make it to professional levels find that careers are short and jobs are insecure. Even though the chances of employment as a professional athlete are slim, there are many opportunities for at least a part-time job related to athletics as a coach, instructor, referee, or umpire in amateur athletics and in high schools, colleges, and universities.
Athletes and sports competitors compete in organized, officiated sports events to entertain spectators. When playing a game, athletes are required to understand the strategies of their game while obeying the rules and regulations of the sport. The events in which they compete include both team sports—such as baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer—and individual sports—such as golf, tennis, and bowling. As the type of sport varies, so does the level of play, ranging from unpaid high school athletics to professional sports, in which the best from around the world compete before international television audiences.
In addition to competing in athletic events, athletes spend many hours practicing skills and teamwork under the guidance of a coach or sports instructor. Most athletes spend hours in hard practices every day. They also spend additional hours viewing video tapes, in order to critique their own performances and techniques and to scout their opponents’ tendencies and weaknesses to gain a competitive advantage. Some athletes may also be advised by strength trainers in an effort to gain muscle and stamina, while also preventing injury. Competition at all levels is extremely intense and job security is always precarious. As a result, many athletes train year round to maintain excellent form, technique, and peak physical condition. Very little downtime from the sport exists at the professional level. Athletes also must conform to regimented diets during the height of their sports season to supplement any physical training program. Many athletes push their bodies to the limit during both practice and play, so career-ending injury always is a risk. Even minor injuries to an athlete may put the player at risk of replacement.
Coaches organize, instruct, and teach amateur and professional athletes in fundamentals of individual and team sports. In individual sports, instructors may sometimes fill this role. Coaches train athletes for competition by holding practice sessions to perform drills and improve the athlete’s skills and stamina. Using their expertise in the sport, coaches instruct the athlete on proper form and technique in beginning and, later, in advanced exercises attempting to maximize the players’ physical potential. Along with overseeing athletes as they refine their individual skills, coaches also are responsible for managing the team during both practice sessions and competitions, and for instilling good sportsmanship, a competitive spirit, and teamwork. They may also select, store, issue, and inventory equipment, materials, and supplies. During competitions, for example, coaches substitute players for optimum team chemistry and success. In addition, coaches direct team strategy and may call specific plays during competition to surprise or overpower the opponent. To choose the best plays, coaches evaluate or “scout” the opposing team prior to the competition, allowing them to determine game strategies and practice specific plays.
Many coaches in high schools are primarily teachers of academic subjects who supplement their income by coaching part time. College coaches consider coaching a full-time discipline and may be away from home frequently as they travel to scout and recruit prospective players.
Sports instructors teach professional and nonprofessional athletes on an individual basis. They organize, instruct, train, and lead athletes of indoor and outdoor sports such as bowling, tennis, golf, and swimming. Because activities are as diverse as weight lifting, gymnastics, and scuba diving, and may include self-defense training such as karate, instructors tend to specialize in one or a few types of activities. Like coaches, sports instructors also may hold daily practice sessions and be responsible for any needed equipment and supplies. Using their knowledge of their sport, physiology, and corrective techniques, they determine the type and level of difficulty of exercises, prescribe specific drills, and correct the athlete’s techniques. Some instructors also teach and demonstrate use of training apparatus, such as trampolines or weights, while correcting athletes’ weaknesses and enhancing their conditioning. Using their expertise in the sport, sports instructors evaluate the athlete and the athlete’s opponents to devise a competitive game strategy.
Coaches and sports instructors sometimes differ in their approach to athletes because of the focus of their work. For example, while coaches manage the team during a game to optimize its chance for victory, sports instructors—such as those who work for professional tennis players—often are not permitted to instruct their athletes during competition. Sports instructors spend more of their time with athletes working one-on-one, which permits them to design customized training programs for each individual. Motivating athletes to play hard challenges most coaches and sports instructors but is vital for the athlete’s success. Many coaches and instructors derive great satisfaction working with children or young adults, helping them to learn new physical and social skills and to improve their physical condition, as well as helping them to achieve success in their sport.
Umpires, referees, and other sports officials officiate at competitive athletic and sporting events. They observe the play, detect infractions of rules, and impose penalties established by the sports’ rules and regulations. Umpires, referees, and sports officials anticipate play and position themselves to best see the action, assess the situation, and determine any violations. Some sports officials, such as boxing referees, may work independently, while others such as umpires—the sports officials of baseball—work in groups. Regardless of the sport, the job is highly stressful because officials are often required to make a decision in a matter of a split second, sometimes resulting in strong disagreement among competitors, coaches, or spectators.
Professional scouts evaluate the skills of both amateur and professional athletes to determine talent and potential. As a sports intelligence agent, the scout’s primary duty is to seek out top athletic candidates for the team he or she represents, ultimately contributing to team success. At the professional level, scouts typically work for scouting organizations, or as freelance scouts. In locating new talent, scouts perform their work in secrecy so as to not “tip off” their opponents about their interest in certain players. At the college level, the head scout is often an assistant coach, although freelance scouts may aid colleges by providing reports about exceptional players to coaches. Scouts at this level seek talented high school athletes by reading newspapers, contacting high school coaches and alumni, attending high school games, and studying videotapes of prospects’ performances.