Sport and exercise scientists help people to improve their sporting performance or their general health. They tend to specialise in different areas.
Sport scientists support athletes or sports clubs, offering expert scientific backup. Sport science is now an established part of most sports at all levels, from top internationals downwards.
Sport scientists work with other professionals, such as coaches, physiotherapists and dieticians. Those working with clubs and athletes generally provide advice alongside coaching and medical staff.
Exercise scientists are more concerned with improving a person's health and helping them recover from illness through a structured programme of physical activity. They are also involved with preventative treatments.
They work closely with GP's and primary care trusts covering areas such as cardiology and respiratory problems. They may also run clinics and services in local leisure centres.
Sport and exercise scientists must have knowledge of the four main strands of sport and exercise science, although it is common to specialise in one area:
Biomechanics - analysing how the body moves, often with the help of computer software. The aim is to help the athlete develop as good a technique as possible, without straining the body and causing an injury.
Physiology - measuring the way in which the body responds to exercise and training. Scientists use equipment such as heart monitors and oxygen analysers and devise training programmes to strengthen weaknesses.
Psychology - assessing the mental and emotional state of athletes and how this affects performance. This can cover everything from home life, to problems during training.
Performance analysis - giving feedback to athletes using video footage and computer-generated statistics of a game, event or training session. The objective is to improve performance and rectify problems.
It is also important to have knowledge of interdisciplinary approaches which involve a combination of methods, as well as areas such as nutrition.
A lot of time can be spent on a one-to-one basis with clients.
Sport and exercise scientists working in research often work a set 38 hours a week.
Those working as consultants for athletes or sports clubs, or in gyms and leisure centres, work less regular hours that are likely to cover evenings and weekends. Part-time work may be available.
Sport scientists spend some time outdoors during training and competitions. Their job may also involve travel, sometimes abroad.
A driving licence is useful.
A qualified sport or exercise scientist may start on around £18,000 a year.
Sport scientists are employed by:
- Sports clubs
- National governing bodies (NGB's)
- Sport institutes, such as the English Institute of Sport (EIS)
They may also work directly with individual sportspeople as a consultant.
Exercise scientists work for:
- Primary care trusts
- Private healthcare organisations
- Health clubs
They may also be employed by local authorities to run community-based health and exercise initiatives.
The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) is the professional body for this career. It has around 400 accredited members.
The profile of sport science is rising, and funding from bodies such as the National Lottery means that more and more sports have been able to develop their own sport science provision.
In addition, the recognition of the link between physical activity and health is opening up further opportunities in exercise science. An increasing number of people are being prescribed exercise by their GP's to help them combat the effects of heart disease, or to tackle obesity.
Despite this, jobs are still relatively rare, and competition, especially in sport science, is fierce. There are far more sport science graduates than full-time roles.
A degree in sport and exercise science is normally required, although it is not necessary to have any particular aptitude for sport. It may also be possible to enter this career with a degree in a related subject such as psychology or physical education.
Sport and exercise science is now one of the most popular degree and postgraduate subjects, and more than 100 colleges and universities currently offer degrees in sport science.
Entry requirements vary. Most colleges and universities expect at least three A levels, including a science - often biology - and five GCSE's (A*-C) including maths and English. Access courses may be available as a way of preparing for a degree course. Foundation degrees in sport science are also available.
It is also possible to do a postgraduate course in sport and exercise science after gaining a degree in a biological science or a related subject.
BTEC National and Higher National qualifications in sport and exercise sciences may be accepted for entry to sport science degrees. However, applicants are strongly recommended to check entry requirements with individual institutions. Many courses are modular, which gives an opportunity to specialise from an early stage.
To work with children or vulnerable adults, applicants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau.
Playworkers work with children and young people to provide a safe, exciting and fun space in which to play, socialise, try out new things or just spend quiet time. Working in teams, they may work with children ranging between the ages of four and sixteen, or with one particular age group.
The idea of freely chosen, self-directed play is integral to playwork and all playwork settings aim to encourage children and young people to decide and control the content and intent of their play by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
Sport and exercise scientists with a relevant degree can seek nationally-recognised accreditation through the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) by submitting evidence of their work. Accreditation is linked to a code of conduct and can improve job prospects.
There is also a student membership category for those studying sport and exercise science.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is extremely important in this career, and BASES runs workshops and conferences to help keep members up to date with new developments.
Many sport and exercise scientists also do further study to extend their specialist knowledge, or take a teaching course.
A sport and exercise scientist needs to be:
There is no set career path in sport and exercise science and candidates often need to build up a network of contacts in order to hear about new job opportunities.
As well as the chance to specialise, sport scientists with the right experience and reputation may be able to take an advisory role at national or international level.
There may also be opportunities to teach and lecture, or move into full-time research.
Exercise scientists can also specialise. It may be possible to move into a particular clinical area, such as cardiology, or work as a health promotion specialist for a local authority or healthcare trust.
Self-employment is possible.
British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES),
Leeds Metropolitan University,
Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education,
Fairfax Hall, Headingley Campus,
Beckett Park, Leeds LS6 3QS
Tel: 0113 283 6162
English Institute of Sport (EIS),
4th Floor, Byrom House,
21 Quay Street, Manchester M3 3JD
Tel: 0870 759 0400
SkillsActive, Castlewood House,
77-91 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1PX
Tel: 020 7632 2000