Leisure Centre Manager

The Job and What's Involved

Leisure centre managers are responsible for the overall running of a leisure centre. Their work involves encouraging people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to use the facilities, and making sure they have a safe and enjoyable experience. Centres vary in size from those containing simply a small sports hall, to those with a wide range of facilities, including:

- Swimming and leisure pools
- Squash courts
- An outdoor sports area
- An athletics track
- A gym
- A ski slope
- An ice rink
- A tenpin bowling alley
- An indoor soft play area
- A restaurant and bar

Some centres are run by local authorities and charitable trusts; others by private companies, often on contract with local authorities. These are often operated on a more commercial basis, and financial and budgetary management is an important part of the manager's role. Duties are wide-ranging and can be split into three broad areas.

Managing the centre, which involves:

  • Running the centre on a day-to-day basis.
  • Devising activity programme's.
  • Marketing the centre.
  • Making sure the building is clean and in a good state of repair.
  • Making sure health and safety regulations are followed.

Managing staff, which involves:

  • Arranging staff rota's.
  • Recruiting, supervising and training staff.

General duties, which cover:

  • Maximising income generation and managing budgets.
  • Attending regular meetings with management teams and/or the centre's owners.
  • Visiting local schools and other organisations to promote the facilities.
  • Attracting new members.
  • Dealing with complaints.
  • Running classes (in smaller centres).

Leisure centre managers usually work 37 hours a week. However, hours can be irregular and may include early mornings, evenings, weekends and bank holidays, so they need to be flexible. They also have to be at the centre for special events, emergencies, or to supervise or cover for absent staff.

In larger centres, where there is a bigger management team, hours are more regular.

Although they spend a lot of time in an office, it is important that managers get around their centres to meet customers, talk to staff, and generally monitor the operation of the building.

They may sometimes work outdoors, depending on the facilities offered by the centre.

The salary for an assistant manager may start at about £12,000 to £17,000 a year. Salaries also depend on the size of the centre and the specific job. Managers may have the use of a company vehicle, and private clubs may offer bonuses based on recruiting new members.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Leisure is a growing industry and over 62,000 people are employed in sports and recreation in the UK.

The sector has benefited from increased investment through the National Lottery, as well as events such as the successful bid to stage the 2012 Olympics in London. The government is also placing a greater emphasis on sport and exercise as a way of helping people to keep fit and healthy.

The UK has about 5,000 leisure centres, around 1,500 of which are managed by local authorities. In all, they employ about 11,500 managers.

The largest centres may employ over 100 staff and several managers, although the majority (around 70 per cent) employ fewer than ten people and just one manager. There is often strong competition for management jobs.

There are leisure centres in most towns and cities across the UK, with limited opportunities in some rural locations.

There are jobs in:

- Privately-owned leisure centres (such as health club chains)
- Centres owned by local authorities
- Workplace clubs
- Hotels

As well as this, more and more schools, colleges and universities are developing their own leisure facilities and opening them up for public use outside of core teaching hours. There are also management opportunities in theme parks and outdoor activity centres.

Jobs may be advertised in local and national newspapers, specialist leisure magazines, professional bodies' websites, and specialist recruitment websites such as www.leisureopportunities.co.uk and www.springboarduk.uk.net.

Education and Training

Most leisure centre managers have professional qualifications or degrees, and at least five years' relevant experience. Increasingly, a qualification related to the industry is preferred.

Graduates and non-graduates often enter the work at a lower level (e.g. lifeguard or leisure centre assistant) or trainee manager level, and work towards professional qualifications while in employment.

The graduate and non-graduate routes are equally acceptable as entry to management positions.

The qualifications to become a trainee or assistant manager include:

  • At 16 to 17: five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) or an NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Sport, Recreation & Allied Occupation: Operational Services.
  • At 18: five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and A levels/H grades, or a BTEC/SQA national qualification in sport and leisure, or an NVQ/SVQ Level 3 in Sport, Recreation and Allied Occupations: Operations & Development.
  • After higher education: a higher national qualification or degree in a subject such as sport and leisure management, or sports science.
  • After a degree in any subject: a postgraduate qualification in a subject such as sport or leisure management.

For degree courses, applicants need at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/three H grades, usually including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications.

Experience of leisure centre work is important before applying for any full-time post. This may be gained through either part-time or voluntary work, for example on summer holiday schemes for children, or as a part-time instructor of fitness classes.

Having a current First Aid at Work certificate, National Pool Lifeguard Qualification, Fitness Instructor (Level 2), or other coaching qualifications, is an advantage.

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Graduates may be able to get a graduate training position with one of the larger private sector employers. This gives them the chance to develop the necessary experience to become a leisure centre manager while studying for professional qualifications offered by the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management (ILAM) and the Institute of Sport and Recreation Management (ISRM).

These include the ISRM/City & Guilds Higher Professional Diploma which gives professional recognition for sport and recreation facility managers.

People without a degree can train on the job and study for relevant qualifications such as:

  • City & Guilds, Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR) and Central YMCA Qualifications (CYQ) courses.
  • NVQ's/SVQ's in Operational Services or Operations and Development and Management.
  • BTEC/SQA national and higher national qualifications in sport and leisure.
  • A degree in a leisure management subject.
  • Foundation degrees in subjects such as Sport and Recreation Management.
  • Qualifications such as ISRM Supervisory Management.
  • Certificate and ILAM's Professional Qualification Scheme (PQS) or Duty Manager Award.

Larger companies often run their own in-house training courses.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A leisure centre manager should:

  • Have organisational, administrative and planning skills.
  • Be enthusiastic.
  • Be good at decision making.
  • Have excellent communication and presentation skills.
  • Have good interpersonal skills for dealing with staff and customers.
  • Be able to manage budgets.
  • Have IT skills.
  • Have marketing skills to promote the centre.
  • Be able to work well in a team.
  • Be able to cope with unexpected situations.

Your Long Term Prospects

Larger local authorities and companies usually have the best defined promotion paths. With more experience, it may be possible to move on to manage a group of leisure centres as an area or regional manager, or become head of leisure services within a local authority.

It may be necessary to relocate for some more senior posts, and with experience there are also opportunities to manage centres abroad.

People with experience in the industry may be able to transfer into business development or luxury club management, while other career paths include moving into sport development or administration.

There are few opportunities for self-employment, although some managers carry out consultancy work in specialist areas.

Get Further Information

ISPAL, Grotto House, Lower Basildon,
Reading RG8 9NE
Tel: 0845 603 8734
Website: www.ilam.co.uk

The Institute of Sport and Recreation Management (ISRM),
Sir John Beckwith Centre for Sport, Loughborough University,
Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3TU
Tel: 01509 226474
Website: www.isrm.co.uk

SkillsActive, Castlewood House,
77-91 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1PX
Tel: 020 7632 2000
Website: www.skillsactive.com

Sport England, Third Floor, Victoria House,
Bloomsbury Square, London WC1B 4SE
Tel: 08458 508 508
Website: www.sportengland.org

Sport Scotland, Caledonia House,
South Gyle, Edinburgh EH12 9DQ
Tel: 0131 317 7200
Website: www.sportscotland.org.uk

The Sports Council for Wales,
Sophia Gardens, Cardiff CF11 9SW
Tel: 0845 045 0904
Website: www.sports-council-wales.org.uk

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