All You Need To Know About An Athlete Career

You think about aspiring to a career as a professional athlete but are still not entirely sure whether this is the right way to go for you or not?

Great! Stick with me since I will show you everything you need to know about being a professional athlete in the following chapters.

Not only will you learn how much professional athletes can make, but you will also get lots of information on job satisfaction, prospects, future outlook, educational requirements, work-life balance, responsibilities and much more.

After reading this article, you will have a much better idea of what the life of a professional athlete looks like and whether you still want to pursue such a career or rather want to go for a different job instead.

Without further ado, let’s get right into it!

Table of Contents

What does a Professional Athlete do?

Professional athletes make a living playing sports.

They often start their careers in college and get drafted by a professional team where they can make serious money from what they are doing.

However, still note that only a quite small minority of athletes is able to make good money while most athletes are barely able to make enough to pay their bills.

Responsibilities & Duties of a Professional Athlete

  • Playing sports to entertain the crowd
  • Working on their bodies to stay as fit as possible
  • Eating healthy to stay fit and vital
  • Practicing hard to improve their skills
  • Working on new moves to outplay the competition
  • Learning a lot about tactics to improve their game
  • Maintaining sports equipment in decent condition
  • Working on advertising campaigns
  • Representing the institution they work for in the best possible manner
  • Using latest technologies and research findings to stay ahead of the game

What a Typical Day of a Professional Athlete looks like?

Professional athletes usually get to work between 8 and 10 a.m.

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After getting some healthy breakfast, they get into their first training session and stress their bodies quite a lot to increase their fitness level as best as possible.

Athletes also learn a lot about new strategies and how to apply them in a real game situation.

On matchdays, athletes don’t train as much but rather relax so that they have enough power to perform at the right time.

Playing sports as a profession is not only physically demanding, but it can also stress your nerves quite a lot and you will therefore also do lots of mental work to be able to withstand the pressure.

After working in this demanding environment for many hours, you will usually quit your workday between 4 and 6 p.m. on days where you don’t have games in the evening.

Professional Athlete Salary 2021

Professional Athlete salary brackets 2021

Salary BracketsSalary (per year)Salary (per hour)
Top 10 %> $235,000> $117.43
Top 25 %$116,000 – $138,000$57.91 – $68.94
Bottom 25 %$45,000 – $68,000$22.47 – $33.89
Bottom 10 %$32,000 – $37,000$15.93 – $18.42
Range$32,000 – $30,000,000$15.93 – $14,782.76
Average (Mean)$92,000$45.89
Median$64,000$31.93

Professional Athlete salary 2021 by expert level

Level of ExperienceSalary (per year)Salary (per hour)
Entry level$32,000 – $48,000$15.93 – $23.91
Junior$44,000 – $57,000$21.88 – $28.44
Professional$53,000 – $69,000$26.39 – $34.42
Senior Professional$67,000 – $83,000$33.47 – $41.49
Expert$81,000 – $139,000$40.38 – $69.45
Top Expert$136,000 – $30,000,000$67.92 – $14,782.76

Professional Athlete salary by state 2021 (average)

StateSalary (per year)Salary (per hour)
Alabama$79,300$39.62
Alaska$85,700$42.84
Arizona$92,500$46.23
Arkansas$85,200$42.58
California$95,800$47.89
Colorado$82,300$41.63
Connecticut$78,100$39.04
Delaware$79,400$39.67
District of Columbia$83,500$41.72
Florida$85,800$42.89
Georgia$76,900$38.41
Guam$77,300$38.63
Hawaii$83,100$41.54
Idaho$72,700$36.33
Illinois$73,600$36.78
Indiana$75,200$37.59
Iowa$77,400$38.68
Kansas$76,800$38.37
Kentucky$74,900$37.42
Louisiana$78,100$39.03
Maine$81,300$40.64
Maryland$82,900$41.44
Massachusetts$86,400$43.18
Michigan$80,200$40.72
Minnesota$83,100$41.18
Mississippi$76,600$38.29
Missouri$74,700$37.34
Montana$78,200$39.07
Nebraska$77,800$38.78
Nevada$76,900$38.42
New Hampshire$81,500$40.73
New Jersey$83,200$41.58
New Mexico$73,800$36.89
New York$92,100$46.03
North Carolina$82,300$41.12
North Dakota$78,600$39.27
Ohio$81,300$40.64
Oklahoma$80,700$40.33
Oregon$81,900$40.94
Pennsylvania$83,200$41.57
Rhode Island$82,700$41.33
South Carolina$78,400$39.19
South Dakota$81,800$40.87
Tennessee$78,200$39.08
Texas$81,300$40.62
Utah$82,600$41.28
Vermont$77,200$38.57
Virginia$75,800$37.88
Washington$84,800$42.37
West Virginia$81,100$40.54
Wisconsin$79,700$39.83
Wyoming$75,600$37.78

Job Security of Professional Athletes

Professional athletes have pretty poor job security since they often only get short-term contracts and always have to search for new teams and organizations who might be willing to employ them.

Sure, if you are a superstar, you will have a pretty easy time in this regard.

However, if you are an average athlete, you might struggle with finding a new team and may also have to play in minor leagues.

Moreover, once you get older, you will often no longer be able to play at the highest level and will have to quit your career rather early.

Future Outlook of Professional Athletes

Since an increasing number of people aspire to a career as an athlete, competition will become increasingly fierce in the future and only the best of the best will be able to make a living in this field while the vast majority of people who attempt this career will fail.

Working Hours of Professional Athletes

Most professional athletes start their workday between 8 and 10 a.m. and finish their workday between 4 and 6 p.m.

However, working hours can be quite different on matchdays when you often have to play in the evening.

Job Satisfaction of Professional Athletes

Many professional athletes are not really happy with what they are doing for a living since they have to deal with enormous pressure and will have to make many sacrifices.

Moreover, they also only have a rather short window for making really good money and worry a lot about the time after their active careers since they often haven’t learned many skills needed in different fields in the job market.

Promotion Opportunities of Professional Athletes

There are not many promotion opportunities for professional athletes.

While you can become the captain of your team, you will still not be able to climb the ladder soon as many other people in the corporate world can do.

Career Levels of Professional Athletes

  • College athlete
  • Athlete playing in a minor league
  • Athlete making a living from playing sports
  • Professional athlete playing in the highest league
  • Captain of a famous professional sports team

Fields and Types of Athletes

  • Professional football player
  • Professional soccer player
  • Professional tennis player
  • Professional golf player
  • Professional baseball player
  • Professional hockey player
  • Professional basketball player
  • College athletes
  • Recreational athletes
  • Professional athletes

Educational Requirements for Professional Athletes

You don’t necessarily need a degree for becoming a professional athlete.

However, many athletes still get drafted in college and you may have a much harder time finding a team to start your career if you don’t go to college and try your luck right after finishing high school without having the support and the network of a college team.

How to become a Professional Athlete

  1. Inform yourself about the advantages and disadvantages of being a professional athlete
  2. Play sports in high school and in your leisure
  3. Continue to play your favorite sport in college
  4. Work hard on your skills to stand out from the crowd
  5. Compete with the best
  6. Improve your game as best as possible
  7. Get drafted by a professional sports team
  8. Compete at the highest level
  9. Become a renowned professional athlete

Character Traits you need as a Professional Athlete

  • You need a strong mindset
  • Willingness to work hard on your game
  • Ability to deal with drawbacks in a proper manner
  • You should never give up
  • You should not be intimidated by fierce competition
  • Willingness to make lots of sacrifices
  • Ability to deal with pressure in an emotionally healthy manner
  • You should have a passion for playing sports
  • You should be open to critical feedback
  • You should be competitive

Professional Athlete Skills

Hard Skills for Professional Athletes

  • You need to be in excellent physical condition
  • You have to know how the sports world works
  • Ability to perform well during important situations
  • Good coordination skills are crucial
  • You should know what the crowd wants to see
  • You may need to have certain minimum physical attributes
  • Talent for playing sports
  • Ability to present yourself well
  • Digital skills help you promote your personal brand

Soft Skills for Professional Athletes

  • Confidence helps you overcome difficult situations
  • You should be willing to work hard on your skills
  • You should be willing to compete at the highest levels
  • Ability to make good decisions under pressure
  • You should be able to handle stressful situations in a proper manner
  • You should be a team player
  • You should be able to focus on your game
  • You should not easily get distracted
  • Problem-solving skills
  • You should love your game

Exit Options for Professional Athletes

While professional athletes can often work as coaches or managers of a sports team after finishing their active careers, there are not many other jobs they can do since they often lack important hard skills to work in a different industry.

Professional Athlete – Similar Careers

  • Coach
  • Manager of a sports team
  • Referee
  • Sports teacher
  • Mentor for professional athletes
  • Gym manager
  • Personal trainer
  • Scout
  • Athletic trainer
  • Sports photographer

Professional Athlete Career FAQs

Is working as a professional athlete physically demanding?

Being a professional athlete can be heavily physically demanding since you will have to compete with other players at the highest levels and will therefore have to spend lots of time in the gym to stay ahead of the game and competitive in the long run.

Is working as a professional athlete mentally demanding?

Working as an athlete can also be mentally and emotionally demanding since you have to deal with lots of pressure on a regular basis and only some big mistakes may cause serious damage to your career.

Consequently, you may also have to worry about your performance and may never be able to rest and to unplug from your demanding job.

Is it dangerous to work as a professional athlete?

Being a professional athlete is not dangerous since you don’t have to work with heavy machines.

However, you will often still suffer from injuries sooner or later and you will therefore have to deal with lots of physical as well as emotional pain during your career.

You may also have a bigger risk of suffering from heart conditions and other physical health problems since you have to stress your body quite a lot during your career and not all people are able to stomach this in a healthy manner.

How long do professional athletes stay in their jobs?

Professional athletes only have a rather short period of time to make good money from what they are doing since their fitness level with decline rapidly once they reach their 30s and by the time they reach their 40s, most professional athletes are no longer able to compete at the highest level and have to retire from their active careers.

Is it easy for professional athletes to find a new job?

While it is easy for professional athletes who have a strong track record to find a new team to play for, it is often pretty hard for the average player or for players who just start out with their careers to find teams who are willing to give them a chance.

Is it hard to switch from being a professional athlete to another field of work?

Professional athletes often have a hard time finding a job in a different field since they often lack the hard skills to work in a different industry in a successful manner.

Thus, many athletes have to get lots of additional education after finishing their active careers as an athlete to get a job in a different field.

Do professional athletes have a high social status?

Athletes have a pretty high social status and many people out there admire them.

Consequently, you will have a pretty high social standing and many people want to take pictures with you and will also follow you on social media, at least if you belong to the best of the best and are known by the general public.

Can you help out your family and friends as a professional athlete?

While you can do an important job for the sports team you work for, you will still not be able to do much good for your loved ones since you will often lack the skills to fix and install many things around the home as carpenters, roofers and other people are able to do in a rather easy manner.

Thus, you will not be able to provide much value to your circle of friends and may also not get much back in return.

Can professional athletes work remotely?

Professional athletes are not able to work remotely since they have to work out in the gym and play games in person on a regular basis.

Consequently, while many other people like financial controllers who work in classical office jobs are able to work from home quite often, you as a professional athlete will be far less flexible and will also have to spend lots of time and money commuting to work.

Is it easy to find a partner as a professional athlete?

Even though professional athletes have a rather easy time in the dating market when it comes to short-term affairs, they often have a hard time maintaining relationships since they are often away from home and their sports career is what they live for.

In turn, many athletes get divorced sooner or later since they are not able to maintain an intimate connection with their partner in the long run.

Do professional athletes have to work on weekends?

Professional athletes also have to work on weekends on a regular basis.

Many big sports events take place on Saturdays or Sundays and if you are not willing to work during those days, you should rather go for a classical office job and not become an athlete.

Do professional athletes have to work on holidays?

Athletes sometimes also have to play games on holidays and will therefore not have time to make nice trips with their families.

Thus, you will have to make many sacrifices during your career as a professional athlete and you should be willing to pay the price before deciding on such a career.

Do professional athletes have to work at nighttime?

Professional athletes have to work in the late evening on a regular basis since many of their games take place during those times.

Hence, if you don’t want to work at nighttime, you should not become an athlete but rather go for a career where you have a classical 9 to 5 workweek.

Do you have to travel as a professional athlete?

As a professional athlete, you have to travel the country and sometimes even the world and you will therefore be away from home quite often and will not have time to spend your leisure with your loved ones.

Are professional athlete pensions good?

Professional athletes often don’t receive good pensions but rather have to save and invest enough money during their active careers to build a retirement fund which they can use later in their lives to avoid financial trouble at retirement age.

Are professional athlete salaries going up?

Salaries for the best athletes have been going up significantly over the years.

However, this is not really true for the average athlete out there and the vast majority of athletes will still not be able to make good money from what they are doing.

Can you have a positive impact on society as a professional athlete?

As a professional athlete, you can also have a big positive impact on society since you will have a big reach and many people will follow you.

Consequently, you can make the world a better place by proposing actions that are beneficial to all of us in the long run.

How long does it take to become a professional athlete?

While you can start your professional athlete career right after finishing high school, it will still take you many years until you get to a point where you are good enough to make a living from what you are doing and the vast majority of athletes will never get to this stage.

Is it difficult to become a professional athlete?

While there are no high formal requirements to become a professional athlete, it is still hard to make a living in this industry since competition is fierce and only the best of the best will get to this stage.

Do you need to be smart to work as a professional athlete?

You don’t need to be super smart to succeed as a professional athlete.

What’s much more important than having a high IQ is that you are really passionate about your game and that you are willing to spend all of your time getting better at what you are doing to stay ahead of the competition in the long run.

Do professional athletes have a good work-life balance?

Athletes don’t have good work-life balance at all since they have to spend almost all of their time on their careers and have to make many sacrifices.

Moreover, athletes also have to travel quite a lot and will therefore be away from home and from their families.

Do professional athletes have to work many extra hours?

Professional athletes have to work many extra hours.

While they don’t have to do so in an official manner, athletes still have to work like crazy to hone their craft so that they are able to stay ahead of the game in the long run and can compete at the highest levels.

How to maximize your chances of becoming a professional athlete?

The more time you spend on playing your favorite sport and the harder you work on your skills at an early age, the more likely it will be that you can hone your craft to a level where you are able to make a living as a professional athlete.

Therefore, you should spend every minute of leisure you have on getting better at your game if you really want to maximize your chances of becoming a professional athlete.

Can professional athletes work part-time?

Being a professional athlete is not a part-time job.

Instead, you have to spend almost all of your time playing sports so that you can stay competitive and play at the highest level in the long run and if you are not willing to make those sacrifices, you should rather go for a classical office job where you can also work part-time in a rather relaxed manner.

Do professional athletes work indoors or outdoors?

Athletes both work indoors as well as outdoors.

Consequently, you should not be afraid of spending your time outdoors during bad weather and you should not be soft in general since you will have to deal with many difficult situations during your career and the sun will just not shine for you every day.

What does the workplace of a professional athlete look like?

Professional athletes spend lots of their time at the training ground and in the gym where they try to hone their skills and work on their physics as hard as possible to be able to compete with other professional athletes in a successful manner.

During match days you will also play in big stadiums or sports halls and you need good nerves to deal with the emotional pressure that comes along with it.

Do you have to look good for working as a professional athlete?

You don’t need to look good for succeeding as a professional athlete.

However, looking good can still help to build a strong personal brand and to build a community of followers which you can monetize to make additional money on the side in the long run even at times when you might already have quit your career.

Is a professional athlete career beneficial for your private life?

While some professional athletes are able to make good money from what they are doing, they will also be away from home quite often and will also have to make many sacrifices.

Consequently, athletes are often not able to enjoy their leisure that much and there are many other jobs out there that could be more beneficial for your private life in the long run.

Do you need a college degree for becoming a professional athlete?

You don’t need a college degree for becoming a professional athlete.

However, many athletes are still scouted in college and you may have an easier time getting the chance of starting a professional athlete career as a college student.

Do you need to be certified to work as a professional athlete?

You don’t need to get any certificates before you are able to work as a professional athlete.

In fact, what’s much more important than looking good on paper is that you have a real passion for what you are doing and that you are also willing to spend almost every minute of your life on your career.

How much does it cost to become a professional athlete?

Since you don’t necessarily have to get a degree for becoming an athlete, you can start your professional athlete career at almost no cost and can even start making money at a rather young age.

Is being a professional athlete a good career?

Even though you can make good money from a career as a professional athlete, you still have to make many sacrifices, work like crazy and you will also be away from home quite often and many athletes therefore complain about their careers and working conditions, even though they love to play the game itself.

Is it easy to start your own business as a professional athlete?

It is relatively easy to start your own business as a professional athlete since you can use your fame to sell merchandise or other products to your fans and you can use your reputation to also make money in this manner after you finish your active athlete career.

Can professional athletes teach themselves?

You can teach yourself many skills you need as a professional athlete.

In fact, it is crucial that you start working on your skills from a pretty young age so that you get really good at what you are doing and can stand out from the crowd.

Do professional athletes make good money?

While a small minority of athletes are able to make a fortune from what they are doing, the vast majority of professional athletes are barely able to make a living and often struggle to pay their bills.

Is it ever too late to become a professional athlete?

Since you will have to spend many years to hone your craft, you should start your athlete career as early in your life as possible so that you can really hone your craft and compete at the highest level.

Do professional athletes have to quit their careers early?

Most professional athletes have to quit their careers rather early in their lives since they are no longer able to compete at the highest levels once they reach their 30s or 40s and therefore have to quit their careers early and work in a different field or retire.

What is the hardest thing about working as a professional athlete?

The hardest part about being an athlete is that you have to live for your job and have to make many sacrifices if you want to stay ahead of the game.

You also have to deal with lots of mental and emotional pressure and only very few people are able to master all those things at the highest level.

Can you provide for your family by working as a professional athlete?

While a small minority of athletes are able to make really good money and have an easy time providing for their families, the vast majority of athletes will not be able to make good money and will often struggle when it comes to providing for their loved ones.

Will professional athletes suffer from old-age poverty?

Many professional athletes suffer from old-age poverty since they don’t save and invest enough money for retirement but rather spend lots of money on things they actually don’t need.

Thus, to avoid old-age poverty, make sure to use your money wisely and don’t spend everything on dumb things.

Can professional athletes retire early?

While the best athletes are able to make a fortune and can retire in their 30s, most other athletes don’t make good money from what they are doing and therefore can’t retire early but have to get a different job once they quit their active sports career.

Do professional athletes get a fixed or variable salary?

Professional athletes often get a mix of fixed and variable salary and they are also able to make lots of money on the side through working on advertising campaigns.

Can you get rich as a professional athlete?

While very few athletes get rich, the vast majority of athletes will not be able to make a good living from what they are doing and may really struggle to pay their bills.

Do professional athletes need a second job?

Many athletes even have to work a second job to pay their bills since they are not able to make enough money from their professional sports career.

Do you get continuous training as a professional athlete?

While you will get some training as an athlete, it will still be on you to hone your craft and to work on your skills to stay competitive and ahead of the game in the long run.

Do you get sick pay as a professional athlete?

Professional athletes are often insured for the case they get sick or injured and are not able to work anymore so that they are still able to pay their bills in case something bad happens to them.

Do professional athletes have a high level of responsibility?

Professional athletes have a high level of responsibility since they often have a big reach and their tweets and attitudes are seen by many people.

In turn, athletes have lots of power to affect the behavior of the general public and should use this power to make the world a better place.

Can professional athletes work abroad?

Athletes can work all over the world.

However, certain sports are much more popular in certain parts of the world than in others and you should therefore make sure that you migrate to a country where your sport gets the attention it deserves.

Is it stressful to work as a professional athlete?

Being an athlete can be pretty stressful since you will be a public figure and many people will see your mistakes and may blame you for them.

Moreover, only few mistakes may end your career and you will therefore also have to deal with lots of emotional pressure.

Is it boring to work as a professional athlete?

Being a professional athlete is not boring at all since you will have to compete with other athletes on the highest level and this can be really challenging and interesting.

Is being a professional athlete hard?

Being an athlete can be hard both on a physical as well as on an emotional level since you will have to deal with lots of injuries and also mental pressure during your career and only very few people are able to digest all those things in a healthy manner.

Are professional athletes at risk of burnout?

Since athletes have to deal with lots of stress and emotional pressure, many of them are at great risk of burnout and other mental problems and you need a strong mindset to stay emotionally healthy in the long run.

Is there a dress code for professional athletes?

You don’t have to comply with a certain dress code as a professional athlete.

However, most of the time, you will still get jerseys or other workwear from the team you work for.

What kind of professional athletes are paid the most?

The more popular the sport you play is, the more money you can make as an athlete.

For instance, while outstanding basketball players are able to make a fortune in the US, waterpolo players have a much harder time in this regard.

What percentage of professional athletes are women?

Only around 21% of professional athletes are women while 79% are men.

However, an increasing number of women aspire to a career in this industry and percentages will therefore change quite a lot in the future.

Do I need a mentor to succeed as a professional athlete?

While you don’t urgently need a mentor to succeed as an athlete, it can still help to have someone on your side who can support you on an emotional level so that you don’t give up during difficult periods of your career.

Do professional athletes have a high life expectancy?

Professional athletes don’t have a high life expectancy since they often have to stress their bodies quite a lot and are therefore quite vulnerable to serious health problems sooner or later.

Do professional athletes suffer from sleeping problems?

Due to the high level of pressure professional athletes have to deal with, many of them also suffer from sleeping problems and lie awake at night and worry about their future.

What states are best for working as a professional athlete?

Since you will travel a lot as a professional athlete, you will often not be at home and the state you live in therefore doesn’t play a major role in the success or failure of your career.

Who do professional athletes work with?

Professional athletes often work in a team of many like-minded people who also aspire to make a good living from playing sports.

However, you will still be on your own when it comes to working on your craft and should have a strong inner motivation for becoming as good as possible to be able to stay competitive at the highest levels.

Is working as a professional athlete cool?

Being a professional athlete is considered cool by most people out there and many people will envy you and also want to take pictures with you.

Thus, becoming an athlete may make sense if you want to become famous and admired by the general public, even though only very few people will make it to this level.

Can you start a side hustle as a professional athlete?

It is relatively hard for professional athletes to start a side hustle since they have to spend almost all of their time on training so that they can stay competitive in the long run.

Do you have to be creative as a professional athlete?

Creativity helps you succeed as an athlete since the more creative you are, the easier it is for you finding solutions for difficult problems or situations that might be waiting for you.

Do professional athletes suffer from being overweight?

Since professional athletes exercise quite a lot and spend lots of calories on a regular basis, most of them don’t suffer from being overweight during their active careers.

However, many athletes still suffer from being overweight after quitting their active careers.

How employable are professional athletes?

While the best athletes have almost freedom of choice regarding what team they want to play for, the majority of athletes always have to fear about their future and injuries may end their careers without prior notice.

Are professional athletes happy with their jobs?

While most athletes love playing their sport, many of them are not happy with overall working conditions since they are away from home quite a lot and also have to make many sacrifices along the way while they also have to deal with lots of emotional pressure.

Is working as a professional athlete exciting?

Being an athlete is pretty exciting since you will have to deal with challenging situations on a regular basis and always need to stay focused and driven to be able to play on the highest levels.

Can you have a positive impact on our environment as a professional athlete?

As an athlete, you can also use your fame to convince people about the importance of protecting our environment as best as possible so that your fans behave eco-friendlier in the long run.

What are the pros and cons of working as a professional athlete?

If you still think about becoming an athlete, you should also get information on additional pros and cons of an athlete career.

Sources

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1130673/ncaa-athletes-job-search/

Interviews and own research.

About the author

My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people about the different career paths that are possible in our current state of the world. In my opinion, people often make the mistake to choose their profession solely based on how much money they can earn from it instead of doing what makes them really happy.

This is quite sad and I just want to give people a more objective picture of how a fulfilling career could look like. I did the same when I started working in consulting after finishing my Master’s degree in Economics. However, I’ve quit pretty soon after that since I haven’t found true meaning in my job.

Now I can do what I really love to do and I want to enable as many other people as well to go this exciting path towards happiness instead of money.

I conducted various interviews with employees to give you a good impression of what working in different fields will look like and that you can make the best possible decision regarding your future career choice.

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