Sport and Fitness
If you’re considering swapping your uniform for a tracksuit – or maybe even something in Lycra – there’s a variety of careers to choose from. From personal trainer to Pilates instructor, boot camp leader to basketball coach, the sport and fitness industry could offer the next step you’re seeking
Together, sport and fitness make up one of the UK’s largest employment sectors, as well as one of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK economy, focusing on the leading and supervision of sport, exercise and physical activity. The UK has thousands of sport and fitness clubs, leisure centres and gyms for public use, and there is increasing demand for skilled exercise professionals to fill the growing number of employment vacancies.
Skill up while serving
Each Service has its PT instructors – you might be one? Military PTI class 1, 2 and 3, and the All Arms PTI certificates qualify holders to join the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS – see box), and there is growing formal recognition for military qualifications by civilian authorities (courses on coaching and officiating, for example, can lead to recognised civilian qualifications).
The sector will generally accept relevant Service training and experience, but you must be prepared to take additional courses or undergo assessment to reach official standards. Indeed, when many people think of ex-Services personnel going into the fitness business, military PT-based organisations (e.g. ‘boot camps’) are the first to spring to mind, with their outdoor fitness classes run by serving or former members of the Armed Forces. With this in mind, there are courses available that are specially tailored to Service leavers wishing to take up such roles.
The situation is similar in outdoor education and development. The various regulatory bodies accept only civilian qualifications, so if you’re an adventurous training instructor, you will have to ensure you meet civilian standards if you wish to continue in this area on leaving the Services.
Many different qualifications help with a career in sport and fitness. Technical ability is critical, as are skills like effective communication, customer care, teamwork and interpersonal flair.
Example courses: sport
Some FE colleges offer specialist qualifications, and sports coach UK works with the various sport NGBs to provide personal development programmes for all sports coaches.
There are sport National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (N/SVQs) at levels 1–3. For the most up-to-date information on these, contact SkillsActive direct (see ‘Key contacts’). Individuals are assessed in a number of competencies in the workplace, with most qualifications requiring six mandatory units and four optional ones. To gain them, individuals will need a portfolio of skills and responsibilities. Many people start by gaining a qualification like an NGB coaching or fitness instruction award, and then work to gain the necessary experience.
Many sport and recreation-related foundation, graduate and postgraduate degrees allow people to teach PE in schools. Some are part-time or taken through distance learning, so they are suitable for those already in employment. Higher national diplomas (HNDs) and certificates (HNCs) also prepare people for management jobs, although expertise in a particular sport or area of fitness is also required.
Other opportunities in this work area are massively wide ranging for those with a keen interest, so we focus on just a tiny sample of the courses available here.
- Becoming a sports masseur (particularly if you come from a background of competitive sport) is an attractive and flexible option for freelance working and/or developing into another side of the sport business. A sports massage qualification for someone with absolutely no experience can be achieved by taking a combined course in holistic and sports massage, which will incorporate the anatomy and physiology tuition you require. Such a course can be taken as a fast-track option over 14 weekends plus part-time study during a 12-month period, as well as achieving 220 hours of massage practice outside of the classroom. Prices can be in excess of £3,500, and will result in a BTEC Professional Diploma (level 5) in, for example, Sports Massage and Sports Treatments.
- A course in sports nutrition could add a valuable practitioner string to your freelance bow, allowing you to combine it with, say, coaching and massage. There are plenty of self-paced home study courses in this field (typically you could complete one part-time in four to six months), costing from £350 upwards, and resulting in externally validated and recognised national awards.
- At degree level, a BSc in Sport, Fitness and Coaching is a useful training avenue if you wish to take on leadership roles within the sector or eventually further your career towards management or sports development roles. Such a course can even be taken via flexible part-time study over a six-year period and is likely to cost around £2,500.
Example courses: fitness
The aforementioned REPs is a system of self-regulation for everyone involved with exercise and fitness (again, see box). And, as with sport, courses available within the fitness industry are incredibly diverse. Again, we offer just a brief glimpse here.
- For those looking for a relatively quick entry point into work in this sector, fitness instructor training (there are three accredited levels in total) can be completed in a handful of days or two/three weekends, and costs approximately £650. This qualification will allow you to, for instance, work one-to-one with clients in a gym setting, including planning an appropriate programme of training and supervising client progress.
- If you already have some teaching experience within the fitness sector, and are qualified as a level 2 Fitness Instructor or level 3 Yoga or Pilates Instructor, an exercise and disability qualification (e.g. level 3 Programming and Supervising Exercise with Disabled Clients) could widen your employability by helping you to understand different fitness markets and the different barriers that some people need help to overcome in order to maintain an appropriate level of fitness. Courses generally run over a three-day period, with extra theoretical work away from the classroom, and can cost about £450.
- GP exercise referral schemes continue to grow in the UK. Training to work with medically referred clients can be undertaken in roughly five days, face to face, for those already holding a level 2 qualification and will cost around £600. As part of the qualification, you must also attain the level 3 Anatomy and Physiology theory paper, which can cost around £100 and can be studied as an e-learning option.
Using your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELCAS website at www.enhancedlearningcredits.co.uk and is at level 3 or above.
READ ABOUT REPS …
If you are serious about finding work in the fitness industry, you should be affiliated to the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs). This is an independent public register that recognises the qualifications and expertise of health-enhancing exercise instructors in the UK. One of its key functions is to provide a system of regulation for instructors and trainers, to ensure they meet the health and fitness industry’s agreed national occupational standards (NOS). Members are acknowledged for their:
- adherence to the industry’s nationally recognised standards
- ongoing education.
They are bound by a Code of Ethical Conduct and hold appropriate public liability insurance. In order to remain on the Register, members must continue to meet the standards set for their profession through continuing professional development (CPD).
Membership, which costs £40 a year, is open to exercise and fitness professionals in a wide variety of roles. It also allows for the transferability of skills throughout the UK, across participating countries in Europe and around the world.
To find out more, visit www.exerciseregister.org
A common way to enter the health and fitness sector is as a fitness instructor. Although there are no formal academic requirements for this, a recognised fitness instructor qualification is usually required and the minimum age to practise unsupervised is 18 years. Applicants to instructing courses require no formal qualifications although it can be an advantage to hold a first aid certificate. If you think you might like to enter the industry in future, it is – as mentioned above – an advantage to register with the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs – see box). Fitness instructor work can cover a wide range of activities at a variety of levels, meaning there is also a range of opportunities available; in addition, entry to roles at an older age is not uncommon, which will be good news for some of our readers! A host of industry-endorsed courses, vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and training schemes are available.
Sports coaching, teaching and instructing
Coaching may form part of a full-time job role in the industry, like a sports development officer or outdoor instructor. Coaches need an appropriate qualification from a sport NGB, and many of the personal qualities of the coach are ‘people skills’. There is a growing trend within coaching towards part-time or freelance employment. Work is available as a voluntary coach within sports clubs or as a part-time session coach in leisure centres. Many coaches work freelance for a number of organisations, and most have other jobs as well.
There are many organisations providing all age groups with a range of sporting, physical and development activities, like walking, climbing, kayaking and caving, or just enjoying their surroundings. Instructors must hold a recognised award from the relevant NGB. Expedition companies usually have a small head office staff who organise and market the activities, and a number of freelance leaders and guides who manage things in the field. Service experience is relevant in this area, and it is common to start as a contracted expedition manager before joining a company in a regular capacity.
Sport, recreation and leisure centres
Sport, recreation and leisure centres catering for a wide range of indoor and outdoor sports exist throughout the UK. Employment varies from receptionists, lifeguards, coaches/instructors, supervisors, booking managers and plant technicians to centre managers. Most people start in this area by obtaining coaching or lifeguard awards, and gain experience before moving into management.
Most local authorities and governing bodies have sports development teams that provide sport and recreation on an outreach basis, taking it into rural and urban communities. Experience in voluntary sports coaching and administration or strategic leisure management is relevant. Specific sports development qualifications and courses exist at certificate and diploma levels; however, coaching awards are usually sufficient.
What can you earn?
The sport and fitness sector is not particularly well paid, starting with the minimum wage. According to the latest available edition of SkillsActive’s Working in Fitness Survey, the average basic salary is £22,700 across all occupations working in full-time employment. However, this varies widely according to factors such as location and type of work. Some examples are:
- full-time gym instructor £15,100
- full-time personal trainer £22,500
- part-time sports coach £16,700
- part-time exercise referral £18,100.