Sports are a national pastime. From football to baseball to basketball, people are spending their weekends at the stadiums or huddled around the TV, cheering for their favorite team. While few are cut out for a career as a professional player, there are plenty of careers in the sports and fitness field to go around. Some, such as coaches and managers, involve working directly with sports teams. Others, such as fitness instructors, generally work with individuals to help them get into physical shape. Still others, including athletic trainers, are health care professionals who combine medical knowledge with fitness training. Online sports and fitness degrees can be an ideal first step toward making a career out of a commitment to physical fitness.
If you're traveling between different cities to attend sports games or racing between clients as a personal trainer, taking the time to stay in one place and attend college can feel stifling or even impossible. Attending college online can solve this dilemma. However, selecting the right online college for you is still a tricky question. Here we have compiled a list of five colleges that stand out from the crowd, using data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
Visit our methodologies page to learn more about how we use official data to evaluate schools.
For students who are passionate about organized sports, working out and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, a career in sports and fitness seems like a perfect matchup. But as every day reveals new understanding about how to stay healthy, future fitness industry professionals will need more than passion: they'll need knowledge. That's where online programs for sports and fitness come in. Here's an overview of what students commonly gain from these programs and how it can help you succeed at a career in the field after graduation.
Online education for sports and fitness careers tends to fall into one of two specializations:
Exercise science or fitness: Majors such as exercise science, sports and health sciences, applied sciences or kinesiology tend to emphasize the science behind human movement and human behavior as it relates to exercise, fitness, health and wellness. These majors can lead to careers in coaching, fitness training, physical therapy, nutrition, physical education or exercise physiology, usually by way of an associate or bachelor's degree.
In addition to general education courses, online bachelor's degree programs in sports and fitness often cover these topics as part of their majors:
Sports/recreation/fitness management: The business of sports and fitness can be a big one. Careers in the field include sports agent, promoter or manager — of an athlete, team or sports facility. Though there is likely to be crossover with exercise science programs in terms of coursework (sports management majors may take kinesiology, human anatomy and physiology and other related courses), coursework in sports management (which usually leads to a bachelor's degree) may also include more specialized topics such as:
Exercise science programs can lead to careers in sports management or vice versa, but they are two rather different fields, so it is important to know which side your interest lies before pursuing the wrong program. To learn more about sports management and see how it differs from sports fitness, consider checking out our page on sports management.
Whatever educational path or career a student pursues in the sports and fitness industry, he or she will need certain skills in order to be successful. Colleges offering online sports and fitness degree programs can provide a good environment for developing these skills. To help you understand some of the more generally important aspects to focus on during your program, here is a list of some particularly relevant skills to look out for.
Employment in the field of fitness is increasing, and is predicted to continue increasing as time passes. As individuals and employers become increasingly interested in using fitness to increase energy and combat obesity, and as Baby Boomers become increasingly interested in using low-impact exercises to ease pain and maintain health, students who earn a degree in sports and fitness should find ample career prospects awaiting.
Most athletic trainers work with athletes who compete in a variety of organized sports. They spend the majority of their work hours roaming the sidelines of athletics fields and in gyms so they are on hand to provide care and treatment to injured athletes. They often are the first-responders at sporting events and must quickly determine the severity of injuries and whether athletes need more skilled medical attention. Athletic trainers also routinely evaluate injured athletes to determine when they are eligible to return to competition.
Athletic trainers must earn at least a bachelor's degree, although many employers require a master's degree as the minimum consideration for employment. Almost all states also require licensure or certification, the BLS notes.
Fitness coordinators typically work on the administrative aspects of running fitness or recreational centers. They oversee schedules of fitness classes and programs, and provide recommendations for adding new programs and classes. They also routinely evaluate the effectiveness and customer satisfaction of fitness programs already in place.
Being a fitness coordinator can come with many other duties depending on location and employer. Some fitness coordinators lead a staff of fitness trainers and instructors in instructional seminars, or provide instruction in the use of new equipment and exercise techniques. Others lead exercise classes themselves or provide one-on-one training to select clients.
Most fitness coordinators hold at least a bachelor's degree and have several years working as fitness trainers or similar occupations before they move up to being a fitness coordinator.
People seeking to get in better shape often engage the services of fitness trainers and instructors, who provide individualized and group instruction in a wide range of exercises. Some specialize in yoga or aerobics, while others excel at stretching and strength training. Trainers and aerobics instructors work with people of all ages and skill levels, typically in health clubs, athletic or recreational centers or fitness studios. Ancillary duties include advising clients on appropriate clothing and athletic gear, as well as maintaining equipment and facilities to ensure everything works properly.
Educational requirements for fitness trainer and aerobics instructor careers varies by position, the BLS notes, but employers often seek to hire fitness instructors who hold specialty certifications.
Sports medicine physicians treat injured athletes during sporting events and competitions, as well as during athletic training and practices. While athletic trainers provide lower-level medical services, such as bandaging cuts or twisted ankles, these professionals typically have extensive medical skills — many hold doctorate degrees and have completed five or more years of post-doctoral specialized medical training. They often advise athletic trainers and sports coaches on ways to prevent injury during athletic competition. They also help current and former athletes manage pain and develop exercise programs designed to ease chronic pain conditions. Others work with team coaches to develop off-season conditioning programs to help keep athletes in peak physical condition at all times.
Exercise physiologists can perform a wide range of tasks throughout their careers. Some plan and design exercise programs that promote peak conditioning for individual athletes, as well as private organizations such as sports teams. Others teach classes that promote behavioral changes in weight control and stress management through exercise. Still others plan and conduct exercise research, conducting a wide array of tests on people and athletes to collect data on oxygen consumption, total body fat, blood samples to determine glucose tolerance and more.
Over half of all professionals working in exercise physiologist careers hold a master's degree, and it's not uncommon for these professionals to also have years of specialized medical training.