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Springpod’s Spotlight: STEM Careers in Sport

What does ‘Super Saturday’ at the 2012 London Olympics have in common with Andy Murray’s Grand Slam victories? What does Jonny Wilkinson’s winning drop goal have in common with Lizzie Yarnold’s second successive Winter Olympic gold? What about Mo Farah’s ‘double double’ and team GB’s astonishing success in the Paralympics? None would have been possible without the support of STEM specialists.

Following our recent Springpod’s Spotlight article on Healthcare Science, we decided to get our spotlight out all over again to see how sport and STEM collide.

Whether it’s the Football World Cup, Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Ryder Cup that floats their boat, the chances are many of your students will be keen on sport. But few will make it as a sports professional – even those that do will need a career for when they retire at the ripe old age of 25…

Those interested in sport may have thought about coaching or refereeing, but they may not realise that there are a whole host of fascinating STEM careers outside of the expected. In this blog post, we explore a few career ideas to challenge the stereotypes.

STEM careers on the body

Physiotherapists

Some Physiotherapists choose to work with sportspeople. They give advice on exercises to prevent and treat injuries, and also treat patients with massage, hydrotherapy, electrical treatments and other interventions. To work as a Physio your students must take a degree or postgraduate qualification approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) and register with the HCPC.

Sports Therapists

Sports Therapists are concerned with preventing sports injuries by advising on suitable training plans, preparing athletes for competitions etc. They also assess injuries, provide immediate treatment or refer clients to healthcare specialists. They may do sports and remedial massage, and plan rehabilitation programmes. Sports Therapists come from a range of backgrounds and hold various qualifications. The Society of Sports Therapists accredits certain courses. The treatments a Sports Therapist can be insured to provide depend on their qualifications. Sports Therapists don’t have to register with the HCPC but can choose to become a member of a relevant professional body and register with an appropriate voluntary register.

Sports Rehabilitators

Sports Rehabilitators specialise in the prevention, management and rehabilitation of injuries caused by sports activities. As well as helping sportspeople they may work with other clients, such as injured service personnel. BASRaT (the British Association of Sport Rehabilitators and Trainers) accredits degree programmes and offers membership.

Doctors

Doctors can specialise in Sport and Exercise Medicine. They diagnose and treat injuries, such as stress fractures and soft-tissue damage, and may also be involved in a wide range of other activities, including health promotion and research. Students would have to start their career journey by studying at medical school.

The British Association of Sport & Exercise Medicine (BASEM) is a membership organisation for Doctors and other healthcare professionals – students can find careers information on the BASEM website.

STEM careers on the brain

It’s often said that sport is as much about the mind as the body…

Sport and Exercise Psychologists

Sport and Exercise Psychologists apply their psychological knowledge and skills to their work. Sport Psychologists help elite and amateur athletes improve their performance, deal with their intense training, prepare mentally for competition and cope with setbacks. They also give advice to managers and coaches on things like teamworking strategies. The importance of a Sports Psychologist should not be under-estimated, particularly when considering England’s pretty historical performance in 2018’s World Cup, with much of the team’s success attributed to Dr Pippa Grange where she improved the team’s “psychological resilience”

Exercise Psychologists, on the other hand, help motivate the general public to participate in energetic activities.

Psychologists have to be registered with the HCPC. The usual starting point is to take a degree or postgraduate conversion course accredited by the British Psychological Society. This has to be followed by an accredited MSc and two years’ supervised practice, or a professional doctorate.

STEM careers on diets

The well-known saying, ‘you are what you eat’ is taken to a whole new level where professional sport is concerned. Even those who want to improve as an amateur often take advice on healthy eating.

Dietitians

Dietitians are the experts in how nutrients are used by the body. They can choose to work with sportspeople helping them to reach peak performance. They advise on their diets, hydration and nutritional supplements (legal of course!). To qualify as a Dietitian, your students would need a degree or postgraduate qualification in dietetics approved by the HCPC.

Nutritionists

Nutritionists can also work with sportspeople to optimise their performance. They calculate what they need in terms of energy, fluid, vitamins and other nutrients, and provide tailored advice. Depending on the context in which they work and/or their level of experience, Nutritionists may work under the supervision of a Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist. Although they are not regulated by the HCPC and there are different entry routes, most Nutritionists have a degree or postgraduate qualification in Nutrition. The Association for Nutrition accredits certain courses and operates a voluntary register.

STEM careers on sports equipment

A bad workman blames their tools. This might be the case, but without hi-tech equipment and materials, the sporting triumphs listed at the beginning of this blog may not have been possible. Remember the controversy over Team GB’s skeleton suits at the 2018 Winter Olympics?

Sports Engineers and Technologists

Whether it’s designing the speediest racing wheelchairs or researching aerodynamic fabrics, Sports Engineers and Technologists work with all sorts of specialists, including Sports Scientists, and sporting professionals themselves in order to give them a technical edge.

As it’s such a broad field of work, it’s difficult to generalise about entry routes. There are degree courses in subjects such as Sports Engineering and Sports Technology, but entry is possible with a background in Mechanical Engineering, Materials Science, Physics and other STEM subjects. Although it’s an expanding area of work, employment opportunities are limited, so specialisation at a later stage – e.g. through a postgraduate course – would keep your students’ options open.

Where are the opportunities?

Employers and work settings within the world of sport are many and varied. Your students could find themselves working for:

  • Sports Professionals or teams
  • National sports governing bodies
  • Sports clubs, gyms or fitness centres
  • Manufacturers – from those producing food and drink to sports equipment
  • Research institutes
  • Major employers (to improve the health of the workforce)
  • Hospitals or clinics
  • Rehabilitation centres
  • Organisations concerned with health promotion

Freelance work is also a possibility in many STEM-related sports careers.

Which students might be suited?

These careers are likely to be a good fit for your students who:

  • Enjoy STEM as much as sport
  • Work well in a team
  • Have a positive attitude and plenty of enthusiasm
  • Are good communicators – they may need to be able to explain complex issues to those without scientific knowledge.

How can you help?

  • Tell your students they can find careers advice, job profiles and vacancies on the Careers in Sport website. The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) site also has careers information, a course search facility and useful links.
  • Try to persuade someone working in one of these careers to give a talk at your school or college. Careers in Sport can deliver workshops and presentations.
  • If your students are already participating in sport, encourage them to keep this up. It’s good for their wellbeing, develops their transferable skills and demonstrates their genuine interest in sport and fitness.
  • As sports-related careers are competitive to enter, encourage your students to get experience. Work placements, job shadowing, weekend or holiday jobs and volunteering are all possibilities.
  • Help your students find out about entry routes for careers that interest them. Apart from further and higher education courses, there may be relevant apprenticeships.
  • Make sure that your students check course entry requirements carefully. Although it’s possible to study sport-related subjects such as Sport and Exercise Science or PE at A-level or BTEC Level 3 National, for example, depending on what they aspire to do, it may be more useful to study pure STEM subjects instead of or in addition to these. For entry to degrees in Engineering, for instance, Maths and often Physics are important subjects.
  • Get your students to research courses carefully by finding out about: course content, graduate destinations, industrial links and eligibility for professional registration.
  • Be realistic. Your students need to be aiming at high grades if, for example, they want to train as a Physio or Doctor.

– – – –

We’ve only scratched the surface in this blog. There are lots of other careers where STEM and sport merge. Whether it’s breeding racehorses on a stud farm or teaching PE in schools, STEM may be involved. Even Sports Turf Operatives have to know about soil types, photosynthesis and environmental impact. And students shouldn’t forget that Sports Professionals themselves need an understanding of how their bodies work.

So next time you hear yet another student say they want to work in sport, spread the news and open their eyes to the varietal STEM-related careers that exist within the active industry.

Debbie Steel

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