Reading Time: »5 Minutes
Target Audience: » Students and Aspiring Practitioners
Author: » David Nolan
Sports science is a field still in its infancy in terms of academic courses, but one that continues to grow in popularity. Each year, Ireland produces 100’s of graduates from courses such as Sport and Exercise Sciences, Sports Science and Health and Strength & Conditioning.
We often hear concerned parents’ question whether there are any jobs in sports science?
What does the employment landscape look like for the ambitious graduates?
In the summer of 2020, we here at Synapse Performance decided to explore this question and capture a picture of what employment is like for those Irish graduates who have managed to secure a position in sport.
We invited those working in the field to complete an anonymous survey which questioned aspects such as annual income, education level, working conditions, job satisfaction etc.
92 Irish sports scientists and strength & conditioning coaches completed the survey. These respondents ranged from those working with amateur sports clubs in Ireland to those working in the Premier League.
We have summarized and presented the data in this article, accompanied by a series of info-graphics, a podcast and short summary video. We hope that this information can benefit existing practitioners as well as current and aspiring students in planning their careers. We would be more than delighted if you shared any aspect of this research summary with your friends and colleagues or across your social media (just make sure to tag us, so we can thank you personally).
A couple of things to note to add some context to this data:
- 92 professionals responded to this survey, the majority of whom are full time sports scientists or S&C coaches actively working in the industry. The survey does not account for the 100’s of sports science graduates we have each year who pursue careers in other fields outside of sport
- The data presented in this article is purely descriptive in nature. Any of the comparisons or relationships explored are done so on a descriptive basis, no analysis has been performed to establish statistical significance.
Firstly, we wanted to capture the current employment status of our respondents. 97% of respondents were in some form of employment with 87% working full-time.
From both anecdotal and empirical evidence, we know it is quite difficult for a new graduates to gain paid employment in sport upon graduation. This makes it even more shocking that more than half of respondents that are in full-time employment are not happy in their current role and are actively seeking employment elsewhere.
Only 4 out of 10 say they are happy in their current position and are not seeking other work.
We know it is difficult for a graduate to gain employment in sport, but for those chasing this goal, what is the best way to enhance their chances?
We asked our participants how they came to be in their current position.
It would appear that “who you know” is quite important in this industry. Almost half of respondents were recruited into their current role by a friend or colleague, with less than one-third acquiring their job by applying for a publicly advertised position.
This solidifies something anyone in the industry already knows; it is essential for aspiring practitioners to network from day one and build relationships with as many people as possible in the industry.
Almost one-fifth (18%) were promoted to their role from within the organization.
Remuneration of sports professionals is always a contentious topic, as we hear horror stories of grueling unpaid internships along with over-worked and under-paid backroom staff.
We asked our participants what their current annual income is.
65% earn less than €30,000 per year, with over one-third earning less than €20,000 per year.
85% of those surveyed earn less than €40,000 per year, which is worrying considering that the average industrial wage in Ireland currently stands at €49,000.
This poor rate of pay experienced by those surveyed is concerning when we take into consideration the all-consuming nature of the roles, with unsociable hours and significant time commitments often including weekend work and international travel.
The average earnings reported by our participants would suggest for the majority of professional sports scientists or S&C coaches in Ireland, it would extremely difficult to live and rent in any of the major cities, and near impossible to secure a mortgage.
Furthering your education is often touted as a pathway to a higher salary. While we did see a trend of increasing earnings with higher education levels in our respondents, it still paints a stark picture.
Those who hold a master’s degree, on average earn less than €30,000 per year. A figure which is alarming as the Grad-Ireland 2019 report stated the average starting salary for graduate with a level 8 undergraduate degree was €30,409.
Those who have obtained a PhD. reported an average income of €43,500, which is significantly higher than that of their counterparts, but still below the average salary in Ireland.
We asked our participants to rate their level of satisfaction in a number of areas on a sliding scale from 1 (Not satisfied at all) to 5 (Fully satisfied).
Annual income and financial security were the poorest rated metrics with an average satisfaction level of 2.3/5 for both measures, with only 3.3% of respondents reporting a rating of 5 for financial security.
Job security and quality of life ratings were also concerning with respondents reporting average ratings of 2.7 and 3.1, respectively. Only 4.5% of those surveyed would rate their satisfaction with quality of life as a 5.
Despite having low levels of satisfaction from a financial and personal perspective, those surveyed reported relatively good levels of job satisfaction with an average rating of 3.5.
Thoughts and Conclusion
This report makes for stark reading. Based on the data collected those who are “lucky” enough to forge a full-time career in sport are significantly underpaid in respect of their education level and required commitment. In addition to this, those surveyed are not satisfied with their current financial security or quality of life, and over half of those questioned are not happy in their current role and are actively seeking other opportunities.
Considering the increasing number of graduates each year in this sector, it is unlikely that pay or work conditions for these roles will improve in the foreseeable future.
The current Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of sport and this is reflected in those surveyed reporting very low ratings of job security.
For those who still wish to pursue a career in sport, the data reported does offer some insights that aspiring practitioners should consider. Given that the majority of those surveyed obtained their role via a friend or colleague, it would be shrewd advice for students to actively cultivate a large network of colleagues. Students should seek out experience in all forms from early in their studies. Engaging in shadowing or interning positions allows students to both gain experience and develop professional relationships which may be later leveraged to gain employment.
This report aimed to provide a snapshot into the current employment landscape for sports scientists and strength & conditioning coaches in Ireland. We hope that this report will stimulate discussion on the topic and aid aspiring students and practitioners in planning and progressing their career.
About the author:
David Nolan is the founder and head of coaching & education at Synapse Performance. He is an experienced sports scientist and S&C coach. David is the current head of education at Rugby Academy Ireland. David is also an experienced researcher and is currently completing his PhD in applied sports science at DCU under the supervision of Dr. Brendan Egan.
David offers consulting to teams and companies. If you are interested in more information please contact us via email at: