Sports Industry Career Paths: A Look at Key Interscholastic Opportunities

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A women’s high school volleyball team with their coach.

Interscholastic sports programs offer numerous benefits, both to the students who participate and the community at large. Young people who join teams can learn valuable life lessons about the importance of teamwork, practice, and persistence. Meanwhile, interscholastic sports programs can bring a sense of pride and camaraderie to a neighborhood, community, or town.

Additionally, interscholastic athletic programs can offer rewarding career opportunities for coaches, administrators, and other professionals. For those who love sports and wish to make a difference in the lives of young people, or who want their communities to enjoy the benefits that come with robust athletic programs, these careers may be a perfect fit.

An advanced degree in athletic administration delivers the skills and core competencies to provide steady leadership to an interscholastic sports program. Graduation from an athletic administration degree program can be an important first step to a sports industry career.

A Look at the Interscholastic Sports Industry

Interscholastic sports can play a fundamental role within the context of a community. A vital athletic program with steady leadership can deliver significant benefits to students, parents, and community members.

The Impact of Interscholastic Sports

The positive impact of interscholastic sports programs can be observed in several ways.

  • An athletic program gives the entire community something to rally around and take pride in.
  • Sports programs provide youths with an opportunity to learn valuable skills that will carry over into other aspects of life, such as the importance of hard work and cooperation.
  • Involvement in a sports program also instills the value of discipline, and shows students the kind of focus and consistency that may serve them well in high school, college, and beyond.
  • Because sports fosters self-discipline and emotional development, athletic participation has been linked with improved academic performance. According to a report from the organization Inside Out Initiative, the more teams a student is involved with, the more his or her GPA tends to improve.

As the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) states, extracurricular activities such as sports are not a diversion but an enrichment of students’ regular education that provides concrete results. “Students who participate in activity programs tend to have higher grade point averages, better attendance records, lower dropout rates, and fewer discipline problems than students generally.”

The Future of Interscholastic Sports

Studies from the NFHS reveal that participation in interscholastic sports has shown a year-over-year increase in 29 of the last 30 years. Today, close to 8 million students participate in interscholastic sports. Its surveys also find that many high schools have expanded their athletic programming, perhaps reflecting a desire among student-athletes to have more sports to choose from. (Lacrosse and bowling, in particular, are surging in popularity.)

Club sports also remain popular. These teams operate independently of a school and typically require tryouts to participate. A club team competes with other regional clubs. According to the NFHS, youth club sports have grown by 55% since 2010 and are now a $15.3 billion market, offering further evidence that the demand for youth sports participation remains high and continues to expand.

What Careers Are Available in the Interscholastic Sports Industry?

For those who wish to provide leadership within the interscholastic athletic world, there are several ways to embark on a sports industry career path.

Assistant Athletic Director

On the path to becoming an Athletic Director, one intermediate step is to become an Assistant Athletic Director. Individuals in this role support the Athletic Director, providing assistance in game-day operations, monitoring ticket sales, and potentially helping with filming games or otherwise promoting the athletic program. Another typical function of the assistant athletic director is management of sports equipment and uniforms. Still another core responsibility is training and overseeing volunteers.

According to, the median annual salary for this role is $50,607 as of April 2020.

Athletic Director

Most schools have an athletic director whose job is to oversee all facets of its sports programs. The athletic director sets and enforces the school’s athletic policies and ensures that all athletic programs comply with regulatory guidelines. This position also hires and fires coaches, guides fundraising and finances, and schedules games and events.

Some skills required for the role include expertise in budgeting and finance, the ability to work under pressure, and comfort making tough decisions. Most athletic directors are required to have previous coaching experience, and a degree in athletic administration can provide an additional advantage in the job market.

According to the compensation website, the median salary for athletic directors was approximately $60,000 as of April 2020.

Head Coach

Head coaches are in the spotlight at game time, calling plays and directing their players, yet the bulk of their work is accomplished off the field. A team’s head coach is responsible for facilitating competitions, helping raise funds and manage the team’s budget, coordinating player training, and recruiting new prospects. A head coach may also have to make decisions regarding the health and wellness of injured players.

Some necessary competencies for this position include communication and organizational skills; a deep understanding of their sport; familiarity with regulatory agencies, budgeting, and financial management; and the ability to collaborate with trainers and assistant coaches.

According to, the median salary for a head coach as of April 2020 was around $43,000.

Manager of Operations

The manager of operations may be tasked with maintaining a school’s athletic facilities and coordinating their use. This position often works closely with coaches or athletic directors to plan competitions and events.

A manager of operations must demonstrate organization, project management, scheduling, and budgeting skills, and the ability to work under tight deadlines. lists the median salary of a manager of operations at approximately $65,000 per year as of April 2020.


Trainers work closely with student-athletes to help them safely and effectively develop their physical skills. A trainer may also be involved with assessing injuries, providing injury prevention programs, and helping to rehabilitate students who have incurred injuries.

Some core skills of an athletic trainer include injury prevention, clinical diagnosis, emergency care, physical rehabilitation, and treatment of minor injuries.

The median trainer salary, according to, was around $43,000 as of April 2020.

Why Earning an Advanced Degree Matters

An advanced degree can benefit anyone interested in a sports industry career path, providing graduates with a competitive hiring advantage and opening opportunities for positions of greater influence and responsibility.

Some positions, such as athletic director, typically require an advanced degree. Regardless of the position or degree requirements, a formal education can help sharpen important skill sets and position graduates to command higher salaries.

Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration program places students on the path to become trusted leaders in interscholastic sports. Classes emphasize such topics as Ethics in Sports, Financial Administration, Sports Marketing, Risk Management, and more. This curriculum offers foundational knowledge to provide leadership to a youth sports program.

Embark on a Sports Industry Career Path

Interscholastic programs can enrich communities and change lives. The opportunity to provide leadership through such a program can be highly rewarding, especially for those who already love sports. To develop the skills for a career in this field, learn more about Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration program today.


Recommended Reading:

Thinking Outside the Box: Revenue Sources for Athletic Departments

Legal Protection for Athletic Trainers

Challenges of Adding New Sports to Athletic Programs


Houston Chronicle, An Athletic Director’s Duties

Houston Chronicle, What Does an Athletic Coach Do?

Inside Out Initiative, Using Data to Show the Link Between Sports Participation and Academic Achievement

National Federation of State High School Associations, The Case for High School Activities

National Federation of State High School Associations, Club Sports: Can They Coexist with High School Sports?

National Federation of State High School Associations, High School Activities Bring Communities Together

National Federation of State High School Association, High School Sports Participation Increases for 29th Consecutive Year

Ohio University, Online Master of Athletic Administration

PayScale, Average Assistant Athletic Director Salary

PayScale, Average Athletic Director Salary

PayScale, Average Athletic Trainer Salary

PayScale, Average Manager of School Operations Salary

PayScale, Average Varsity Coach Salary

Society of Health and Physical Education, Athletic Training