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How to Become an Athlete or Sports Competitor

Athletes and sports competitors must have immense knowledge of their sport, which they usually get through years of experience at lower levels. A high school diploma is usually required.

Education and Training

Most athletes develop their skills by playing the sport at some level. Regardless of the level, they must have extensive knowledge of the way the sport is played, especially its rules, regulations, and strategies. They often learn by playing the sport in school or at a recreation center, with the help of instructors or coaches, or in a camp that teaches the fundamentals of the sport.

Athletes get their training in several ways. For most team sports, athletes gain experience by competing in high school and collegiate athletics or on club teams. Other athletes learn their sport by taking private or group lessons, such as in gymnastics or tennis.

Licenses and Certification

Some sports and localities require athletes and sports competitors to be licensed or certified to practice. For example, in drag racing, drivers need to graduate from approved schools to be licensed to compete in the various drag racing series. The governing body of the sport may revoke licenses and suspend players who do not meet the required performance, education, or training. In addition, athletes may have their licenses or certification suspended for inappropriate activity.


For most athletes, turning professional is the biggest advancement. They often begin to compete immediately, although some may spend more time on the bench (as a reserve) to gain experience. In some sports, such as baseball, athletes may begin their professional career on a minor league team before moving up to the major leagues. Professional athletes generally advance in their sport by winning and achieving accolades, and in turn they earn a higher salary.

Important Qualities

Athleticism. Nearly all athletes and sports competitors must possess superior athletic ability to be able to compete successfully against opponents.

Concentration. Athletes and sports competitors must be extremely focused when competing. The difference between winning and losing can often be a result of a momentary lapse in concentration.

Decision-making skills. Athletes and sports competitors often must make split-second decisions. Football quarterbacks, for example, usually only have seconds to decide whether to pass the football or run with it.

Desire and dedication. Athletes and sports competitors must practice regularly to develop their skills and improve or maintain their physical conditioning. It often takes years to become successful, so athletes must be dedicated to their sport.

Hand-eye coordination. For many sports, including tennis and baseball, the need to gauge and strike a fast-moving ball is highly dependent on the athlete’s hand-eye coordination.

Stamina. Endurance can benefit athletes and sports competitors, particularly in long-lasting sports competitions, such as marathons.

Teamwork. Because many athletes compete in a team sport, such as hockey or soccer, the ability to cooperate with teammates and work together as a cohesive unit is essential for success.

Many professional athletes are required to pass drug tests.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition