Friday, March 17, 2017

Which professionals for sport (1)?: For a common platform.

Which professionals for sport (1)?: For a common platform.
Dr. Gilles Klein, 17 March 2017


Last week, concerning youth lifestyles, I mentioned the importance of the professionals’ role. The sportsperson's motivation is often formed during a physical education class, at primary or secondary school. I remember a physical education teacher who wrote in his logbook: “Dupont de Nemours invented the Fosbury style”. He suggested then that industrial technology, in that case, polyurethane foam, shapes the development of sports techniques. It was the case for the high jump. It was also the case for the pole vault: bamboo, then metal, then fiberglass.


A couple of years before, this physical education teacher taught us the high jump. Back in the early 1960s, it was a big class in a gym created within a 17th-century building. There was no sand landing pit. All the pupils held a tarpaulin to allow a supple landing and protect the jumpers. Everyone left his position to take his jump in turn and then come back to soften the next person's landing.  Valeriy Brumel was our model who, age 18, won the silver medal at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960, before becoming the Olympic champion in Tokyo four years later. He jumped using a “ventral style”. Landing on sand was quite harsh. Landing on the tarpaulin held by our comrades allowed us to test out any innovation, even trying the “dorsal style”. We were Brumel without pain. We were Fosbury before Fosbury.


The athletes’ performance depends on his/her talent, his/her ability to train, to endure effort. His/her initial motivation owes much to the physical activity professional or volunteer who provides him/her with good advice at the right moment, who gives him/her the desire to come to training again next week, to the staff member who reassures him/her and contributes to the socialization process. What exactly are we talking about when we discuss professionalization or volunteering in sport? In the 2000s, our European study [1] thoroughly investigated the issue. We differentiated between sports professions and sports-related professions.

Sports professions

Sports professional means a person who does physical activity in return for remuneration or who directly supervises this activity. Five types of professions are identified. Professional sports people/athletes: as mentioned, 50,000 in a limited number of sports, depending on the sporting events. Sports officials: 1,000 referees, judges, timekeepers supervise the conduct of sports competitions. Sports activity leaders: 100,000 use sport as a means of getting to specific population groups (elderly people, disabled, young people, etc.). Sports instructors: 450,000 who teach one or more specific sports activities to groups who learn from scratch or wish to develop their abilities. Sports coaches; 150,000 responsible for systematic performance in a given sport.

Sports related professions

Now we come to the related professions. The European observatory of sports employment provides a list. Their characteristics: high level of competence. High level of institutionalization: for example, professional syndicates, specific training, etc. Nine main functions are listed: managers; sports physicians; physical education teachers; journalists and other communication specialists; physiotherapists; agents or promoters of events or sportspeople; sellers of sports goods, sports facilities’ caretakers or maintenance workers.


These professions become more and more specialized. For example, coaches: specialization for competition with physical and mental trainers or for beginners and non-competing players. The work organization varies across the countries. For instance, three categories. Managers: high rate in the UK, 21.3% compared to 5.6% in Portugal. Coaches: 52.2% in Belgium compared to 11.6% in Finland. Reception and maintenance staff: high rate in Finland.


However, let us go back to what is essential to my mind. To whom are we referring when mentioning the relationship between a physical activity specialist and a young person. What are the professions which are essential for education and training of a young sportsman/woman? The quality of this relation is based on about fifteen professions distributed across four professional areas of the sports industry.


It’s obvious. A medal at the Olympic Games owes much to the relationship between the athlete and his/her coach. This professional qualification divides into two sectors: participation and competition. The profession of sports oriented participation coach subdivides itself into two functions: Coach for the beginners. Coach for the participants. The profession of coach for the performance-oriented athletes also subdivides itself into two functions. Coach for talented athletes. Coach for full-time high-performance athletes. Each of these jobs – or roles – subdivides into four levels of competencies. Apprentice-coach; coach, senior coach, head coach.

Physical education

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the physical education teacher is the most traditional sports-related job. The physical education teacher holds three teacher’s roles. To teach a curriculum which includes a diversity of physical activities. To teach and promote health education and active, sporty and civic lifestyles. To teach and run school sport. There are several possible specializations of the job. For example, secondary school specialist teacher or generalist teaching several subject matters. But also: adviser, supervisor, one in charge of school sports, inspector, program designer, the one responsible for physical education policy.


Worldwide sport is based on volunteering. Volunteers manage the clubs’ finances, seek to recruit new licensees, contribute to the life in the federations. These are tasks that must be supervised by professionals. Four professions are essential for now and the future as well: local sports manager or sports director in a municipality; manager or president of an amateur or professional sports club; manager or president of a national federation; manager or director of a health and fitness facility.

Health and fitness

Physical inactivity is the cause of 6% of worldwide mortality. Health and fitness are a matter of lifelong learning. This sports industry’s area subdivides into two sectors and four professions. The area of Health-Related Exercise to maximize health, prevent and/or treat disease under medical supervision includes two professions: the Health-Related Exercise Instructor/Specialist. Two. The Public Health Promoter. The area of Fitness to enhance individual fitness levels and wellness, and to prevent disease in the healthy and adult population defines two professions: the Advanced Gym Instructor / Personal Trainer. Two. The Health and Fitness Manager

Global Coaching initiative

I mentioned it in the article dedicated to technologies applied to physical activity. Following Bill Gates, we shall consider that an important part of education and training in coaching, physical education, health and fitness and management will become digital. The relation between an adult and a young person won't disappear. Despite communication that became fragile, ephemeral and versatile due to social networks, the relation between teacher and student will remain an indispensable link for motivation in sport. But the numeric tools will increasingly assist the relation. That is why our intergovernmental organization conceived a platform and an app that will allow physical activity professionals, notably the fifteen mentioned professions, but also the general public, to exchange advice, courses, coaching plans, nutrition programs and other kinds of products.


In Africa, mobile phones became an unavoidable solution for phoning and accessing the Internet due to worn out land lines and difficulty in having access to computers. Our platform and its apps shall not focus on an exclusive occidental audience, neither forgetting the specific situation of the African professionals of physical activity and sport. In the article “The floating coffins of the Mediterranean” I highlighted the need to develop sports in the developing countries (DC), as a means to keep in the countries young people who are able to find jobs in that sector. To do that, the platform and its apps shall be adapted to the professions on the African agenda. That is why, in the second episode, we will address the sports professions and related professions in DCs and the great work done by the Conference of the French-speaking Ministers of sport (CONFEJES).

[1] Petry K.; Froberg K.; Madella A.; Tokarski W.; 2008, Higher Education Education in Sport in Europe, From Labour Market Demand to Training Supply, Maidenhead, Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.

Next: 24 March 2017 – Which professionals for sports (2)? : The case of developing countries.

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