Editor's musings: Show me the money
Updated: May 19
When you chose to enter into sport science as a career, I hope you weren’t expecting glitz and glamour. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty cool job, but you’re not going to be regularly dining on caviar. Perhaps there are a few people who will make it big as sport scientists, S&C’s, etc., but those people are outliers. It’s ok though, just because you aren’t a sport scientist for Arsenal or Chelsea doesn’t mean you’re not making it. I don’t think everyone is cut out for that kind of environment anyway, and working with amateurs or schools can be very rewarding… as long as it pays the bills.
Last year, there was a social media outcry about an unpaid internship position that was advertised by the IRFU. Justifiable, especially when the successful applicant would be required to work a 40hr week. It’s not a problem exclusive to sport science, but it’s a problem that seems to be effecting this generation more. We need experience to get a job, but don’t get jobs because we don’t have experience. The internship can be a valuable tool in breaking the cycle, but for the love of all that is good, the poor interns should be paid something. There’s nothing novel about suggesting this, so why am I bringing it up? Survival…
Everyone has bills to pay and mouths to feed, but new graduates will often have student loans and other debt to pay off. It is critical that they start generating income before they impoverish themselves and their family, but when I graduated I wasn’t aware of too many jobs for sport scientists. I don’t recall seeing any internships advertised, and due to personal reasons at the time I was limited as to where I could look for work. Nor did I have access to helpful placement pages such as Strength & Conditioning Vacancies. I recall it being a terrifying time. I thought I’d gain some insight into the state of sport science in South Africa from a financial perspective, with two main questions.
Will I find a job as a sport scientists or similar role?
South Africa’s national unemployment rate was 27.1% at the end of 2018. Not inspiring when you compare it to first world countries like the USA (3.8%), UK (4.2%), or Australia (4.8%). So in general, jobs are not plentiful, and my guess is that this figure would be similar for sport scientists or S&Cs jobs. It’s difficult to know what’s actually out there, especially because getting a job can be a lot to do with who you know. However, in an attempt to quantify potential sport science or S&C jobs, I’ll use my hometown of Port Elizabeth as the first example. There aren’t many schools that could afford to employ a sport scientist or S&C (I can think of maybe 7 high schools). There is a pro cricket team, a pro rugby team, the university, and probably one or two small businesses that train swimmers, tri-athletes and the like. So with a generous estimate of 2 employees per institution or company, that leaves us with 24 potential sport science or S&C roles in good ol’ PEasy. Considering the greater Cape Town area (Paarl and Stellenbosch included), I come up with 18 high schools, 4 universities, a pro cricket team, a pro rugby team, 2 pro football teams, and a high performance centre. Again, 2 employees per institution, and we get an estimated 54 sport scientist or S&C roles*. Not a lot if you consider that people tend to hang onto their jobs and every year there are new graduates entering the workforce.
*As an aside, the roles of sport scientist or S&C aren’t entirely interchangeable, and if you aren’t sure of the differences then you don’t have to look far (click here).
How much will I be able to earn?
In short, probably not very much. I hope you like lentils as much as I do. Alternatively, find a partner with great career prospects. Whimsical jokes aside, the information contained in tables 1 and 2 make for some interesting reading, but please keep in mind that these are estimates. A good starting point would be to note the lowest estimated monthly income for the professions and compare it to your current cost of living. Something you’ll have to ascertain by doing a budget for yourself or your family. You’ll then have to figure out how you’ll survive if you were to earn R6 583p.m., and your cost of living is R19 000p.m. It’s not uncommon for sport scientists and S&Cs to have multiple jobs to make ends meet.
It’s interesting to note that a sport scientist with a Master’s degree has an estimated lower income ceiling (table 1). It’s seems a bit weird, but I can perhaps make out some logic here. For instance, while I was studying a very specific and niche topic for my Master’s (and working 3 part-time non-sport science jobs), someone else was getting hands-on experience in the work place. I’m not sure why this doesn’t seem to be the case for S&C, but as the classic line goes, “further research is required”.
The estimates in table 2 are probably a bit high, as I calculated my cost of living for Cape Town to be less than what is shown. So don’t despair entirely, but take note of these estimates when looking at jobs and salary.
Not everyone who graduates with a degree is guaranteed a job, and those who get jobs might not necessarily be working in their desired field because there aren’t enough jobs or they can’t live off the offered salary. At the end of the day, whether you’re a graduate, intern, or between jobs, you’ve got to earn enough to survive. It’s only through luck and a lot of support from family that I’m still involved with sport. To close, I’ve thought up some tips for sport scientists or S&Cs:
Get used to working hard
Don’t just study – get a part-time or volunteer job that affords relevant experience
Be aware of and understand your financial situation
Accept that you might have to move to a place you don’t want to for a job
Actively appreciate those who support you – you are going to need them
Network as much as possible
Studying further isn’t necessarily a wise move
Stats SA. Unemployment drops in fourth quarter of 2018. (2019). at http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=11897#
International Monetary Fund. Unemployment rate. (2019) at https://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/LUR@WEO/OEMDC/ADVEC/WEOWORLD
Cost of Living > South Africa > City name > Estimator. at www.numbeo.com