If you ask a team of little league athletes what they want to be when they grow up, you'll probably receive many of the classic answers: firefighter, teacher, actress, astronaut or even President of the United States. But among them, you'd inevitably run into a handful who dream of continuing their sporty streak as professional athletes.
It's also true that many kids see that dream diminish as they grow older. That is because actually going pro is about as likely as sinking a full-court shot right at the buzzer—it could happen, but only about one in a million times. Just 2 percent of college football players eventually join a professional roster, while fewer than 1 percent of college basketball players go on to play for the NBA or WNBA.
But that doesn't mean all those years of sweat-soaked jerseys, locker room ice baths and early morning weight training sessions were wasted. Competitive athletes gain a number of valuable skills and characteristics along the way that prepare them for high-powered career success.
Take a look at six impactful career paths that can utilize your on-the-field expertise.
Exercise physiology is one of those career fields that many have heard of, but few actually know what it entails. To put it simply, exercise physiologists assess, plan and implement fitness programs for clients with a wide range of goals. Some plans are designed to improve cardiorespiratory function, some are aimed at establishing a healthy body composition and others focus on improving muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility.
It's not difficult to deduce why student-athletes would excel in this career. You've endured countless tough workouts, and now you can learn the science behind it all by earning a degree in the field.
The undergraduate exercise physiology degree path is required for approximately 32 percent of jobs in this field, while 57 percent call for master's degrees. The bachelor's track can also serve as a preliminary stepping stone for students who hope to continue on to graduate school for exercise physiology, physical therapy and other advanced healthcare professions.
It's no secret that competitive athletes become well-versed in both individual and team development on their quest to achieve peak physical fitness. While this learned skill set can translate into becoming an effective coach, it can also plant the seeds needed to blossom into an all-star athletic trainer.
Athletic trainers evaluate and advise clients to assist in recovery from or prevention of sports-related injuries. They work under the direction of a licensed physician and are responsible for the prevention, recognition, management and rehabilitation of athletic injuries. This includes crafting individual plans, caring for injuries, monitoring progress and helping clients remain in top physical form.
These healthcare pros work in a variety of different settings, including clinics, professional sports arenas, secondary schools, colleges and elsewhere. Roughly 72 percent of athletic training positions require a master's degree, while 25 percent call for a bachelor's degree.
MVPs are often people who not only demonstrate leadership skills on the field, but also strive to contribute to the greater good of the team off the field. Athletes strive for balance—mastering the demands of their sport, maintaining academic achievement and adhering to healthy dietary, exercise and sleep regimens is no easy feat!
That team-oriented mindset and drive to help their communities remain strong are traits that can effectively translate into a successful career as a social worker. Social workers strive to help people cope with challenges including difficult health diagnoses, family issues, financial instability, incarceration and everything in between. From assessing client needs to responding to crisis situations, these professionals protect the vulnerable by putting the needs of others first.
The education requirements for social workers vary based on the chosen specialty, but approximately 92 percent of healthcare social work positions call for master's degrees. There are also a number of bachelor-level positions, as well as post-baccalaureate and post-master's certificate opportunities.
Just as team captains facilitate support and development for their teammates under the supervision of the coach, in most cases physician assistants provide healthcare services to patients under the supervision of physicians. These healthcare professionals assume many of the same duties as a physician, such as conducting complete physicals, providing diagnoses, administering treatment plans and even counseling patients.
Physician assistants are masters of observation, they are problem solvers and they are proficient in caring for others, all while adhering to the requirements set in place by their supervising physicians. Roughly 50 percent of these positions require a master's degree, while 30 percent of entry-level physician assistant jobs call for a bachelor's in the field. However, it is expected that all entry-level positions will require a doctorate by the year 2020.
As an athlete, you're well-versed in pushing your body to the limits, but you've also probably learned a thing or two about rehabilitating bodily injuries. You may have even visited a physical therapist once or twice in your day.
Physical therapists are experts at assessing, planning, organizing and participating in rehabilitative programs that improve mobility, relieve pain, increase strength and improve or correct disabling conditions resulting from disease or injury. They also specialize in preventing serious injuries and their methods can minimize the need for expensive surgeries or long-term reliance on medications.
Approximately 39 percent of entry-level physical therapy positions require a master's degree, while 37 percent call for doctorate degrees. However, it is expected that all entry-level positions will require a doctorate by the year 2020.
Much like physical therapy, occupational therapy considers the physical aspects of rehabilitation and motion. Occupational therapists also assess, plan, organize and participate in rehabilitative programs, but their primary focus is on enabling patients to engage in the meaningful activities of life through therapeutic adaptations and modifications to their environments.
Some notable examples include assisting patients in regaining basic skills after suffering an injury, helping children with disabilities in participating fully in school or other social situations and providing environmental support for older adults experiencing bodily and cognitive changes. 71 percent of occupational therapists enter the field with master's degrees, although many entry-level positions will require a doctorate by 2025.
Knowing that only a small percentage of student athletes are successful in their pursuit of going pro is no reason to stop dreaming. Keep working hard, and you never know what could happen! But it is a comfort to learn that there is a wide range of other career paths that can benefit from everything you've learned throughout your athletic career.
Examine your personal skill set, determine which career path most piques your interest and get off the bench and go for it! For more information on these all-star sports-related professions, visit The College of St. Scholastica's School of Health Sciences page.
Do you want to learn more about St. Scholastica's four-time UMAC championship football team? Be sure to tune in as the Saints embark on their second season of "Inside the Huddle" on FOX Sports North. Click here for showtimes!