Sports Scientist

Sports scientists assist sportspeople to achieve the best possible sporting performance, by applying knowledge and techniques from the areas of medicine, physiology, biomechanics (the study of human movement), nutrition, psychology and physiotherapy/massage.

Sports scientists may devise treatment and exercise programmes to assist sportspeople to return to training or competition. They design or assist in designing training programmes for sportspeople to improve their sporting performances without injuring themselves, or to strengthen particular areas of the body. They may refer clients to medical and paramedical specialists such as orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists, physiotherapists and sports podiatrists.

Dieticians plan diets for athletes so they will consume the correct balance of foods needed for strenuous or extended physical activity. Dieticians liaise with athletes and coaches to implement maximally effective nutritional programmes. See also separate entry for Dietician.

Physiotherapists treat and assist in the rehabilitation of most muscle, ligament and joint injuries. They may use manual means or electrical apparatus to stimulate damaged muscle tissue, and may restore the full range of limb movement by stretching or mobilising techniques. (See also separate entry for Physiotherapist.)

Sports medicine practitioners are concerned with the treatment and prevention of sporting injuries caused by sporting accidents or overuse. They may monitor sporting performances and provide on-site medical treatment. Sports Medicine Practitioners also diagnose injuries and devise treatment programmes to assist sports people to return to training or competition. (See also separate entry for Medical Practitioner.)

Sports podiatrists analyse abnormalities in the structure of athletes’ feet or in their manner of walking. They are responsible for designing orthotics devices placed in the shoe to redistribute the load on the foot. See also separate entry for Podiatrist.

Sports trainers usually see an injured athlete at the time of injury. They determine whether an injury is minor or potentially severe, and aid in applying appropriate first aid and minimising the damage to injured tissues. Sports trainers also assist in pre-exercise preparation, including pre-event bandaging and massage.

Sports psychologists specialise in helping top sportspeople to realise their full potential and to overcome negative blocks in their mindsets. (See separate entry for Psychologist.)

Sports scientists often attend training sessions and sporting fixtures to monitor sporting performances as well as working in an office or testing laboratory. They have a high level of contact with the public.

Many professionals working in sports medicine are self-employed and may subcontract their services. Clients include professional and social sportspeople.
Sports scientists may work as health consultants, fitness consultants, or as rehabilitation consultants. In some instances, they work on a voluntary basis as members of sporting clubs.

Personal Requirements

  • interest in competitive sport
  • interest in medicine or the sciences
  • good powers of observation
  • pay attention to detail and accuracy
  • problem-solving skills
  • able to plan, organise and coordinate
  • good communication skills, especially verbal
  • get on well with people
  • natural ability to motivate and inspire others

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

  • National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
  • National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course
Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Compulsory Subjects will depend on degree course to be undertaken

What to Study

To become a sports scientist usually requires the completion of a degree relevant to the chosen field of specialisation. Relevant areas of specialisation include nutrition, physiotherapy, medicine, exercise physiology and exercise science. Degrees in these areas are available at most universities.


  • sports institutes
  • sporting clinics
  • health studios
  • sporting associations.
  • self-employment, as health consultants, fitness consultants, or as rehabilitation consultants in own specialised practice

Further Information

Sports Science Institute of South Africa SSISA
Private Bag X5
Newlands, 7725
Tel: (021) 659-5600

Getting Started

  • familiarise yourself with the human body and its functions and learn as much as possible about nutritional matters
  • develop an interest in all kinds of sport and take a first aid course
  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work as an assistant to a sports scientist, even if unpaid
  • speak to a sports scientist about this career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

Study Biokinetics at UFS

Study Sports Science at Stellenbosch University

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