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Careers in fitness: Get in the game

With Dubai in the grip of a month-long fitness challenge, Krita Coelho looks at the possibility of a career in sport

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Energy and a passion for the job matter if you wish to make a career in fitness, says Dubai-based Serbian expat and group exercise instructor Marija Nikolic
GN Focus

It may not set you on track to be the next Usain Bolt, or get you the lucrative position of managing a football club as Zinedine Zidane has, but the skills gained from a degree in sports science or sports management allows fitness enthusiasts to channel their passion into an exciting and fulfilling career.

Demand is growing for sports scientists and performance consultants as the UAE develops a greater awareness of health and fitness issues. Whether it is in the workplace or to train weekend warriors for a top sporting contest, your skills are likely to be highly sought after.

Most courses in the field should equip you with a good knowledge of the sports and exercise industry and enable you to look at the science behind fitness. They should also offer an understanding of related areas such as nutrition, psychology, management and finance.

Famous sports science graduates include Jürgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool Football Club, who studied at the University of Frankfurt; José Mourinho, manager of Manchester United, who’s got a degree in sports science from the Technical University of Lisbon and Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata, who’s pursued Sports Science and Marketing at Madrid’s Universidad Camilo José Cela.

Follow your passion

“I always knew sport and fitness is something I want to do every day in my life,” says Marija Nikolic, a group exercise instructor based in Dubai, who graduated as a sport professor from University of Sport and Physical Education in Belgrade, Serbia and has won awards locally. “Prior to my studies, I was national show dance champion in my country Serbia five times. When I was a child and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would say that I will go for DIF (Sport Science University).”

If you are passionate there are many ways to tailor your career to your interests. “Working in the industry and being a practitioner enables me to improve many aspects of people’s lives, which is a great feeling,” says Ruairidh McAndrew, an ex-international rugby player, competitive natural bodybuilder and powerlifter, who took up sports as he found it incredibly challenging and physically and mentally rewarding. A graduate of Stirling University in Scotland, McAndrew is now a strength and conditioning coach with Revolution Fitness in Dubai.
Because sports management or sports science degree programmes are still relatively new, many students are unsure whether to choose them as their majors. However, they are a great way to create a successful business career from an interest in sports.  “It’s no different than any other discipline of study,” 
says McAndrew. 

Where to study

In the UAE, the Higher Colleges of Technology in partnership with the University of Ulster, one of the UK’s top learning centres, offers a BSc (Hons) Applied Sport Management programme. Consisting of 29 courses, it aims at developing a full understanding of the challenges faced by global sport managers. 
The Master of Sport Management at American University in the Emirates (AUE), is another pioneering programme, combining coursework, research and practical experiences to foster innovative leaders in the industry.

Housed in the College of Business Administration, the sport management programme focuses on core business competencies practiced in the context of a growing sport market.

Internationally, students can look to Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies (SPS), which offers a Master’s in Sports Management. It focuses on global sports, sports analytics and digital sports media and marketing. It can be taken full-time or part-time, over three to eight terms.  
Several universities in the UK, Australia, Canada and Asia offer similar degrees. 

Explore avenues

Common career options include personal trainer, fitness instructor or leisure centre manager, but you could also be a PE teacher, or a sports therapist helping injured athletes get back on their feet.

Other career paths include being a sports administrator involved in funding and organising activities, events organiser, sports psychologist or health promotion specialist, or if you’re lucky even a top flight football club manager. 

According to job website Indeed.ae, the average salary for a fitness trainer in the UAE, estimated in the past 12 months, is Dh6,357 per month. 

Besides formal degrees, there are also certifications that can help you be more successful. Nikolic says, “There are lots of training providers in Dubai and they are all good. It doesn’t matter if you have a university degree or a long weekend course, it is the energy and passion that we have inside that matters. It is all about the impact we make, how we motivate and inspire people, and how we keep our knowledge updated. There is no recipe, as a trainer either you have it or you don’t.”

McAndrew says undertaking a strength and conditioning certification is where you’ll get great knowledge of sports performance. “Anyone wishing to enter the industry to learn and be successful needs to undertake their own learning. There’s nothing you cannot find on the internet. 

“The fitness industry is oversaturated (especially in Dubai), but if you’re willing to put in the work the rewards can be very high.”

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