Degrees Explained: Sports Science (or what to study if you want to be physician to gladiators)


The history of sports science dates back to before 210 AD, when Greek physician Claudius Galen performed some of the first research on improving health (proper nutrition), aerobic fitness and the strengthening of muscles.

The father of sports medicine was made physician to the gladiators in the Pergamon arena in Asia Minor and his methods then were published, according to Sports Medicine And Exercise Science.

Research on sports and physical activity has expanded monumentally since then, with the advent of the Gutenberg printing press and the mushrooming of universities. As early as the late 1800s, we see articles on physical activity appearing in the first volume of the American Journal of Physiology.

In our world of zumba and kale, health and wellness dominates the era, along with multi-billion dollar industries centred around professional sports and personal fitness. The UK fitness industry alone is worth £5 billion and Forbes estimates the worth of the North American sports industry to reach US$73.5 billion by 2019. There’s never been a time in which the pursuit of knowledge in sports science has seen such high demand.

Many universities offer degrees in this subject. The recently published Shanghai Global Ranking of Sports Science Schools and Departments 2018 selected and ranked more than 300 sport universities or sport-related units.

But what exactly does a degree in Sports Science entail?

As defined in Sports Science: A Complete Introduction, this is a discipline that applies scientific principles to explain sporting phenomena and provides a basis for improving the performance of teams and individuals. The discipline is relatively young and multidisciplinary, with biomechanics, physiology and psychology as its core subjects.

For example, first-year students at the UK’s Loughborough University learn the fundamentals of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, cell biology, structural kinesiology, biomechanics, motor control, skills acquisition and psychology. This is followed by the second year in which students tailor the course towards their interests and aspirations, such as Physiology of Excercise and Training; Biomechanics of Sport; or Motor Control and Motor Learning, to name a few.

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Prepare to get physical. Source: Shutterstock

In their final year, students specialise in two disciplines offered, delivered with more depth and in a multidisciplinary manner, helping students understand the contemporary scientific determinants of sport and exercise performance. There’s also a  Research Project (in a topic relevant to their development and programme) and a core module called “Integrated Professional and Applied Skills”.

Expect laboratory sessions as well (for modules like exercise physiology and biomechanics); practical sessions (in gyms and the likes); and independent research and study.

Entering the job market with a sports science degree means being qualified for the more than 200 jobs associated with the sports and fitness industry. According to QS, the career you end up in will depend on the field you choose to specialise in, as many require specialised skills and knowledge.

Some of the more common career pathways today include personal training, sports coaching, fitness centre management, physical education teaching and sports therapy.

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