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Sport and Active Leisure

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Leisure Centre Assistants

No formal qualifications but some employers may ask for GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications, in English and maths and possibly a science subject. Apprenticeships in active leisure and learning may be available.

For poolside work lifesaving qualifications are essential. There are basic lifesaving courses for waterside helpers, as well as full lifeguard qualifications, such as the Institute of Qualified Lifeguards' National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) and the Swimming Teachers' Association (STA) National Rescue Standard (NaRS) qualifications.

Other qualifications that improve the chances of getting a job as a leisure centre assistant include:

  • certificates in first aid and pool plant operations
  • National Governing Body Coaching Awards
  • NVQs in coaching, teaching and instructing or instructing exercise and fitness.

To work with children or vulnerable adults, applicants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).

Leisure Centre Managers

The qualifications to become a trainee or assistant manager include:

  • at 16 to 17: five GCSEs grades A*-C or an NVQ Level 2 in sport, recreation and allied occupations: operational services, or the Diploma in sport and active leisure. Apprenticeships in active leisure and learning may be available
  • at 18: five GCSEs grades A*-C and A levels, or a BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in sport, or an NVQ Level 3 in leisure management or the Advanced Diploma in sport and active leisure. Apprenticeships in active leisure and learning may be available
  • after higher education: a foundation degree, Higher National Diploma or degree in a subject such as sport and leisure management, or sports science
  • after a degree in any subject: a postgraduate qualification in a subject such as sport or leisure management.

As a guide, minimum requirements for entry onto a foundation degree or Higher National Diploma course are normally one A level and three to four GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent; for a degree course, the minimum requirements are normally two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C), usually to include English and maths, or equivalent.

Experience of leisure centre work is important before applying for any full-time post. This may be gained through either part-time or voluntary work, for example on summer holiday schemes for children, or as a part-time instructor of fitness classes.

Having a current First Aid at Work Certificate, National Pool Lifeguard Qualification, Fitness Instructor (Level 2), or other coaching qualifications, is an advantage.


To work as a pool lifeguard, a candidate must be aged at least 16, physically fit and a strong swimmer. They must hold one of the following qualifications:

  • the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) which is awarded by the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS). Courses are run at local pools and approved training centres. It is divided into two units, life saving and swimming pool supervision (including rescue and first aid), and the application of supervision and rescue skills in the workplace
  • the Swimming Teachers' Association (STA) Level 2 Certificate for the National Rescue Standard - Pool Lifeguard. The award takes 40 hours which may be undertaken as an intensive course or spread over a longer period.

No formal academic qualifications but some employers may ask for GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications, in English and maths and possibly a science subject. Apprenticeships in active leisure and learning may be available

To work as a beach lifeguard, candidates must be aged at least 18 and have either:

  • the National Beach Lifeguard Qualification or Assistant Beach Lifesaver Award from the RLSS
  • the National Rescue Standard Beach Lifeguard Awards run through clubs by the Surf Life Saving Association of Great Britain. It trains beach lifeguards in beach- and sea-rescue techniques and in managing and supervising beaches.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) also trains beach lifeguards. Their selection for training involves a fitness test.

Health and Fitness Instructors

In health and fitness, Level 2 is the industry accepted minimum qualification for Fitness Instructors and Exercise to Music Teachers There is a register of exercise professionals for which fitness instructors need current insurance and an approved national qualification, such as an NVQ or a related vocational qualification at Level 2 or above, such as:

  • Active IQ Level 2 Certificate in fitness instructing
  • Central YMCA Qualification (CYQ) Certificate in fitness instructing.

More than one quarter of the fitness workforce hold honours degrees as their

If working with children or vulnerable adults, health and fitness instructors will need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau.

Outdoor Activities Instructors

Applicants must be at least 18 years old (and over 21 if they are required to drive a minibus). To work with children or vulnerable adults, applicants need to undergo appropriate checks. All instructors need a first aid certificate and those teaching water sports also need a lifesaving qualification.

There are no set academic qualifications but you will need two or more proficiency or coaching awards in relevant outdoor sports from the National Governing Bodies (NGBs) for the sport - for example:

  • British Canoe Union Level 1 Coach
  • Mountain Leaders Training UK (MLTUK) Single Pitch Award (SPA)
  • MLTUK Walking Group Leader Award
  • Sports Leaders UK Basic Expedition Leadership Award (BEL)
  • MLTUK Summer Mountain Leader (ML)
  • Royal Yachting Association Dinghy Instructor.

A number of centres across the UK offer full-time courses which lead to NGB awards. A full list of training providers is available on the Institute for Outdoor Learning website.

Professional Sport

Entry requirements are mainly based on talent and dedication for the sport chosen. Boxing and horse racing also have very specific height and/or weight requirements.

SkillsActive has an Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE), leading to an NVQ Level 3 in achieving excellence in sports performance, a technical certificate most appropriate to their back up career and Functional Skills. AASE entrants must be aged 16 to 18. The AASE currently operates across many sports, including football, rugby union, cricket, tennis, diving, water polo and swimming. With the AASE, it may then be possible to study a sports related degree,

The Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) is a government-funded programme, making it easier for young people to pursue sporting careers whilst continuing in higher and further education in England. Awards, worth up to £3,500 are made to athletes aged 16 to 24 (up to the age of 35 for disabled athletes). TASS 2012 Scholarships, worth up to £10,000 a year, are available to people with the potential to be a medallist in the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Applicants are usually nominated by their sport's NGB.

SportsAid also awards grants to English sportspeople in genuine financial need, aged between 12 and 18 and nominated by their NGB. Some universities sponsor athletes to continue training whilst studying.

Sport and Exercise Scientist

A degree in sport and exercise science is normally required, although it is not necessary to have any particular aptitude for sport. It may also be possible to enter this career with a degree in a related subject, such as psychology or physical education.

Most colleges and universities expect at least three A levels, including a science - often biology - and five GCSEs (A*-C) including maths and English. Access courses may be available as a way of preparing for a degree course. Foundation degrees in sport science are also available.

It is also possible to do a postgraduate course in sport and exercise science after gaining a degree in a biological science or a related subject.

BTEC National and Higher National qualifications in sport and exercise sciences may be accepted for entry to sport science degrees. However, applicants are strongly recommended to check entry requirements with individual institutions. Many courses are modular, which gives an opportunity to specialise from an early stage.

To work with children or vulnerable adults, applicants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).

Sports Coach

All sports coaches must have a qualification recognised by the appropriate National Governing Body (NGB) for a particular sport. There are two ways to gain a coaching/instructing qualification:

  • through the NGB for the relevant sport
  • a college or university course.

NGB qualifications, which correspond to NVQs Levels 1 to 4, are usually studied part time. No academic qualifications are required, except for golf. Trainee golf coaches must have four GCSEs (A*-C).

Relevant college/university courses include:

  • Degrees in coaching, sports science, sports studies, movement studies and physical education. Entry is usually with two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C) usually including English and maths or equivalent qualifications
  • A foundation degree in sport coaching (often with sport development). Entry requirements vary
  • BTEC HNC/HND in leisure studies with a sports coaching option. Some include NGB awards. Students need one A level and four GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications
  • BTEC national certificate/diploma courses which can be studied part time or full time. Applicants need four or five GCSEs usually including English.

Coaches in professional sport are often ex-professional sportspeople who have gained coaching qualifications. Others have experience of helping out with sports clubs for young people and a keen interest in the game.

A first aid certificate may be required. To work with children, a CRB (criminal records bureau) clearance may be necessary 

Sports Development Officer

Applicants usually have a first degree in sports development, sports studies, sports science, health and exercise sciences, physical education, or recreation/leisure management.

Entry to degree courses usually requires at least two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications.

Some have postgraduate qualifications in subjects such as sports studies, health and exercise sciences or leisure management. Entry would be with a first degree, not necessarily in a sport-related subject.

Other qualifications may be accepted including:

  • a BTEC National Award in sport (development and fitness): students need four GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications
  • Higher National Certificate/Diploma (HNC/D) in sports science, recreation studies, leisure management and leisure studies, or in sports coaching with sports development: applicants usually need one A level and four GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications
  • NVQs at Level 2 in sport, recreation and allied occupations: coaching, teaching and instructing; or sport, recreation and allied occupations: activity leadership, are useful qualifications
  • NVQs at Levels 3 and 4 in operations and development include units specific to sports development
  • SkillsActive and the National Association for Sports Development (NASD) are currently developing a new range of qualifications, including a new NVQ Level 3 in sports development
  • Many jobs also specify two years' experience in sports development, and most entrants have experience of voluntary or paid work in coaching, or organising sport at a leisure centre, summer school or holiday camp.

Apprenticeships in active leisure and learning are available.

To work with children or vulnerable adults, applicants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).



For more information about the courses on offer locally for 14-19 year olds why visit your local area prospectus? -

For courses in higher education check out the UCAS site

For Apprenticeships see the vacancies on the National Apprenticeship website

You can also ring the Barnsley Connexions Centre for information on local Apprenticeships on 01226 205686

Want to find out more about the range of employability skills asked for by employers?