Dr. Hans E. Ulrich: Sport and career


Life after an athletic career is something that needs to be taken into careful consideration; however, many athletes lack a sense of orientation in everyday working life in order to effectively plan “the career after their career”.

Winston Churchill made things easy for himself when he coined the universal saying “No sports”. It’s true to say that many sports such as football, horse riding, skiing are deemed particularly injury-prone activities. Then again, sport has for a long time played an essential role in maintaining health and compensates for the different dynamics of modern working life. But it is precisely in high-class competitive sports or amongst professional athletes that injuries are a common everyday scenario. A survey conducted by Saarland University from 2004/2005 ascertained that the rate of injury for all football league teams stood at 83 per cent (Tim Meyer)!

It therefore comes as no surprise that professional athletes can say goodbye to their career quicker than what many may expect. But even if their bones remain intact, the majority of athletes are still faced with career and financial woes once their sports careers are over, which can ultimately lead to disaster if they have failed to plan their professional careers early on. Only 10 per cent of all professional football players can live off the money accrued during their successful years, whereas 25 per cent encounter debt at the end of their careers, ac­­­cording to the Vereinigung der Vertragsfußballspieler (VDV) association. And those who are not a professional or do not attract much attention as an Olympic champion in the minority sports need to devote time and energy to their education and career, alongside their sports training and competitions. 91 per cent of a cadre of top-class athletes within the Deutsche Sporthilfe (German Sports Aid Foundation) feel they have not done enough in preparation for the period after their sports career (Handelsblatt 10/2014).


Sports legends such as Britta Heidemann or Oliver Kahn easily master the art of seamlessly intertwining their sports career with a brilliant professional career. However those top athletes who are unknown have a very difficult time, although competitive athletes are particularly suitable for positions in commerce due to their specific character traits and personalities, such as discipline, engagement and social skills, as determined in a survey of 1,000 athletes conducted by EBS Uni­­versity (Oestrich-Winkel 2013). Nonetheless, most ath­letes dream about pur­suing careers in sport management, preferably at Bayern Mu­­nich or Schalke 04.

These jobs are scarce and rarely crop up within German sport associations, primar­­ily due to the fact that most of these associations in Ger­many –amounting to approximately 90,000 – are too small to be able to afford a full-time sports manager. In the Freiburger Kreis – the largest association of German sports societies – there are only 154 clubs registered that are able to afford a paid managing director. In contrast, professional football, ice hockey, basketball and handball clubs employ approximately 50,000 people. There are many reasons for establishing a professional mindset and approach among German amateur clubs, too. The members’ growing demands for comfort and quality within the clubs offerings clashes with the increasing unwillingness to voluntarily engage in club work. Clubs are increasingly being regarded as “service providers”. Managerial expertise is necessary in order to use scarce funds in an economically appropriate manner, on the one hand, and to obtain more funding, on the other; for example by acquiring more subsidies, sponsorship money, marketing measures, and, where appropriate, by merchandising and fundraising amongst other things.

There are attractive designations such as sports or club manager for basic and advanced training courses, which are offered via state sports associations and private educational institutions. Universities in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), in particular the globally recognised German Sport University in Cologne as well as the IST-Hochschule für Management in Düsseldorf, which was founded in 2013, are leading players in providing fundamental, academic qualifications in the field of sports science and sports economics. The IST-Hochschule (a university of applied sciences) plays a particular leading role in this field because it builds on a variety of diverse sport-specific advanced training courses offered by the IST Studieninstitut (study institution) since 1989 in areas including sport management, sport marketing, sport sponsorship through to football management and golf course management. IST’s wealth of success specifically in sport also stems from the fact that a distance method of training is implemented in the institution, which is monitored by the state’s central office for distance learn­­ing (Zentralstelle für Fern­unterricht) in Cologne. This method of learning is also optimally tailored to the needs of ath­letes. The combination of distance learning course books and variable seminars has proven to be an outstanding teaching method for participants who have fixed training periods and must complete na­­tional and international competitions, as well as being frequently in­­volved in work engagements, as the courses allow them to work flexibly at the times that are the most convenient for them – whether it be in the evening, at the week­­end, on the train, at the airport or on holiday.


Many sportspersons, among them well-known faces like Michael Preetz or Fredi Bobic, have benefited from such courses on a professional level. Beach volleyball Olympic champion Julius Brings was one of the first to enrol on a course as a student at the IST-Hoch­schule for the Bachelor degree in Sport Business Management. He benefits from the further development of learning methods introduced at the IST. In addition to the course books and seminars, there are now online lectures and tutorials available, which offer learners the opportunity to interactively review their learning success and consult the professors in virtual classrooms. At the Schwanenhöfe campus in Düsseldorf, the IST even runs its own film studio where lectures and learning videos are produced and made available to the students.

Learning in the most flexible way possible is of course what distinguishes these study programmes. However, completing a degree still does not mean direct access to a professional career. Embarking on a career is considered a particularly difficult endeavour. A recent IST sports congress on the topic “Entry into the Sports Business Sector” gave around 100 participants the chance to gain tips on a career in this professional field from practitioners from the association and agency world. Some were also offered the chance of “speed dating” sessions with potential employers. And those who did not have the time to come to Düsseldorf could still participate in the event using online streaming from their office or study room, for example. Approximately 1,000 people made use of this time and money-saving innovation in order to find out about potential earnings of sport managers, future markets in sport business and successful networking.

However, networking is not everything. The Deutsche Sporthilfe is attempting to mediate between companies and top athletes, forming so-called mentor pairs. However, just like in real life, this matchmaking does not always work out as well. By now, only one couple has got together. True love has its own set of rules.

Foto-®Anké-Hunscha-kopierenDr. Hans E. Ulrich
The author holds a doctorate in sport and social sciences and founded the IST-Studieninstitut in 1989. He has also been the president of the nationally accred­ited IST-Hochschule für Management in Düsseldorf since 2013. Both companies have always been characterised by innovative and flexible educational pro­grammes with a focus on fascinating future-orientated industries. Ulrich explores multifunctional leisure facilities from a business perspective in his book “Freizeit und Rendite”.