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Athletes maintain a high degree of expertise in their particular sport. This involves regular training and practice sessions in preparation for high level sports competitions.
Competition is strong in all fields and so high levels of fitness and skill along with a positive mental attitude is essential. Athletes usually commit most of their time to their sport and learn to prioritise their essential activities, often forgoing many social and outside interests. Travel is essential in most sports areas and for many athletes, obtaining and maintaining professional equipment is part of their role.
In Australia an athlete or sports person is classified as either a professional (paid) or an amateur (unpaid) athlete. Only some sports in Australia pay professional athletes and there are differences between female and male sports with this regard. Some sports institutes like the Australian Institute of Sport offer sports scholarships and specialist training programs to promising athletes. If an athlete reaches the height of their sport or is showing strong promise, corporate sponsorship is possible. In these cases, a willingness to undertake promotional activities, demonstrations and television appearances is essential. Many sports people supplement their incomes by having either full-time or part-time employment in related or other areas.
Not all athletes will achieve their sporting goals due to a variety of factors. It is advisable for athletes to have a backup career plan. Tertiary qualifications are not necessary to become an athlete but can be used by athletes as their backup or retirement plan.
See the Australian Sports Commission brochure on Athlete and Career Education.