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Professional SportspersonAlternative titles

Kaiwhakataetae Ngaio

This job is sometimes referred to as:

Harness Driver

Professional sportspeople take part in competitive national and international sports such as rugby, cricket, golf, horse racing, and tennis, or may be employed as lifeguards.

Contact us

Call us on 0800 222 733

What are the chances of getting a job?


Chances of getting a job as a professional sportsperson are poor, because competition is extremely high.

Team sports with professional leagues offer the greatest amount of paid, full-time opportunities.

Opportunities may also be better for lifeguards, who work professionally at swimming pools and beaches, as well as competing in surf lifesaving events.

Number of professional sportspeople increasing

The number of professional sportspeople fluctuates regularly due to changes in sports funding and seasonal sports cycles.

According to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates, the number of professional sports people  increased over the last few years. This is due to the growth of domestic netball and rugby competitions, and increased government funding for Olympic sports.

Though opportunities for professional sportspeople in New Zealand have increased, jobs are still limited because:

  • few professional sports leagues exist in New Zealand
  • government funding is limited
  • competition for positions is extremely high.

Consequently, most paid sportspeople are semi-professional, earning some money from sport, and working a second job to make a living.

Career as a professional sportsperson may be short

Professional sportspeople tend to have a limited amount of time in their career. For example, the average career in rugby lasts about five years due to the physical nature of the sport. Careers in less physically intensive sports, such as golf and horse racing, are usually longer.

Types of employers varied

Professional sportspeople may be:

  • employed by professional sports teams or leagues
  • self-employed, and earn a living from a combination of competition prize money, scholarships and sponsorship/advertising.

Sports that employ significant numbers of professional sportspeople in teams or leagues include:

  • rugby
  • cricket
  • netball.

Sportspeople who participate in Olympic sports are also more likely to be semi-professional, as some of these sports receive targeted funding from government.


  • High Performance Sport New Zealand website. accessed November 2013, (www.hpsnz.org.nz).
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), accessed November 2013.
  • New Zealand Institute of Sport website, accessed November 2013, (www.nzis.co.nz).
  • Sport New Zealand website, accessed November 2013, (www.sportnz.co.nz).

Current vacancies

Senior Lifeguard Listed: 19 Dec 2014 Southland

Other vacancy websites

Progression and specialisations

Professional sportspeople follow a variety of paths when they retire from professional sport. Many go on to unrelated work, though others stay in the sports and recreation industry working as coaches, sports managers, administrators or commentators.

Professional sportspeople usually specialise in a particular sport, such as rugby, rugby league, tennis or cricket. Other specialisations include:

Footballers play as part of a team in football competitions or tournaments.
Golfers compete for money and prizes in golf tournaments. They may also act as a resident professional in golf schools and clubs.
Harness Driver
Harness drivers drive a horse from a sulky (a light cart), which is towed behind the horse in harness races.
Jockeys ride racehorses at race meetings, trial meetings, jump outs and for track work.
Lifeguards are responsible for the safety of people at swimming pools and beaches. They may also educate the public on water safety.

How many people are doing this job?

Year 2012
Year 2011
Year 2010
Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.

Updated 11 Nov 2013