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Personal Training Boom Leads Kinesiology Comeback

Kevin Helliker of the Wall Street Journal reports on the growth of kinesiology programs, specifically their growth amongst student-athletes:

At the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology, freshman applications rose 30% last year, and for the last five years student athletes have represented about 20% of the school’s population—a percentage more than five times greater than the ratio of student athletes to the student body at large.

This trend is being driven by the growth of career opportunities in the fitness industry:

As the number of personal trainers has nearly doubled in the last decade, the largest contingent may have come from college sports. A recent survey by San Diego-based IDEA Health & Fitness, a world-wide association of 65,000 trainers and other health professionals, found that 23.5% of its fitness-training members were former college athletes.

This is a reversal of another recent trend that saw student-athletes pushed out of kinesiology programs by their increased popularity, especially at Michigan in particular:

It wasn’t until tougher standards for kinesiology’s sport management major were approved in 2002 that athletes shifted in large numbers from kinesiology to LS&A and its general studies program. In 2003, general studies surpassed sport management as the most common course of study among football players.

“Kinesiology” is such a broad, almost catch-all term that it is hard to say what the program even entails. If someone says they are majoring in kinesiology, they could be studying any of the following:

  • Sports marketing and management
  • Sports journalism (print or broadcast)
  • Exercise science
  • Athletic training
  • Biomechanics
  • Coaching
  • Physical education
  • Nutrition
  • Fitness training

Kinesiology also gets lumped in with other recreation majors like recreational sports management, tourism, or natural resource and park management. All these majors are often part of a larger, even more diverse school within a university like Health, Physical Education and Recreation, Applied Human Sciences, or a School of Public Health.

Many of these programs are still difficult for student-athletes to break into because of inflexible schedules, competitive admissions, and strict degree paths. Some are deliberately kept very small despite demand from students, particularly athletes, in order to have enough internship and job opportunities.

So this article should not be seen as a regression of kinesiology majors to their previous function as a “safe harbor” for athletes. And it should not be seen as a general movement amongst kinesiology programs to accommodate athletes in majors they are more likely to be interested in than the general student population. Instead explosive growth in one particular area has reversed or masked a general trend that should still be a concern for universities, athletics departments, and the NCAA.

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