How to practice sports at a high level?

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What is high level sport?

High performance sport is defined by a maximum level of competence in a specific sport discipline, regulated by a charter based on the principles of sports ethics.) Its criteria are based on well established elements:

  • an exhaustive list of high-level athletes
  • access to high-level disciplines
  • recognized high-level sports disciplines
  • universal reference competitions

The sport is practiced in competition at a national or international level. The definition of high performance sport is characterized by the recognition of internationally representative disciplines such as the Olympic or Paralympic Games, which constitute a reference in this area. Thus, all the disciplines entered in this competition are recognized as high level. Globally, all sports that can represent the image of France abroad are recognized as high level, through their universal and international character.

High-level sport competitions are included in the calendar of sports federations and intrinsically lead to a world reference ranking, whether they are European or international. It is the Ministry of Sports that registers players as high level athletes if they practice a discipline considered as such.

Within sports teams, technical directors or coaches select athletes according to their level to integrate them into teams to participate in competitions. Their registrations are made every year on November 1st (for summer sports) and July 1st (for winter sports) according to the suggestions of the national technical directors of the sports federations.

There are 6 categories of high level athletes.

  • Elite : Players classified in this category participate in major world events such as the Olympic Games or the European Championships. These athletes are classified by the PFF (Federal Performance Project) and must have achieved significant performances in order to obtain a classification. They must hold an individual or collective title. The registration to the category is valid for 2 years and is renewable.
  • Senior: This category has the same conditions as above but the validity is only one year, renewable in the same way
  • Reconversion : This category is reserved for athletes who have been in the “Elite” or “Senior” category for at least 3 years. The characteristic here is that they must present a professional integration project for the rest of their career. Registration is valid for 1 year, renewable for 5 years.
  • National teams : This category is reserved for athletes who are part of a team preparing for major competitions, who have already been considered as high-level athletes, valued by the national technical director for their skills.
  • Upgrading : The National Technical Director will include athletes in this category if he/she identifies specific performance criteria at international competitions. It is in a position to propose roster entries within specific age categories. The qualification is valid for one year and is renewable.
  • Espoir: Athletes who have been recognized as performing at a high level but who do not yet meet all the criteria for inclusion in the list of high level athletes are eligible for this category.

How to become a professional in sports?

Constant training

Becoming a professional athlete is a dream come true, but it also represents many constraints inherent to the condition of a high level athlete. These include constant intensive training, strict diets, and extensive physical and mental conditioning.

In order to become a sports professional, it is important to start your career at a young age to develop skills quickly, in the face of massive competition. It is usually the coach who identifies the potential to move towards a high level of sport. Thus, first the young prodigy will be directed in competitions at the regional or national level.

In order to reach the necessary level, the player has to do intensive training, coupled with an essential study course in order to secure his post-sport career. Indeed, a career in the field never lasts very long and it is essential to think about the future before committing to this path.

A course relative to each player

There is no real training to become a professional sportsman but future players have the possibility to go through the PES (course of sports excellence) set up by the Ministry of Sports. This course allows young players to prepare for a dual career: professional and sporting. Thus, the mornings are devoted to “standard” courses and the afternoons to sports. If sport is a true priesthood, it is also possible for the most passionate to study in the field, beyond the sports performance. He can then consider a Licence Staps for example, or a State diploma of popular education and sport. It is a way to work elsewhere, while remaining in the same sector.

In order to face such a challenge, the young athlete must have a particularly strong and structured mind, with a resistance to sacrifice and rigor. It should also be remembered that if those who succeed obtain great human and financial rewards, there are very few chosen out of the number of those called. It is therefore essential not to neglect your studies before embarking on such a course.

The daily life of a high level sportsman.

A constant care

The daily life of a top athlete is not easy. It can be said that he has an extraordinary lifestyle. His obligations and constraints put him under constant stress and pressure. The steps of his daily life are therefore set to maximize his professional success.

Since training is at the heart of his preparation, the athlete spends a great number of hours practicing his discipline to increase his skills. It is also about preparing your body for the effort, as well as developing your endurance and mental strength. Depending on his activities, he will need to train in an environment adapted to his needs, assisted by the necessary equipment and accessories.

In order to maintain constant control over the proper execution of these training sessions, the athlete is continuously accompanied by a coach, a central element in his future success. Thus, the latter will parameterize, dose and analyze the needs of his foal to help him optimize his results. It is a precious ally for the body as well as for the mind.

Healthy living is at the heart of daily maintenance. The coach remains supervisor on this aspect but the athlete must be able to assume autonomy quickly, and control in a balanced way his consumption of food, alcohol and tobacco. Excesses are a threat to the player’s skills and are monitored day after day.

A gridded schedule

Another fact marked by the rigor, the planning of a player wants to millimeter. A program is managed by the hour and is prepared jointly with the coach. Each effort, but also each rest, represents a vast plan of mental and physical conditioning, where nothing is left to chance. The daily life of a high level player is thus optimized in a team, organized in a drastic and detailed calendar.

What are the qualities needed to become a high-level athlete?

Nerves of steel

The road to gratification and success can be long and full of obstacles. The driving force behind such involvement is passion. But it is not enough to hope to reach the heights and enter the category of a high-level athlete. Rigor is a must if you hope to develop sufficient skills to succeed in your career. From a very young age, the player must have a strong mind to overcome failures and possible injuries. The preparation of the body and the potential recovery times can only be effective if the athlete is autonomous.

A technical mastery

Depending on the discipline, the relationship to the body or to technique varies. Some sports require the sharp mastery of an instrument. It’s all about being one with the equipment, and knowing every part of it. Its operation and adjustment become almost a science for the person who will use his equipment to maximize his chances of success in competition. Skateboarding, cycling or skiing require a well-tuned use in order to accompany the effort and to take advantage of it.

The salary of a high-level athlete

It is known that between athletes of different categoriesthe income varies with a significant amplitude. This is one of the areas where we find the most important salary evolution, especially if the player joins a major club and media coverage. According to the Unasa Institute, the average salary of a top athlete in France is 7642 euros gross per month. Of course, this is a range and the totality of the athletes combined represents a great disparity of salaries. In addition to skills, it takes into account advertising and commercial investments related to athletes and clubs. This variety can be found on specific examples, in various sports:

  • On average, a soccer player receives a salary that varies between 27,000 and 45,000 euros gross per month.
  • A top level rugby player receives a salary of approximately 14,500 euros gross per month.
  • A basketball player has a ceiling of around 10,000 euros gross per month
  • A handball player earns about 6725 euros gross per month.

Unfortunately, there is a large wage gap between men and women.

What are the career paths for a high-level athlete?

Once his or her career is over, a high-level athlete has several choices to continue working in this field.


He can in turn become a trainer and pass on his knowledge to a younger audience. His role is to stay in the background and bring the players to a higher level. He is in charge of developing their physical and mental skills in competition. The qualities that are required are pedagogy and psychology. It must therefore offer training adapted to their specific characteristics. A real work of individual and collective analysis in order to optimize the players he takes care of.

Player’s agent

The player agent’s mission is to mediate between a club and a sports professional. Strictly framed by the sports code, this function found its rise thanks to the democratization of the sports competitions as well as the development of what is called today the “sport spectacle”, widely relayed by the mainstream media. Thus, it is officially defined as “a natural or legal person practicing on a casual or permanent basis for remuneration.” With many functions and responsibilities related to the sport environment, the role of the agent covers a large number of complementary areas, sometimes very far from each other.

Sports Educator

More detached from the competition aspect, the sports educator teaches the practice of a sport to students, through courses of different levels. He can practice in all sports fields, as much for adults, seniors, as for children. He works in a multidisciplinary way, in schools, leisure centers or independently. His activity will obviously be related to his previous studies. Thus, his role is to transmit in the most adapted way possible according to the expectations of the students, by respecting precise safety standards, and to follow the progress of his students. Finally, he/she may be required to carry out missions other than teaching, such as the organization of sports events.

Adapted programs, dedicated to sports

In order to develop global knowledge and prepare students for the various sports-related professions, before, during or after their time in high-level sport, INSEEC offers several dedicated centers.

Following this orientation, INSEEC offers several specializations in the field of sports in the campuses of Chambéry, Lyon, Paris and Bordeaux. Among the specialized courses offered by INSEEC, we can cite these three orientations available after a baccalaureate:

You can consult here the possible jobs after a Master’s degree in sports business school.

For more information, please visit our dedicated Frequently Asked Questions page.

Updated 17 May 2023