UP Online recently added a Higher Certificate in Sports Science to its collection of 100% online programmes. This new qualification allows students to gain a qualification in the field that is fully accredited by the University of Pretoria, which has a proud sporting tradition and has played a pivotal role in the careers of many of South Africa’s leading athletes and coaches.

In this article we will discuss how to become a certified personal trainer or sports coach, with specific reference to South Africa. If you are looking for something specific, please use the accordions below to view the article and FAQ outlines and jump to each section.


Embarking on a career as a qualified personal trainer or sports coach is a well-suited choice for those who are passionate about fitness and assisting others in achieving their sports-related objectives. To best succeed in this competitive industry, you need both a deep interest in sports and fitness as well as a firm educational foundation.

UP Online’s Higher Certificate in Sports Sciences will equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in this field. This new programme is offered by UP’s Faculty of Education, meaning that students will complete this qualification with a solid grounding not only in sports and fitness but also as well-trained educators who are able to apply their knowledge at schools and other educational institutions.


A proficient sports coach is more than just a trainer and requires a varied set of skills to get the most out of the individuals or teams that they coach. On the physical side, successful coaches require an understanding of human anatomy and rehabilitation, as well as knowledge of nutrition to maximise performance.

You will also need to be an effective communicator who can manage groups and understand individual needs. Knowledge of the latest sports and fitness trends will also help in providing effective coaching in whichever sports you choose to specialise in.

Accredited sports coaching certification

An accredited certification will be of great help if you want to establish yourself as a credible sports coach. UP Online’s Higher Certificate in Sports Sciences is fully accredited and recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority as a level 5 qualification on the National Qualifications Framework.

The two-year online programme offers an extensive curriculum designed to cover all essential aspects of sports sciences. It integrates fundamental concepts such as sports psychology, nutrition, injury prevention and performance enhancement to ensure you emerge as a well-rounded sports coach.

Specific fitness goals for clients

One key aspect of being a personal trainer is helping clients define and achieve their specific fitness goals. This might involve increasing strength, improving cardiovascular health, boosting agility or endurance, losing weight or mastering specific sports skills.

As a certified personal trainer, you will be able to use your understanding of exercise physiology and sports psychology to create customised personal training courses for your clients to follow, ensuring clients’ safety while helping them achieve their goals as efficiently as possible.

Techniques to monitor progress

Progress monitoring is crucial to assess the effectiveness of any personal training courses or regimes that your clients follow. Monitoring techniques include fitness assessments, performance tracking, body composition analysis and other metrics to gauge a client’s progress effectively. These evaluation tools offer insights and quantitative data as to whether a client is on track or if adjustments need to be made to their training or nutrition plan.

Providing motivation and accountability

A large part of a sports coach or personal trainer’s role is motivating clients and holding them accountable. This can be done through the setting of clear goals, providing feedback and creating a supportive training environment.

The Higher Certificate in Sports Science’s modules on Exercise and Training Principles and on Coaching Professionalism will equip students with psychological strategies to inspire individual clients and teams and foster a sense of responsibility towards their goals.


As a sports coach, those you coach will likely suffer from injuries from time to time. For this reason, a sports coach needs to have a deep understanding of injury prevention and rehabilitation. This includes identifying potential risks, knowing first-aid techniques, reducing the likelihood of injuries and planning rehabilitation exercises.

The Higher Certificate in Sports Sciences includes a module that focuses on sports injuries and covers both prevention and rehabilitation. These are some of the rehabilitation strategies that sports coaches can implement.

Sports massage and its benefits

Sports massage is a form of therapy geared towards athletes and individuals who engage in regular physical activity. It involves the application of various massage techniques to the body’s soft tissues, focusing on areas that are often overused and stressed from repetitive movements associated with a specific sport or physical activity.

There are many benefits of sports massage, from helping to improve performance and prevent injuries to speeding up recuperation from injuries when they do occur. Here are some of the benefits of sports massage.

Improved muscle flexibility

One of the many benefits of sports massage is improved muscle flexibility. Regular massage can help to stretch and relax tight muscles, aiding in improved performance and injury prevention.

Muscle recovery

Sports massage is also a powerful tool for enhancing muscle recovery after a workout. It helps to stimulate blood flow, remove waste products and decrease muscle aches and pains. Incorporating sports massage into a fitness or training regime allows for more effective training sessions.

Pain reduction

Through various techniques, sports massage can relieve muscle tension and pain, aiding in swift recovery from intense training or injuries.

Stress reduction and rehabilitation

Sports massage can also aid in stress reduction and rehabilitation of athletes, offering both physical and mental benefits. It promotes relaxation, reduces stress hormones and aids in quicker recovery from injuries.

Rehabilitation support

In addition to sports massage, other rehabilitation support strategies are essential in sports coaching. These might include guided exercises, the use of supportive equipment and personalised recovery plans. This is covered in the Sports Injury module and students will also have opportunities to apply these approaches in the practical segment of UP Online’s two-year Sports Science programme.

Sports nutrition and hydration

Sports nutrition and hydration play a pivotal role in an athlete’s performance and recovery. A balanced and nutritious diet is needed to maintain health and performance.

The Higher Certificate in Sports Science includes a module on Fundamental Nutrition, in which students will learn how to put together a well-planned, sport-specific nutrition and hydration strategy to significantly enhance performance, recovery and overall athletic potential.

Protein for rebuilding damaged muscles

Protein forms the building blocks of muscle and it is crucial for repairing and rebuilding damaged muscles after strenuous activity. Good personal trainer courses will teach the science behind protein intake and how to recommend appropriate protein sources and portions for optimal performance and recovery.

Anti-inflammatory foods

Certain foods possess anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in quicker recovery and performance enhancement without the need for resorting to supplements or medication. Having greater knowledge of these foods forms part of sports nutrition, allowing you to create effective dietary plans.

Hydration for optimal recovery

Hydration is crucial for performance and recovery, particularly in sports that involve intense physical activity or those performed in high temperatures. Part of sports science entails learning about the importance of hydration, how to calculate fluid needs and effective hydration strategies.

Timing of nutrition

Good nutrition is not just about what you eat – it is also a matter of when you eat. The timing of nutrition intake – before, during and after workouts – plays a significant role in performance and recovery. A good fitness trainer should be able to develop effective nutrition plans that take timing into account when setting up a personal training regime.


Soccer coaching courses / Football coaching courses

Although we in South Africa commonly call the sport soccer, internationally the game is called football. The South African managing association for the sport is the South African Football Association (SAFA). To learn more about qualifying as a coach or referee and the various soccer coaching courses available, you can visit the SAFA coaching education page.

Tennis coaching courses

Tennis South Africa is the South African national governing body for the sport of tennis. The website has multiple resources for aspiring and practising tennis coaches. You can see the requirements to register as a tennis coach as well as information on how to become a coach and the various levels of coaching qualification.

Baseball coaching

The South Africa Baseball Union (SABU) is South Africa’s national governing body for baseball. Information on the website is quite limited, but you can use the contact list provided to reach out to a provincial contact to find out more.

Golf coaching

The administering body for golf in South Africa is GolfRSA. It is the unified body of the South African Golf Association (SAGA) and Womens Golf South Africa (WGSA), representing all amateur golf clubs and players in South Africa. For professional players, there is also the Professional Golfers Association of South Africa (PGA). You can learn more on the PGA site about how to join as a member and how to pursue a professional career in golf.

Swimming coaching

Swimming South Africa is South Africa’s governing body for the sports of swimming, water polo and diving. To become a coach, you will need to complete their level 1 coaching course, which is handled by the association’s Education and Training Unit. You will need to contact the education and training coordinator for the province you live in and you can find a contact list here.

Gymnastics coaching

The South African Gymnastics Federation is the governing body for gymnastics in South Africa. You can learn more about how to qualify as a coach or official judge on their education page.

Cricket coaching

Cricket South Africa (CSA) is South Africa’s governing body for professional and amateur cricket. You can view the CSA’s page on coaching education for information on the various levels of coaching qualification, from a basic skills coach for coaching juniors up to a high-performance cricket coach for coaching at a professional provincial or national level.

Rugby coaching

South Africa’s national governing body for rugby is the South African Rugby Union (SARU). To learn more about the various rugby coaching courses and qualifications that it offers, go to this page.


Here are some common questions and answers relating to sports coaching and personal training.

Personal training is a tailored approach to fitness, where a trained professional designs and guides individuals through specific exercise programmes. A qualified personal fitness trainer should be able to set up a personal training regime while also teaching proper techniques, motivating their clients to reach their fitness goals, providing accountability and tracking their progress over time.

A sports coach is responsible for training, instructing and guiding athletes or sports teams to enhance their performance. They develop training programmes, teach sports techniques, offer feedback and provide support during competitions. Coaches also help in preventing injuries and assisting in recovery. Sports coaches can work privately or be employed by sports clubs or other institutions that offer sports, such as schools or universities. The highest goal for many sports coaches is to coach a national or provincial team or an individual who competes at that level.

To become a sports coach in South Africa, you would ideally first complete a recognised qualification in sports coaching or sports science. You would then need to get practical coaching experience and finally obtain a coaching certification from a sports federation relevant to your chosen sport. South Africa’s many NSFs are overseen by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc). You can find some contact information on Sascoc’s national federation page, but for easier lists and links, you can also view the South African government page on sports and recreation organisations or Wikipedia’s entry for sports governing bodies in South Africa.

Accredited coaching courses in South Africa usually cover subjects such as anatomy, physiology, sports nutrition and injury treatment and prevention. Specialised training or knowledge in the techniques and rules of the specific sport you wish to coach is also beneficial. In addition to a practical component, UP Online’s Higher Certificate in Sports Science programme is made up of the following modules.

  • Literacies in education
  • Personal development and life skills training
  • Sports and physical education management
  • Human motor skills development
  • Basic human anatomy and physiology
  • Foundations of recreation
  • Sports injuries
  • Fundamental nutrition
  • Exercise and training principles
  • Coaching professionalism

To learn more about each of these modules, you can view the module information section for this higher certificate programme.

The likelihood of injuries differs from sport to sport, depending on which body parts are under the greatest strain and most at risk. Contact sports also tend to have a higher incidence of injuries than non-contact sports. According to the healthcare publishing site MedicineNet. These are the 10 most common sports injuries:

  1. Strains
  2. Sprains
  3. Knee injuries
  4. Rotator cuff injuries
  5. Tennis elbow
  6. Shin splints
  7. Back pain
  8. Fractures
  9. Dislocations
  10. Concussion

A sports massage involves the application of various massage techniques to alleviate muscle tension, enhance flexibility, improve circulation and promote recovery. Sports massages can be adjusted to suit different needs or situations, such as pre-event preparation, post-event recovery or injury rehabilitation.

Sports massage is specifically designed for athletes and is the best for sports as it focuses on areas of the body overused and stressed from repetitive and often aggressive movements related to physical activity. A good sports massage will also be optimised for the particular sport, focussing on the areas that are most overused and stressed within that particular sport. For certain team sports with players playing in different specialised positions, the sports massage could be further tailored for any specific needs that may differ from other players.

Sports massage and deep tissue massage are two therapeutic techniques that are similar in some respects, but which serve distinct purposes and are used in different contexts. Sports massage is specifically designed for athletes and those involved in regular physical activity. It focuses on relieving muscle tension and promoting healing in the areas of the body that are most impacted by a specific sport or physical activity. Sports massage techniques are usually tailored to support optimal performance, aid recovery after a sporting event or address a particular sports-related injury. The techniques used often depend on the timing of the massage in relation to sporting events, as well as the specific needs and goals of the athlete. Deep tissue massage, on the other hand, is aimed at alleviating chronic muscle tension and knots by applying sustained pressure using slow, deep strokes that target the inner layers of muscles and connective tissues. It can be beneficial for anyone who suffers from chronic pain, stiffness or muscle imbalances due to poor posture, repetitive strain injuries or other health conditions.