Successful athletic coaches are organized, hardworking and quick-minded. These traits make the job easier but a passion for teaching and the desire to develop others makes the long hours and pressure to perform worthwhile. Athletes become less coachable as they age. A professional baseball player is less likely to engage a hitting coaching for help than a struggling high schooler and many NBA players are notorious for ignoring coaches and doing what ‘feels right’ on the court. Coaches on the professional stage have a perceived command over the team but, ultimately, it’s the star players that steer the ship. But a coach at the high school level has an actual strong hold over his or her team. Within the parameters of what the state, district and school board deem acceptable, coaches retain the ability to dictate workout regimes, control playing time and enforce the rules. And young players that want to succeed, especially those with potential to play at the next level, seek out mentorship. Coaching high school athletics is one way to jumpstart a career but it’s about more than that. It brings with it a sense of responsibility and holds the potential to positively impact America’s youth, much like that of a school teacher.
Many high school coaches work across sports. Fall sports – football, soccer, volleyball – bleed into winter games – basketball, wrestling – which roll into spring athletics – baseball, track, softball. The flow of the sports seasons creates the opportunity for an assistant football coach to guide young wrestlers or a volleyball coach to help track stars flourish. Successful coaches handle cross-sport responsibilities well. While it’s beneficial to have played the sport you now coach, the truly gifted ones can learn the intricacies of a different game and motivate athletes to succeed. Those considering a career in high school coaching should survey the athletic landscape and take the time to learn about other sports. For a big-time high school program, a head football or basketball coach may just stick to their respective sport. But assistant coaches may branch out to coach other sports, building up their resume and impacting more student athletes. Most high school coaches have a primary sport, one the school relies on them to build and lead, year-in and year-out. Consider taking on other responsibilities across the athletic department to make yourself more valuable and less expendable.
Coaches at colleges and universities don’t stand in front of a classroom talking politics, philosophy or chemistry. Most barely have time to sleep, let alone teach. But many high school coaches pull double-duty, educating students during the day and coaching junior varsity or varsity athletes in the evenings and on game days. Paychecks for those who coach and teach are better, and those who can do both are certainly more marketable. There are two sides of this coin. There are coaches who also teach in the classroom and then there are teachers that decide to take on a coaching responsibility. Whichever side you fall on, make sure your efforts are distributed properly. In high school, it’s about growing youth into young adults. Whether you’re instructing students on Latin American geography or teaching proper bounce pass techniques, your passion must shine through. Students gravitate towards firm-but-fair adults that teach with a sense of excitement and levity. For the true coaches in the bunch, consider a degree in one of a variety of areas – sports science, physiology, kinesiology, nutrition and fitness, physical education or sports medicine – to bridge the gap between the classroom and the fields of play. It earns you a teaching certificate that allows you to instruct Health and Physical Education on school days and prepares you for coaching on game day. Not all coaches choose to obtain a degree in these fields of study but it’s the area that most closely aligns with the coaching profession and is worth some thought. Some people solely coach at the high school level but ones that desire a higher salary and have a passion for education should consider this route.
High school coaches are a rare breed. They’re educated enough to step into a classroom and instruct students and also have the in-depth sports knowledge to build, organize and lead a team into competition. Some high school coaches live for the balance of coaching and teaching, pouring their passions into both and positively effecting kids on and off the field. Luckily, resources like the National High School Athletic Coaches Association provide valuable education and guidance to support hard working coaches. These teacher-coach types can make a great life for themselves, earning a respectable paycheck and enjoying a career of passion. Other coaches like teaching but truly live for athletics. They may view a high school coaching position as a starting point, a stepping stone. As long as their time spent at the secondary school level is still focused on improving students’ lives, there’s nothing wrong with this viewpoint. Use your time at the high school level to learn team organization, game planning and how to motivate athletes. Create an environment where student athletes feel safe and can succeed. And then use that experience to jump to the next level. Successful high school coaches, whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf or another sport, should seek assistant positions at a junior college, college or university. If you’ve proven successful teaching athletes in high school and walk into an interview with a detailed plan, the position is well within reach. If you’re coaching at a small high school and doing well, consider a move to a larger school first since it presents a new challenge and further grows your skills. Eventually, you’ll gather the required experience to get into college and, potentially, professional coaching, depending on your goals and skill level.
High schools were built to teach students; to make America’s youth more educated and better prepared for life. But within these walls, and on the fields that surround them, teachers and coaches become smarter, more empathetic people as well. High school coaching, whether you’re on the baseball diamond, golf course or soccer pitch, is about more than winning. Winning is important, but unlike in the professional arena, it isn’t the only thing. Coaches are teachers, mentors, guardians and authority figures to the student athletes they lead. It’s a well-respected profession that needs passionate, well-rounded people looking to make a difference.