The Background…

Coaches are among the few publicly visible jobs in sports. While athletes are center stage, coaches are on the sidelines instructing players and making decisions that impact the game’s outcome. All team sports and many individual sports have a coach or an entire coaching staff to bring organization and best practices to the games athletes play. Practices are used to instruct athletes in physical conditioning and fundamentals and teach team-specific plays. On game day, coaches turn their attention to strategy and game management.

Coaches are not bound by a standard work week, and their schedules vary in-season versus off-season. During the season, the profession requires evenings and weekend hours, prime time for most sporting events. Most successful coaches put in more than 40 hours per week during the season, especially at the university and professional levels. The off-season is spent recovering, organizing team workout programs, and planning for the next season. To move up the coaching ladder, relocating your family on occasion may be required. Many coaches at the collegiate and professional levels change jobs frequently to earn a higher paycheck and work for a more prestigious team. Consider these aspects of the job as you define your career goals.

Fundamentally, coaches are teachers, so patience, firmness, and charisma are all necessary for success. They must inspire athletes to practice harder than they want to and play above their skill level. And while images of coaches berating players make SportsCenter, you should know it’s possible to be mild-mannered and still earn the respect of your team. Though fans only see the handful of hours a coach spends on the sidelines, the many hours spent in offices studying and planning is where the hard work is done. During the playing season, the weeks are long, and preparation can’t be accomplished without devotion and stamina. Practice sessions and conditioning drills are organized, ensuring a team’s limited preparation time is used wisely. And in team sports, coaches create and maintain a playbook and constantly evaluate the talent of their players so a depth chart can be set. Some of this is delegated to other coaches on the staff, so entry-level assistant coaches will learn to develop these skills as well. Because a head coach is responsible for everything from practice to on-the-field performance, organization and forethought are needed to achieve success and move to the next level.

The Path…

Coaching is one of the few careers in sports where a degree can aid your job search but isn’t required for all entry-level jobs. At the elementary, middle, and high school levels, coaches become much more marketable if they have a degree and state-certified teaching license. For a school administrator, hiring someone to teach and coach kills two birds with one stone. And at these lower levels, coaching is often viewed as a part-time role, so supplementing your pay with a full-time teaching position is ideal. As for areas of focus, degrees in sports science, kinesiology, sports medicine, or physical education are popular choices for future coaches. The core topics educate students in proper fitness techniques, nutrition, and the general study of human movement. A degree in this field can land you a job teaching physical or health education while devoting part of your time to the coaching profession. Without a degree, it’s still possible to thrive in the coaching industry, but you should shift your focus to coaching as a full-time job.

Like most jobs, coaching is all about experience. Many coaches are former collegiate or professional athletes looking for a way to stay connected to the game and begin a second career. The knowledge they acquired while playing the game can’t be replaced by film study. Most former athletes have contacts at some level, giving them an entry point into the business. If you played a sport at the college or professional level, make a contact list of former coaches as well as ex-teammates who are already coaching. Connecting with this network is the best way to land an assistant coaching position where you can start learning the sport from a new vantage point. If you haven’t played beyond the high school level and have no connections in the game, your journey may be longer, but it’s still manageable. Earn a teaching degree and start coaching and teaching at a high school. Once you’re established, search for coaching positions at lower-level and junior colleges. It will take time, but if you network and build your resume, a college or professional coaching job will be in your future.

The Money …

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the median annual salary of coaches at $28,000. While the lowest 10 percent earn less than $16,000, the top 10 percent will earn more than $63,000. Keep in mind coaching is considered part-time at some schools, so these salaries are often supplemented with teachers’ income.

Your average salary will depend on the sport you coach and where you work. Baseball, basketball, and football coaches are higher earners than those in less popular sports. And coaches in elementary and secondary schools will be lower on the pay scale than those on a university or professional staff. While the numbers above don’t look as impressive as the $7.5 million Patriots coach Bill Belichick earns annually, gifted coaches will earn a good income and live their dream of working in sports. Those with organization, leadership, work ethic, and long-term perseverance will find work as an assistant and eventually lead their own team functioning as full-time head coaches.