how to become a college coach in the NCAA

No sports team can succeed without a good coach. Even the most talented and dedicated athletes need a leader to help them set goals, develop strategies, and train effectively.

This is particularly true at the collegiate level. Although most college athletes already have years of experience, they’re still reasonably young and need guidance to become a skilled collegiate athlete. Coaches play a crucial role in helping team members not only excel at their positions but also assist them in coordinating with one another to achieve a common goal.

Because this role is so vital, college coaches tend to get a ton of attention, especially at popular schools and programs. Often, this notoriety can become a motivating force for sports fans to dream of becoming the next head coach of their favorite team.  Watching Coach Krzyzewski or Nick Saban win another NCAA championship – that high you get when you see the leader of a team dominate – can be enough to set your passion for the career in motion. The question is, do you know how to make it happen?

Chances are you don’t have all of the answers. Getting to the top is never simple. Whether you’re interested in college baseball, football, soccer, basketball, or any other similar college coaching position, our guide can help you begin your path to a career in sports. 

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The Path to A College Coaching Career

It’s worth noting that helping young athletes develop their skills is by no means the only reason to become a college coach. You might also one day dream of coaching at the professional level. Although it’s not impossible to achieve this without having first coached at the collegiate level, it is difficult. Having experience as a college coach boosts your odds of reaching the professional leagues to a substantial degree. Of course, if you’d prefer to continue working at a university, you might instead aspire to become a college’s athletic director, which is another position you’re more likely to secure if you’re a college coach first.



becoming an NCAA coach

It’s also important to understand that the path to becoming a college coach can vary on an individual basis. The steps someone else takes to earn this type of position may not exactly mirror your own.

That said, college coaches need a bachelor’s degree. Technically, during your undergraduate years, you may study any subject you wish. However, you’re more likely to stand out to potential employers if you study a relevant subject, such as sports management, physical education, nutrition, or anything else related to sports. Doing so doesn’t merely help you stand out among the competition when applying to jobs in the future; it also provides you with genuinely valuable experience and knowledge. You can apply this knowledge in your career to be a more effective college coach.



Keep in mind, along with your undergraduate degree, there are other certifications you may pursue if you wish to make yourself an even more attractive candidate in the future. Research coaching certifications (particularly those relevant to your chosen sport) to determine which may be worth acquiring. Also, if you continue your education after earning your undergraduate degree, find out if there are any open graduate assistant coach positions at your school. Doing so provides you with experience and expands your professional network.


Athlete v. Non-Athlete

Additionally, aspiring college coaches should understand that universities often hire former athletes when filling these roles. While you may acquire a coaching position without having first played your sport at the collegiate level, your chances of landing a dream job will be much slimmer. Universities need to know that anyone they hire thoroughly understands the game from the perspective of an actual player. However, if you happen to be a non-athlete with dreams of making it big, don’t give up. If you network well, work internships, and work hard, chances are you can land the position you want if you work your way up the ladder.

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Gain Experience

experience needed to become a college coach

You should also strive to be involved with your college’s athletic department to as much of a degree as possible. During your undergraduate years (and any other years you spend at college), apply for sports internships with the department, or find out if there are similar positions you may fill, such as an assistant. Again, this provides you with relevant experience that will demonstrate to potential employers just how passionate you are about your chosen sport. Getting this type of experience will also, of course, help you with networking. That said, you shouldn’t limit your professional network merely to individuals working at your university. As you pursue your career, seek out opportunities to network with others. It’s another simple way to increase your chances of securing a coaching position.


The Coaching Life

Getting as much relevant experience as possible is key to landing college coaching jobs. You also need to accept certain practical realities. For instance, college coaching jobs are available throughout the country. On the one hand, that means you have several options from which to choose when deciding where you might want to live.

On the other hand, you can’t be certain a coaching job will be available in your preferred location when you finally begin applying for positions. You might need to relocate to land a job. On top of that, as a college coach, you should expect your work to involve some degree of travel.

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Keep in mind that universities also typically prefer candidates who have a relatively substantial degree of prior coaching experience. You probably won’t begin your career by coaching at a university. It’s more likely you’ll coach at the high school or semi-professional level for several years.

You also shouldn’t expect to necessarily begin as a head coach for a college team when you first start out. After coaching for a high school or semi-professional team, you may take on a related position at a university, such as an assistant coach or trainer. This puts you in a position to climb the ladder to a head coaching job.


Get Started & Don’t Give Up

Remember, however, all of these are general points. There isn’t one set path to securing NCAA jobs. That’s why it’s a good idea to research college coaches who you admire (and who have been successful in their careers). Read their biographies, interviews, and any other material that will tell you what steps they took to begin coaching at the university level. This will help you better determine what additional steps you can take to make yourself stand out to potential employers in the future. 

Being a college coach is a very rewarding experience. It gives you the opportunity to help young athletes achieve their own dreams. Some may even go on to become professional stars in the future. If that sounds appealing to you, remember the points in this guide as you pursue your goals.