If the idea of being at the center of the sports world and working closely with athletes sounds good, then a career in sports coaching may be a good fit for you. A sports coach can impact the future and performance of young and professional athletes alike, making it a fulfilling and meaningful career.
This article discusses what sports coaching is, the degrees/curriculum available for sports coaching, and its job outlook.
Overview of Sports Coaching
Why are Coaches Important?
A good coach not only manages practices and games, they are also in a unique position to develop an athlete’s full potential and help them achieve their dreams in sports and in life.
Coaches play a myriad of roles in their athletes’ lives. They simultaneously fill the role of mentor, instructor, counselor, nurse, therapist, friend, and often parental figure. These roles bear important responsibilities. Athletes go to coaches to ask for athletic advice but also input on other facets of their lives – family issues, school, or even relationships. Younger athletes may look up to a coach as a second parent, while older ones may see coaches as friends. Coaches must constantly strike a balance across all these different roles and athletes needing different ones at different times.
How coaches interact with their players can also make or break their team. A coach’s critical but challenging responsibility is to enforce synergy in a team, such that a group of individuals with varying skills and attributes can play as one cohesive unit. A team playing in harmony has a higher chance of winning.
On the other hand, poor coaching results in a myriad of problems. According to Gearity and Murray, poor coaching leads to the following:
- Substandard team performance in games
- Poor focus, concentration, and motivation in athletes
- Elevated levels of stress and low coping mechanisms in athletes
- High conflict among teammates and coaching staff
- High injury rates due to improper coaching methods
- High dropout rates
A Degree in Sports Coaching
A sports coaching degree can open diverse opportunities for students – from working in professional sports clubs, collegiate, and high school sports to administrating in sports councils.
This degree equips students with a range of practical skills that develop their understanding of creating constructive and caring learning environments for various types of sports and athletes.
A sports coaching degree can be completed in 2-4 years depending on the program. Students can expect to learn a range of specialized coaching skills and knowledge including sports coaching principles and management, sports policy, sports medicine and nutrition, sports physiology, and kinesiology, among many others.
But more than that, pursuing this degree also develops soft skills like communication, leadership, teamwork, critical thinking, and adaptability – key skills transferable in other work contexts.
Nonetheless, the exact content students will learn depends on what specific degree they take and which university they take it to.
What You’ll Learn in a Sports Coaching Degree Program
A degree in sports coaching provides a holistic approach to forming students aspiring to be sports coaches.
Students will develop an understanding of key concepts and theories in sports coaching, and how they can apply this knowledge. Modules range from traditional sports and exercise science disciplines to contemporary sports politics and landscape.
Learning these modules will help them figure out what kind of coach they want to be. They will also sharpen their understanding of the social nature of coaching, which is a huge factor in coaching success.
A Sports Coaching Major can expect to learn the following modules:
- Coaching Practices Fundamentals
- Sports Medicine, Fitness, and Nutrition
- Sports and Exercise Pedagogy
- Physiology and Kinesiology
- Sports Sociology and Psychology
- Sports Management
- Sports Law and Ethics
Upon completing these modules, students will be able to form their coaching strategies and practices and become leaders in their respective sports.
Available Licensing & Association Membership
A sports coach can obtain licenses to increase their credibility and/or join coaching associations within their sport like:
- International Council for Coaching Excellence
- United States Center for Coaching Excellence
- Shape America
- American Football Coaches Association
- National Association of Basketball Coaches
- United Soccer Coaches Association
- American Baseball Coaches Association
- USA Basketball
- Women’s Golf Coaches Association
What Do Coaches Do?
Coaching is a dynamic and interpersonal endeavor. Whether working with individual athletes or larger teams, coaches help others reach their full potential in athletic pursuits. As a sports coach, expect to do the following:
- Assess individual and team strengths and weaknesses to curate proper individualized workouts and practice regimens that can highlight strengths and reduce weaknesses.
- Advise athletes on how to improve their skills related to their sport. If working with young athletes, this includes teaching them basic skills and techniques. If working with college or professional athletes, a sports coach may need to focus on fine-tuning skills and techniques.
- Design effective training regimens involving practice curriculum, drills, and tactic and strategic exercises to improve individual and team performance.
- Guide athletes on how to make better lifestyle choices, especially with regards to nutrition, sleep, and mental health.
- Act as a mentor when athletes reach out for advice on other aspects of their lives such as relationships.
- Monitor performance and provide encouragement and constructive feedback.
- Recruit and scout potential talent. With this responsibility, it is vital to spot athletes who best fit with for team culture and individual coaching styles.
Benefits of an Online Degree in Sports Coaching
The overarching benefit of an online degree in Sports Coaching is that students can complete a Bachelor’s or Master’s program without the physical commitment of face-to-face classes. Students have more freedom to pursue other endeavors (perhaps a part-time/full-time job and passion projects) while still progressing on their plan to be sports coaches.
Moreover, an online degree is more accessible than a traditional physical degree. It allows students from anywhere in the world to gain knowledge from faculty experts that they would otherwise not have if the degree was constrained to a specific country or state.
Many of these programs also provide students the choice to specialize in specific areas of sports coaching like strength and conditioning, among others. Students may also choose to focus on a specific sport, such as basketball, football, or baseball. Sports Coaching programs often offer a series of courses about coaching a specific sport.
These online courses are designed to provide students with a comprehensive, flexible, and individualized curriculum often including interactive and student-centric coursework based on real-world settings. Specifically, here are the benefits of taking a degree in sports coaching online:
Online learning saves students a lot of money. Often, the tuition cost of an online program is less than the traditional on-campus version. Moreover, students don’t anymore have to allot additional funds for housing, commuting, or meals, since they can take the online course in the comfort of their homes.
Even with books, physical copies required for a traditional program are often more costly than digital copies required for an online program. Sometimes, books may not even be required by online programs since additional resources are often already covered in the curriculum.
An online degree is often self-paced, meaning that students are not forced to follow a conventional speed of learning. Traditional classes require students to attend on a fixed schedule. If they fail to show up, they’d often have a hard time catching up. As opposed to online learning, modules and classes can be viewed anytime most convenient to the learner. This mode also makes it friendly to students with part-time/full-time jobs as they can arrange their learning sessions flexibly.
Improved Quality of Learning
Students can stay updated with lectures easily. If they couldn’t fully understand a class in one viewing, they can always repeat it. No longer do they need to write down every word said by the professor. This makes it easier for students to grasp complex concepts. Additionally, online programs normally include supplemental study materials and guides to keep students engaged with their learning.
Increased Sense of Accountability
When students are fully in control of their learning, it’s easy to procrastinate. But, to thrive in online learning, one is forced to develop good time management skills. Students need to set regular study schedules and commit to them deliberately.
In online programs, students can track their progress as well. This makes it easier for them to adjust their study sessions and techniques to produce better results as they see fit. This is an essential skill that benefits other aspects of their lives and their future careers.
Networking & Collaboration Opportunities
Since online degrees in sports coaching are not gatekept by one country or space, they provide more opportunities for students to mingle with prominent figures in the field, as well as their fellow aspiring sports coaches no matter where they are in the world.
The world is getting more and more dependent on virtual spaces to meet people. Having students exposed to virtual networking events allow them to encounter different cultures and people from differing time zones. This develops social skills not present in face-to-face interactions.
Ohio University is one of the most well-known schools with multiple online and in-person courses for sports coaching. In choosing the right degree for you, consider your priorities and context.
What Will I Learn in a Sports Coaching Program?
There are two ways students complete a Sports Coaching program – either as a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree. In the United States, more institutions offer the latter than the former.
Most sports coaching degrees can be completed in 1-4 years (1-2 years for Master’s and 4-5 years for a Bachelor’s) Students can expect to take about 30 (for a Master’s) to 120 credits (for a Bachelor’s). Depending on the institution, students can expect to take the subjects either on a semestral or quarterly basis.
Bachelor in Sports Coaching Programs
The United States Sports Academy offers an undergraduate degree in Sports Coaching online and on campus. The university focuses specifically on sports, so their entire curriculum is grounded in the topic and their alumni network is impressive. Mississippi State also offers a bachelor’s program in physical education and coaching within their school of kinesiology which focuses on preparing graduates to instill the benefits of exercise and physical activity to future generations.
Masters in Sports Coaching Degrees
A Master of Arts in Sports Coaching at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver, for example, uses the quarter system. Courses are offered year-round in each quarter: fall, winter, spring, and summer. This contrasts with the Master’s of Sports Coaching at Ohio State University which is semestral.
Sports Coaching programs are divided into 3 to 4 segments with a combination of required courses and electives. In the first phase, students can expect to receive a broad introduction of coaching principles and the fundamentals of sports physiology, fitness, and medicine.
In the second phase or third phase, students get exposed to a more in-depth understanding of coaching-related theories and real-life applications. In this phase, students can also opt to take electives that foster deeper multidisciplinary knowledge of sports performance analysis and exercise science. In retrospect, this phase aims to help students find their identity and niche as sports coaches.
Lastly, the fourth, and often last phase focuses on developing students as independent and self-driven individuals. Courses offered are tailored to their specific interests. Students may also be required to undergo an internship or a major project designed to assess their critical thinking, creativity, and practical application of learned concepts from previous phases.
Some notable courses students can encounter on their learning journey are the following:
|Introduction to Sports Coaching||This course introduces students to the history of coaching and recent developments in the field. It fosters an open mind to innovation and constant evaluation of best practices. Students will be exposed to a range of coaching styles and how a certain sport and context can affect which style to choose.|
|Anatomy and Physiology||This course explores the human body’s structure and functions and how these affect sports performance and exercise. A basic understanding of the human body’s systems can help students make informed decisions on their future coaching styles and training regimens.|
|Kinesiology||This is the study of movement and mobility. Having a foundational understanding of Kinesiology concepts help students improve their coaching approaches by increasing their athletes’ mobility and preventing injuries.|
|Sports Strength Conditioning and Nutrition||This course teaches students to train and inspire people to meet sports performance and body composition goals. Well complemented by a basic understanding of the human body, they will learn how to set and meet training goals, design training regimens, and recondition injured athletes.|
|Sports Leadership and||This course develops students’ skills in|
|Management||management, and problem-solving as they explore basic organizational and leadership theories.|
|Ethics in Sports||In this course, students are exposed to contemporary issues and ethical dilemmas in sports. They develop their critical thinking skills on how to approach such situations.|
|Psychology of Coaching||Students examine the psychological requisites of the coaching professions in competitive sports. They will get a deeper understanding of motivation, self-esteem, and stress as they relate to their athletes’ willingness and capacity to perform in athletics.|
|Pedagogy of Skill Development||Students will study various methodical approaches to continued sport skill development in athletes. They will develop curated strategies fostering an environment of adaptability, growth mindset, and habitual evaluation of practices.|
Standard Entrance Requirements to Enroll
Application Process & Timeline
Enrolling in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree takes time. Application deadlines for Bachelor’s degrees usually fall between November to March, while Master’s degrees depending on the institution. A good rule of thumb is to start planning your timeline as early as 18 months before you want to start classes.
For a Bachelor’s degree, applicants must have a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) from an accredited school. They possess a GPA of at least 2.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale and have an average or higher SAT score (1060 or above) or ACT Score (20 or above). While not required, applicants benefit from taking advanced courses in physiology, anatomy, and organizational development.
A Master’s Degree, on the other hand, has a slightly stricter process. Applicants must have a 3.0 GPA or higher from their Bachelors Degree. Applicants accepted even with a GPA lower than 3.0 are taken as provisionary students usually required to take additional coursework or evaluation. Some institutions may also require applicants to have a particular number of years of coaching experience.
Bachelor programs usually require applicants to submit their high school transcripts. Both Bachelor and Master Programs may also require three letters of recommendation often from professors, administrators, or fellow coaches (for Master’s).
Many Bachelor programs ask for an applicant’s essay. Resumes are usually optional. For Master’s applicants, most institutions require an essay and a resume.
Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are only applicable for Master’s programs. Some institutions take it as a mandatory requirement for application, while others do not. This requirement will depend on what organization students want to pursue their Master’s program in.
If students are ready for a Master’s Program in Sports Coaching, most institutions accept applicants from various undergraduate degrees. But the Bachelor’s degrees more suitable for this path are the following:
- Bachelor’s in Sports Management/Administration
- Bachelor’s in Exercise and Sport Science
- Bachelor’s in Sports Psychology
A Bachelors Degree in the Health Sciences work as well, as most of the major undergraduate health-focused courses will be covered.
Field & Career Placement
Sports coaches have a wide array of fields and openings they can pursue after schooling. A sports coach can pursue a career in:
- High School, Collegiate, or Professional league coaching
- Sports Therapist or Psychologist
- Sports Manager/Administrator
- Personal Trainer
They most likely will focus on one sport while pursuing careers at institutions such as the following:
- National Sports Governing Bodies
- NJCAA, NAIA, and NCAA Divisions I, II, and III
- Colleges and universities
- Professional sports teams
- Local camps and amateur sports clubs
- Fitness centers
- The Armed Forces
Despite historically being considered one of the lowest-paying careers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for sports coaches is projected to grow 20% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the 5% average growth rate of other occupations. In 2021, there were 244,000 sports coaching jobs in the US. Over the decade, around 40,000 openings for sports coaches and scouts are forecasted each year. Many schools are also growing their sports programs to promote their brand, thus increasing demand for sports coaches.
Despite head coaching vacancies after requiring a Master’s degree to fill, the average salary of a sports coach is only $38,970, while the top 10 percent of earners make at least $71,000. Where a sports coach works also impacts his/her earning potential. Coaches in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania make more than their peers.
Potential Career Paths/Job Titles
Sports coaching degree holders can expect to enter positions within the athletics and fitness industries ranging from hands-on coaching the athletes or managing an entire athletic department. Notable positions include:
- Head Coach: manages teams, monitors each player’s performance and enhances team’s skills by organizing training sessions. They may also be the main pushes of motivation for athletes to realize their potential.
- Assistant Coach: supports the head coach by scheduling and supervising training sessions, organizing team events, performing administrative duties, and maintaining facilities and equipment.
- Offensive/Defensive Coordinator: In American Football, this coach calls the offensive or defensive plays of the game.
- Position Coach: coaches a specific position group. They have more specialized duties. Examples are coaches for goalkeepers (soccer) or quarterbacks (football).
- Tactical Strength and Conditioning Coach: establishes and maintains the strength and conditioning programs of the team designed to improve athletic performance and mobility, and reduce injuries.
- Sports Scout: searches and evaluates talent by watching various athletes perform in schools or clubs.
- Athletic Director: manages all aspects of a sports program, including hiring, marketing programs, and events, controlling finance and logistics, and supervising operations. They also help in fundraising.
To be a successful sports coach, one must gather years of experience, continually enhance their coaching skills through further education, and find a niche they’re passionate about. As rewarding as coaching can be, it often comes with a non-traditional schedule, very long days, low pay, and stressful working conditions. But, the intangible rewards of making an impact in the lives of young people is irreplaceable.