While there isn’t one single formula you can follow to become a coach, there are usually a few things you can do to help make the possibility become a reality. The first thing you’ll need to decide is whether you want to make coaching your full-time career. Most people who coach professional teams or who work at the university level make the job their life’s work. This isn’t required, though; plenty of people coach more casual teams in communities and schools on a volunteer or part-time basis. The requirements can vary substantially depending on the setting. Volunteer and casual coaches usually need some experience and familiarity with the sport, but time commitment is usually the most important thing. Professionals, on the other hand, usually need extensive experience, usually as a player and sometimes also as an analyst, as well as at least some formal sports education. Doing a bit of research at the outset and talking to people who hold the sorts of positions you want can be invaluable as you look to make the transition.
Basics of Professional Coaching
Professional coaches are those for whom coaching is a full-time job. Many of the most highly paid people in this line of work are employed by professional sports teams or well-ranked universities, but there are a lot of options out there. Some people coach private teams or might even work with individual athletes, as is often the case in Olympic sports. Most Olympic gymnasts and ice skaters, for instance, have their own coaches — people who work full time to develop that one athlete’s skills and chances of winning. In most cases, becoming a coach in a professional capacity requires a combination of intensive personal experience, formal education, and connections in the field.
Importance of Experience
With very few exceptions, professional coaches are people who have direct personal experience with the sport they’re working with. Most played themselves at a university or semi-professional level, and usually had storied careers as athletes before ever considering coaching. You don’t necessarily have to be an experienced player before you can coach, but it will help. A known history with the sport proves that you know the insides of how things work, and also lends some credibility to your insights and advice.
If you know ahead of time that coaching is something you’d like to do, it’s a good idea to try to play at both the high school and university levels. Many student players move on to coach at the university, semi-professional, or professional levels. Not only do they know the game, but they are also in tune with the needs of the players and the challenges that athletes face.
Formal education is also something to think about. If you’re interested in a career as a professional sports coach, a Bachelor’s degree is all but essential. You don’t necessarily have to study or major in a sports related field to be eligible; in most cases, simply having a university degree is the most important thing. Taking classes that can help your career trajectory is normally a good move, though.
Courses of study conducive to a career as a professional coach include physical education, sports medicine, nutrition and fitness, sports science, and sports management. Students in these programs will engage in a variety of sports, learning the games and how to coach them. Many sports management programs also offer classes in marketing, public relations, and facilities management; the basic aspects of law, economics, and information technology are usually also included. Studying these aspects more formally can make you more well-rounded and adaptable.
More Casual Coaches
Not all coaches view the job as a full-time career, and you will probably be able to become a coach on a more casual basis simply by getting involved. Many youth coaches have little to no experience with the sport they’re representing, but they are parents of players or are otherwise interested in seeing the kids succeed. It’s common for high schools to recruit teachers to serve as coaches or assistant coaches on student teams, too. In these cases, an enthusiasm for the sport, a willingness to learn its nuances, and a willingness to commit a lot of time to practices and games — many of which happen on weekends or on evenings — is one of the most important things. Some casual coaches are paid a stipend or basic salary, but not all are. It’s more common for these sorts of people to volunteer their services or expertise.
Be Willing to Start Small
The best way to start work at a local level is to volunteer to help a local children’s team. Depending on the size of your city or town and its location, there are probably youth football, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, and basketball leagues that are looking for volunteers.
Once you are involved with the team, you can begin to learn what it takes to become a coach by observing the way the existing leader handles the team. You’ll also be in the know when a coaching or assistant coaching position becomes available and will have built up some experience, making you a natural pick for the job. From youth leagues, you might be able to move up to an assistant position for a local school team. Although a university degree is usually required for a head coaching position, you might be able to volunteer at your local school without much formal education or training.