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Coaching and training athletes is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. However, do you know how to become a sports coach? It seems like a simple question, but it can have many different answers and expectations, depending on the particular situation. Below are a few thoughts to keep in mind while on embarking on a path to becoming a coach.
The actual process of how to become a sports coach can vary quite a bit depending on what type of coach you want to be, for what sport, and at what level. Youth sport coaching has the lowest barrier to entry and the fewest requirements. To be an assistant coach for a local recreation league or middle school, all that’s usually required is to sign a liability waiver, be willing to volunteer your time, and submit to a background check.
Areas with a higher population usually mean more competition – both between schools’ athletic programs and to get a coaching position at one. Middle school head coaching jobs aren’t as competitive as the same area’s high school positions are, but having a certification in coaching your chosen sport will greatly improve your chances.
Whereas youth sporting programs are generally for the purpose of letting kids have some fun while exposing them to a new sport for the first time, high school sports more heavily emphasize competition and winning. As a result, you’ll want a more robust resume.
A good chunk of the high school sport coaching jobs (especially head coach positions) actually end up going to teachers at that same high school. Often what you see is someone getting a teaching job at a high school, they have a long history in their chosen sport (including having competed through at least the collegiate level), and are then able to get a job coaching on the side.
They can secure these jobs without a relevant degree or certification because they are former players who have a sort of “in” because they’re teachers. If you’re not going to become a teacher then a sports or exercise related degree and/or certification are all but necessary to qualify you.
Collegiate sports coaching is when things start to get really serious. Rare is the coach who splits their time between their team and a teaching position or job of some kind. There can be big money in college sports, so only the most qualified applicants have a shot at landing a job.
You’ll definitely have the better luck if you have an extensive athletic career. Having played your chosen sport through the collegiate ranks is almost a necessity, and most high-level coaches have competed professionally. Next, you’ll want to have at least an undergraduate degree in something sports or exercise related, and a graduate degree is even better. An internship may or may not be required to get the degree, but doing one will provide invaluable experience and should still be done.
Certifications are going to be a big plus in this department. The main reason for this is because most sports coaching certifications also involve a heavy teaching component in addition to the testing process. This makes it a form of continuing education, which collegiate coaches need to engage in if they’re going to stay ahead of their competition and keep their athletes winning.
While a highly qualified resume is definitely important, the most critical and beneficial thing a potential collegiate coach can have is actual coaching experience. The fact of the matter is that most coaches simply just don’t begin their coaching career with college athletes.
There are exceptions to the rule – say an athlete gets their degree from a small college or university, immediately enters graduate school, and is able to turn around and land a volunteer assistant coaching position for his or her alma mater’s team. Situations like this aren’t commonplace, however. The sooner you can start coaching at the youth or high school ranks to build your experience level, the better off you’ll be.
Experience is also the most common deciding factor when it comes to coaching at the professional level. There really aren’t additional degrees, certifications, or the like that will “qualify” you any more to bump up to coaching professional teams. What will qualify you, however, is having a winning record as a college coach.
If you’re planning on becoming a sports coach, then you’ll want to get a sports related degree. Sports science and sports management are both perfect options. Choosing exercise science or something similar would be smart if you could end up on the strength and conditioning side of things. Exercise science would also be a good choice if you think you may have to go the teaching route while getting initial coaching experience, as it would easily qualify you for a PE teaching job.
As for certifications, the AAU is the best place to start. They’ve got the widest range of sports certifications available, and they’ll all be widely accepted and recognized. Another good bet would be to look at the USA governing body of your individual sport. For example, USA Football, USA Track & Field, and USA Softball all offer certifications in their respective sports.
Just know that there’s not a USA body for all sports, but the AAU does cover most everything. Regardless of which you choose (or both), getting as many certifications as possible will not only bolster your resume, but give you more of the continuing education discussed above.
The number of sport coaching jobs is due to increase at least 6% by 2024 according to the US Burearu of Labor Statistics. This means now is the perfect time to become a coach. Continually educate yourself, obtain any necessary certifications, and you could find yourself getting to immerse yourself in your favorite sport full-time.
You may also be interested in reading our article on how to become a fitness trainer.