Athletic Coach

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Athletic Coach

Education and Training: Bachelor's degree or master's degree plus training; state certification necessary for some positions

Salary: Mean—$32,780 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Athletic coaches instruct and work with athletes to prepare them for competition. Coaches help athletes to play their best individually or as a team in sports such as football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, rowing, tennis, and golf. They are experts on the rules, strategies, and techniques of their sports. Coaches must also know about sports equipment, physical fitness, and safety.

Coaches work in professional sports, college sports, and secondary school sports. Some coaches work individually with promising students at camps, clubs, and clinics designed specifically for teaching. Most coaches work in middle schools and high schools as part-time and full-time faculty members.

The first task for most coaches is to pick the players for a team. Selecting players involves knowing how to put together a balanced team, how to recognize potential athletic ability, and how to find and attract good players. Coaches at all levels look for players by scouting or sending out scouts to watch players on other teams. For instance, college scouts look for good high school players who may want to participate in college sports; professional team scouts look for promising college players.

After a team is formed, coaches help the athletes work out plays and strategies that suit their talents. Coaches must also prepare players mentally for competition, since it is important for athletes to have the right frame of mind so they can perform to the best of their abilities.

Middle school and high school coaches are often responsible for many administrative tasks. They may maintain supplies and equipment, reserve playing facilities, and schedule practices. In addition school athletic coaches must keep track of whether their players' grades are high enough to make them eligible for school teams. Some high school coaches have assistants and student managers to help with these duties.

Professional teams and many college teams are run by large staffs that may include managers, trainers, and secretaries. Professional and college team coaches work for profit-making organizations and are consequently under pressure to deliver winning teams that draw paying fans to the games. The main responsibility of all coaches, however, is to their players. They must put the players first, a task that involves, for instance, being able to determine when a fatigued player should be removed from a game or how much time an injured player needs to recover. A team physician often helps with these decisions. Coaches help players perfect their abilities, keep them fit to compete, and teach them to put forth their best effort under the pressure of competitive play.

Education and Training Requirements

A bachelor's degree is usually the minimum requirement for coaches who work in school systems; however, many schools only hire coaches with a master's degree. Some high schools also require their coaches to be state certified. Prospective athletic coaches should check the certification requirements in their state before making decisions that affect their education. Certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is always helpful. Schools and colleges usually prefer to hire coaches who have varsity or professional playing experience. The most important qualifications, though, are a tremendous sense of motivation and a love of the game.

A coach must have good communication and supervisory skills, the ability to make decisions under pressure, maturity, and self-confidence. Many years of college coaching are necessary to coach a professional team.

Getting the Job

For a coaching position at a school, interested individuals should apply to the school district of their choice. At the middle school or high school level coaches may be required to work as teachers of physical education or another subject. Candidates for a position as an instructional coach in a country club, tennis club, camp, or gym should apply directly to facilities of this type. Professional coaches are usually recruited by team managers and owners.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Coaches who start by coaching small high school or college teams may move on to schools with larger, more well-known athletic departments. Advancement ultimately depends on the success of the team, which among other factors is influenced by the coach's educational background and ability to deal with players on a personal level. Coaches in some sports go into business for themselves by buying and operating a sports club.

The employment outlook for athletic coaches is expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. Sports of all kinds are popular throughout the nation, and many new school and professional teams are being formed; however, competition for some coaching positions—especially those at the university level—will be intense because those openings occur only as a result of coaches retiring or being let go.

Working Conditions

Coaching is a high-pressure job that offers little security. The fans, the school administration, or the club owners want winning teams and may blame the coach if the team loses. Coaches must work hard to develop good teams if they want to keep their jobs. Prospective athletic coaches can expect to spend a considerable amount of time on the road going to games and often have to spend nights and weekends on the job. The best coaches are those who think that the excitement of the games and the opportunity to work in sports is worth all of the hard work and long hours.

Where to Go for More Information

National Association of Sports Officials
2017 Lathrop Ave.
Racine, WI 53405
(262) 632-5448

National Athletic Trainers Association
2952 Stemmons Fwy.
Dallas, TX 75247
(214) 637-6282

National High School Athletics Coaches Association
c/o Norwich Free Academy
305 Broadway
Norwich, CT 06360
(860) 425-5512

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries for coaches depend on the type of sports and the size of the schools or athletic departments for which they work. Other factors affecting salaries include experience, education, and geographic location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for all athletic coaches in 2004 was $32,780. College coaches earn more. Many high school coaches earn $800 to $3,000 per year in addition to their teaching salaries. Coaches can earn extra money in the off-season or in the summer by working for camps and clinics. Top professional coaches may earn $800,000 per year or more.

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Athletic Coach

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