Coaches teach athletic skills, provide generalized fitness training, and train athletes to perform in physical and competitive environments. “I’m a teacher, a leader, a friend, and I hate it when we lose,” wrote one high school varsity football coach, “but not as much as the kids or their parents do.” Being a coach requires the successful juggling of these various caps. The athletes and the coach each motivate the other to perform at a higher level; this relationship demands commitment, awareness, and dedication. People who find themselves satisfied in this profession have strong teaching skills, an abundance of motivation to work additional hours, and excellent communication skills. “Leadership skills are essential,” wrote one college volleyball coach, “otherwise your good athletes won’t respect you enough to listen to you.”
What sport and age level you wish to coach will have a substantial impact on what preparation is needed beyond knowing your chosen sport very well. The skills required to coach high school tennis, for example, are quite different from the skills required to coach professional baseball. Competition is significant for entry-level positions; on more advanced levels, special skills such as weight training expertise, stretching, and psychological training become more highly valued. Progression is difficult within and between coaching levels. One person articulated the dilemma clearly: “You want to work for the best coaches to learn your job, but the best coaches never get fired or leave, so you’ve got to jump into another system somewhere else and start all over again.” Many coaches enjoy going to conferences to meet other professionals and to learn new methods of fitness training and injury prevention.
Coaching different age levels requires different sets of skills. If you want to coach high school sports, you should have comprehensive knowledge of your sport, knowledge of physical fitness training, and some basic training in injury prevention, first aid, and childhood development. Many employers look for a history of athletics in the sport-being on a high school, college, or professional team will stand you in good stead. Having worked for a youth league or summer camp as a coach works to your advantage.
On the college level, you should have an understanding of a specialty within a sport-for example, in football, you might be a defensive line coach, or a quarterback coach-and the ability to translate that knowledge into terms college athletes can understand and envision. Applicants should have at least three semesters worth of physical training and a history of success coaching at the high school level or above. Many college coaches are hired in part because of personal relationships with the coaching staff, so cultivate contacts. Professional seminars, successful interviewing skills, and recommendations from former coached pupils can help. Many coaches work with “high talent” stars, thereby associating the athlete’s fame and prowess with their own skills.
All of the above-mentioned criteria are required for coaching professional teams. Strong candidates have had successes at the college level, attained national exposure, and most likely, have refined a specialty, such as “special teams coach” (a football term for kicking teams or kick-returning teams) or “shooting coach.”
Many coaches return to teaching if they leave coaching. Over 25 percent return to school to get graduate degrees in physical therapy, nutrition, exercise physiology, or medical training. A number use their leadership skills to run team-oriented projects in business settings. Around 10 percent migrate to occupations which allow them to be outdoors and active, such as policemen, firemen, park rangers, personal trainers, and semiprofessional athletes.