If you have a passion for sports, a career as a coach might appeal to you. You probably know that most coaches have at least some experience playing the sport they coach, but what you might not know is the importance of the right education.
Are There Coaching Majors in College?
When browsing through the programs of study in a college catalog, you might not immediately find a major that seems to fit your career aspirations as a coach. Some colleges and universities do offer programs of study that focus on sports coaching, but these specialized courses of study are usually concentrations or areas of emphasis within broader academic majors.
If you’re not finding the coaching major you hoped for, consider exploring degree programs in related areas of study, such as physical education, kinesiology, exercise science, sports medicine, nutrition and fitness or sports management.
Because coaches typically have some experience playing the sport themselves, they understand the game thoroughly and understand what challenges players must overcome. Coaches must also be good leaders and communicators to be able to inspire their teams to improve their performance and reach their goals. Good coaches are resourceful enough to devise effective ways of training athletes and have excellent decision-making skills. They must be able to quickly decide which athletes to play and what strategy to employ to win a game. Given these demands, it makes sense that studies in many different subjects, from writing and public speaking to psychology, can help improve an aspiring coach’s skills, regardless of which major they choose.
Coaching a team requires a lot of dedication. You must be willing to spend time on the field and in training facilities for each game, tournament and practice session, as well as thinking about strategies and effective training exercises when you’re not on the field.
What Education Is Needed to Become a Coach?
Do you really need to go to college to be a coach? Although the strategies for winning sports performance may not seem particularly academic in nature, coaches need extensive knowledge of sports rules and regulations, the fitness training exercises that will improve players’ skills in the sport and effective methods of teaching. A college education addresses these needs to prepare aspiring coaches for their careers.
Once you realize that you need a higher level of education to work as a coach, the next question to consider is which level of degree you should pursue. The top three most common levels of education reported among coaches and scouts—accounting for a total of 85 percent of the occupation—are all types of college degrees, according to O*NET. Nearly half of all coaches and scouts reported having a bachelor’s degree, while 19 percent had a master’s degree and 17 percent had an associate’s degree.
Generally, the higher level of education you have, the more career opportunities will be available to you. For example, if you hope to be a coach at a K-12 school, you will usually need to be hired as a teacher and to meet the requirements for a teaching license in your state, which typically include earning a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. That’s one reason the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a bachelor’s degree as the typical level of education required for a career as a coach.
If you aspire to move into a management role, like athletic director, you’re more likely to need a master’s degree.
Career Plans With a Coach Degree
Coaches are the sports professionals who lead athletes to victory through their direction both on the field and in preparing for games through training and team practices. While both professional and amateur athletes in all sports rely on their coaches for guidance and training, most paid coaches work for public and private schools at the elementary, secondary and college and university levels.
Coaches develop plans for team practice sessions to help each player better develop their skills as well as helping the team work together. During practice and training sessions, coaches aim to improve athletes’ physical technique, stamina, form and skills as well as teaching them the value of teamwork and good sportsmanship. They devise strategies based on their teams’ skills and the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents. They motivate their players to do their best. During games, coaches call plays, choose strategies to win and decide which athletes will play at a given time.
At every level, good coaching is essential to an athlete’s success. Coaches at the elementary school, high school, college and university and professional levels work diligently with athletes to build their physical sports skills, enhance teamwork and inspire greatness. They strategize, motivate and make decisions that help sports teams achieve their goals to the best of their players’ abilities.
Coaches’ earnings can vary widely depending upon their places of employment. The median salary for coaches and scouts was $36,330 as of 2020, the BLS reported. Coaches at colleges and universities tend to earn the most, with a median wage of $47,020, while those who work at public and private elementary and secondary schools reported a median salary of $31,450 per year.
To put these numbers in perspective, it’s important to note that not all coaches work full-time in this profession. Many coaches will coach multiple sports throughout the year or coach in addition to doing other work, like teaching in the classroom as well as on the field.
Aspiring coaches can look forward to a positive job outlook. The BLS anticipated the number of coaching jobs to grow by a faster than average rate of 26 percent between 2020 and 2030.
Choosing a College Degree for Coaching
Often, the most important requirement to become a successful coach is knowledge of the game. A formal education might not be the primary consideration of an aspiring coach, but a degree—and the coursework that leads to it—is still important for success.
Which degree you should earn to be a coach depends on where you want to work and what your interests are. At the high school level, coaches are typically teachers at the school, and not necessarily physical education teachers. You could pursue a degree in secondary education and any subject area, such as English, history or mathematics, and still become a coach, as well. At the college and professional levels, most coaches have a degree in a relevant subject, including coaching, physical education, kinesiology, exercise science, sports medicine, nutrition and fitness or sports management.
Specialized Coaching Major Programs
Students majoring in a sport and coaching science or similar program will complete classes aimed at cultivating the most important skills for coaches. The classes may include the theory and practice of coaching, psychosocial aspects of sport and coaching, psychomotor development, sports supplements for human performance and ethics in sports administration and coaching. These specialized courses typically build upon an exercise science or similar curriculum that will likely include classes in biomechanics, motor learning, the physiology of exercise, nutrition for exercise and sport and the principles of strength and conditioning.
Internships are often part of the curriculum in degree programs in exercise science and related majors. If you’re pursuing a degree that includes an emphasis on coaching, or if you opt for a more general major but still have a desire to coach, you might look for an internship opportunity in which you could work as a coaching assistant or a strength and conditioning intern.
Even if you hope to coach at an elementary or secondary school, you don’t have to be a gym or phys ed teacher to do so. Of course, if you have an interest in coaching, you likely have an interest in physical activity more broadly. A degree in physical education will help you develop your teaching skills as well as your knowledge of exercise, physical activity and human physiology.
Some of the classes you might take in a physical education degree program include the study of human diseases, the development and philosophy of health and physical education, assessment and technology in health and physical education and mental health in schools, drug education in schools and sexuality in schools. Students will also take classes in the physiology of exercise, basic motor learning and kinesiology. Skills-based courses might cover different types of sports and physical activities, including fielding, net games and target games.
When you major in kinesiology, you’re studying the mechanics of how the human body moves. Undergraduate kinesiology majors are likely to learn about exercise physiology, the biomechanics of human movement, motor behavior, nutrition for exercise, adapted physical activity and critical issues in kinesiology.
The field of kinesiology is interdisciplinary, and degree programs might include studies in subjects like injury management, psychology of sport and physical activity, sociocultural dimensions of physical activity and power and privilege in sport. Besides coach, jobs for kinesiology majors can include personal trainer, exercise physiologist, fitness program director or fitness entrepreneur.
Exercise is a big part of training to develop one’s skills in any sport, so it makes sense that some coaches choose to learn about the science of exercise. Majoring in exercise science typically means taking a combination of laboratory science courses and classes in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and kinesiology and health.
Because degrees in exercise science can prepare you for many different career paths, schools may offer concentrations within this major in areas such as exercise physiology, physician assistant studies, athletic training, physical therapy, pediatrics and lifestyle medicine. Of course, to pursue some of these careers, you need to pursue additional studies, like a master’s degree to become a PA or a doctoral degree to become a physical therapist or a pediatrician.
A bachelor’s degree in sports medicine isn’t equivalent to an actual medical degree—an allopathic Doctor of Medicine (MD) or osteopathic Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). However, majoring in sports medicine as an undergraduate can prepare you for a career as a coach, strength and conditioning specialist or kinesiotherapist. It can also provide a stepping stone toward a career in athletic training, physical therapy or sports psychologist.
Coursework in sports medicine includes basic studies in anatomy, general and exercise physiology, kinesiology and biomechanics. Students study the tests and measurements used in exercise science evaluation, the therapeutic modalities and exercise and rehabilitation used in athletic training and the clinical evaluation and rehabilitation of upper body and lower body athletic injuries.
Nutrition and Fitness
The fuel you put into your body can affect its performance. As a coach, having some knowledge of both nutrition and fitness can help you better prepare the players you train for success on the field, court or track. When you choose nutrition and fitness, nutrition and exercise or similar programs of study as your major, you will take a blend of coursework in areas of science, nutrition and exercise.
Science classes such as biology or life science, general chemistry, organic chemistry and biochemistry are part of the curriculum. Some of the nutrition-focused coursework you may take will likely include nutrition through the life cycle, sports nutrition, nutrition and fitness communication strategies and advanced nutrition. The exercise and fitness-focused courses include human anatomy, human physiology, exercise physiology, exercise testing, personal training, personal and group exercise and clinical exercise physiology.
Sports management degrees are popular at the master’s degree level as well as the bachelor’s degree level. This broader and more business-focused area of study can prepare you to manage sports teams, strategies and practices, as coaches do. The curriculum also helps equip students with the skills to work in administrative and management roles, ranging from athletic director and athlete development specialist to sports marketing executive and business operations director. Sports management curricula
Specialized coursework in sports management may include legal and ethical aspects of sport management, the sociology of sport, sports marketing and promotion, sports writing, sport finance and sports venue and event management. As a management major, a sports management program also includes core coursework in business, including financial accounting, micro and macroeconomics and the principles of marketing, management and business communications.
Regardless of which major they pursue, many coaches, especially those working with high school student-athletes, must learn first aid care, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), to achieve state certification, according to the BLS.