Last Updated on January 2, 2024
Coaching Master’s Program Guide
Coaching Degree Programs
Since the inception of organized sports, coaching has been an important role. Throughout the years there have been monumental coaches across various sports that have been immortalized in the memory of fans as well as pop culture. Disney’s Miracle highlights Herb Brooks’ 1980 American Olympic Hockey Team’s unlikely gold medals. The classic Hoosiers showcases Gene Hackman as the inspirational Coach Norman Dale.
If you are interested in sports, have a knack for leadership, can manage both people and adversity, then coaching could very well be both a fulfilling and lucrative career.
This guide will outline some different programs and options for those looking to break into the world of coaching a build a career in sports
Coaching in the Modern Era
In most professional and collegiate level organizations, coaches must be certified by their respective state agency. Each state is different, but do not be surprised if an employer needs a state coaching certificate and even a CPR certificate.
Recently, the labor market for coaching has seen a fair amount of movement and churning as head coaches and assistant coaches are being bounced around from team to team. There is certainly an opportunity for folks to take advantage of these moving pieces and secure themselves a position at a reputable school.
In years past, it was common for coaches to have a background in exercise science and kinesiology. As time went on, candidates with backgrounds in sport psychology were also highly valued, as they can help athletes maintain mental fitness. Fairly recently, there has been an emergence of coaching master’s programs that cover relevant and practical topics that equips students with the tools they need to become successful coaches.
Fifty years ago, the only role for coaches was on professional and organized sports teams, but now there are private coaches that help people improve their curveball, clear distractions at the free-throw line, push themselves during ultra-endurance events, or help them visualize their next shot off the tee.
What is Taught in A Master’s of Coaching?
A typical coaching program will have foundational courses like “Effective Sport Coaching” and “Planning, Implementation, & Evaluation for Sport Coaching.” On top of that, there will be courses related to kinesiology, exercise science, psychology, and more. Many programs have a slew of electives available to students that fall under the category of risk management, nutrition, performance, and more. Students who are interested in the laws and ethics around sports, as well as biomechanics and sport medicine, can certainly find a program that will teach them the fundamentals but also offer opportunities for students to gain in-depth knowledge about their areas of interest.
Most master’s programs are at least 30 programs and can be completed in 1-2 years. In some cases, a school may have an internship opportunity or a way for students to gain practical skills, or at the very least observe college coaches in their workplace. This is a huge perk of a degree program that is specific to coaching, as other degree programs will likely not have opportunities like these.
In general, a master’s degree will teach you how to be an effective motivator, leader, and manager. You will also learn how to assess skills, and also how to manage the business side of a team.
Brian Zuleger, who teaches a M.S. in Coaching at Adams State University, recently explained to Sports Degrees Online how important it is for coaching to be recognized as a profession,
“There is a big push to have coaching more recognized as a profession and requiring minimum standards of education. Coaches have the same access to young people that teachers do, and often in more relaxed settings with less oversight, standards, and evaluation processes…Sport is a big deal in society and thus coaches are in positions of power. This power can be used in a positive way to improve lives and society through sport, or can be used in a negative way.”[source]
A Master’s in Coaching degree ensures that graduates are prepared with the skills needed to handle what can be a very tricky and dynamic role. According to Zuleger, a M.S. in Coaching prepares students in a variety of ways,
“Some of the important skills graduates’ gain are developing a coaching philosophy, leadership, communication, building caring coach-athlete relationships, understanding of athlete mindset and behavior, how to create physically and psychologically safe training and competition environments, how to improve well-being and mental health of the coach and athletes, proper training design for long-term athlete development, etc.”[source]
Coaching by the Numbers – Salaries and Opportunities
Coaching is not just important and prevalent in popular culture, but it is also potentially lucrative. At many universities, coaches are the highest-paid employees. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a college football coach is over $38,000 a year, but those at the top can make serious money. There are 21 coaches making over $5 million a year, with Nick Saban at the top of the list. While very few coaches will ever make more than a million dollars a year, it is motivating to many to work in a career where there is no hard and fast cap on earnings.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are almost 250,000 coaching jobs in the country, and from 2020-2030, there is an expected 26% job growth in the field. This is much faster than average, and studying coaching now certainly can put you in a great position to obtain one of the newly created positions in the future. Each year there will be movement in the market. Again, for the BLS their analysis states that “About 45,100 openings for coaches and scouts are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.”
States with the highest number of coaches employed are California, Ohio, Texas, Washington, and New York (in that order). In terms of states that pay the most generously, the highest-paid positions are located in Washington DC, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Are Sports coaching Degrees Available Online?
In short, yes. Like many other master’s programs there are online options for students that need or desire flexibility. Students can find a program that is both asynchronous and synchronous. And of course, there are plenty of in-person options for master’s programs across the country.
Career Options for Coaches
While there are a fast-growing number of jobs in the realm of coaching, it remains a highly competitive field. There are a few different options for people just getting started, and you can read more about coaching career advice on our Coaching Career Guide. For many, the first step is an internship, or even volunteering. Dr. Carrie LeCrom of Virginia COmmonwealth university spoke with Sports Degrees Online and said that “The more internships you can do, or volunteer for a local event that’s in your town…that…not only makes you look like a better candidate for a job or grad school but it will also help you decide before you devote your future to it. ‘Is this something I really want to do long term?’”
There are certainly many different intern and volunteer opportunities for you, but that is a research opportunity for a later date. In terms of where you could take your knowledge and skills learned in a master’s degree, there is truly no limit. While there are a limited number of collegiate and professional teams, there are almost an unlimited number of people who are looking to improve themselves and their performance.
Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, produced and hosted a very interesting podcast series about the prevalence of coaching in the modern world in his series Against the Rules. Throughout the series, he points out that people seek coaches for all sorts of things both within and outside of sports. Also mentioned are the salaries and respect these private coaches command.
There are many people who make a very fruitful living by helping others maximize their performance using all sorts of different techniques. They are helping both amateur and professional athletes reach their peak and achieve their goals.