The Real Poop
You played church league softball when you were growing up. You have lots of great memories of catching fly balls and pegging members of opposing teams in the back, but what you remember most is your coach. He was an older guy, someone who loved the sport and so volunteered his Saturdays and a couple of afternoons a week to practices and games. You learned a lot from him: how to hit, how to catch, how to win and lose gracefully. One lesson more than any other has stuck with you through the years, however: There’s no crying in baseball.
Now you’d like to pass what you learned in church league softball on to a new generation, not as a volunteer instructor, but as an actual, honest-to-goodness athletic coach. While there are several team sports you could coach and various levels you could coach at, all coaching jobs share some similarities:
- You’ll plan and conduct practice sessions, where you’ll instruct your team on technique, the rules of the sport, strategy, and why it’s a bad idea to try and to purposely injure members of the opposing team
- You’ll prep for games by analyzing the other team and your own players, so you can decide who should play what position and when
- You’ll give heartwarming pep talks prior to and during games
- You’ll call plays and substitutions and argue with the ref during games, and get ejected as needed
- You’ll track your team’s performance and adjust how your athletes train accordingly
- You’ll identify and recruit athletes who would make good additions to your team
You long to be a high school, college, or professional-level coach, not because you love a particular sport, but because you adore it, and you want to see it played well. Maybe you played the sport in high school or college, maybe you were good, but not great, or maybe your athletic career was ended too soon by an injury. Whatever the case, you believe that you’re the best possible person to teach others, not only how to play the game, but how to win it.
You’ll have to possess top-notch communication skills in order to fill the sometimes empty skulls of your athletes with information. You’ll need to be able to make intelligent and resourceful decisions about who to play during and how to play the game. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll have to lead. As a high school coach, you’ll be shaping young men and women, not only into competent athletes, but into (hopefully) competent adults. As a college or professional coach, you’ll be directing players who may be wonderful people…or who may be full-blown basket cases. Wherever you’re coaching, you need to show your players how to be motivated, dedicated, and disciplined.
So, how do you become a coach? At the high school level, you just have to want the job. Seriously: That’s the requirement. You’re the kind of person who likes kids (bless you for that, because hormonal teenagers are awful) and wants to show them how much they can learn about being decent, successful human beings through sports. You also have the fortitude of a saint, because the only thing worse than a hormonal teenager, is the parent of a hormonal teenager who thinks their kid is the second coming of Michael Phelps.
If you want to coach the University of South Carolina to its next College World Series title, or the Denver Broncos to that bright and shiny Vince Lombardi Trophy, you can’t just want to be a coach. You’ve got to go after your dream like a dog going after a rabbit:
- Get your undergraduate degree in a field like sports management or sport science and exercise
- Play the sport you want to coach at the college level
- Go on to earn a master’s degree in a field like education or sports administration
- Work as a minion to a coach while you’re in graduate school
Only after you’ve jumped through all these hoops will you be eligible for coaching jobs, and you’ll often start out at the bottom of the ladder, coaching a junior varsity team or a specific element of a team, like the offensive line. If you want to move up from an assistant position to head coach, well, you’ll have to prove that you’re the next Connie Mack.
You probably think that coaching is awesome and exciting and stuff because, yes, you get to be a part of a sport you love. Yes, you get to feel satisfaction when your team wins, and tear-inducing pride that your vision is what helped lead to victory. Yes, you may garner national acclaim as a coach, although there are very specific circumstances in which that kind of fame occurs. Yes, you may be well-compensated for your efforts, although—again—this only happens in certain cases.
However, sometimes being a coach will make you wish you could have a close encounter with an Acme anvil . The hours suck, and you can kiss your family and personal life goodbye, especially when your sport is in season. Job security is nonexistent, and whether or not you get to keep your position as a coach depends on how your team performs and, sometimes, no matter how good of a coach you are, your team is going to bomb. The fans and the owners will expect your team to win often and win big; they’ll want trophies and titles that you may not be able to deliver. The media will hound you, especially if your team is not performing as well as it might, and while you’ll want to give the entirety of the press corps the middle finger, you really aren’t supposed to do that.
Additionally, you’ll have to be prepared to deal with bad behavior from your players. Maybe they’ll do nothing more egregious than giving a really candid interview to a TV reporter or maybe they’ll be indicted for murder. Accept the fact that, sometimes, sports can contribute to bringing out the worst in people.
If coaching doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there are other careers you could pursue. Maybe you’re actually good enough at your sport to play professionally (many coaches aren’t). Perhaps you’d prefer to work as a scout, where you focus on evaluating potential players for recruitment. You could also become a referee or game official, or instruct athletes in a sport one-on-one. Heck, if you love the game and can string a sentence together, maybe you have what it takes to be a sports writer.