Do you fancy being the next Alex Ferguson? Do you want to lead a team of sporting professionals to international glory? Are you desperate to refer to yourself as ‘the Special One’? Do you want that immense feeling of satisfaction as your best athlete breaks a world record in an Olympic final? Well, then, you should probably find out what it takes to be a professional sports coach!
As a sports coach or instructor, your primary job will be to provide expert training for athletes. You’ll be assisting their skills development and ensuring peak performance and fitness are achieved during crucial times, such as competitions, tournaments, matches, trials and qualifying events.
The difference between a sports coach and a sports instructor is minimal, and the terms are used interchangeably most of the time. However, coaches are mainly involved in identifying and nurturing talented athletes, while sports instructors are involved in providing theoretical and practical instruction in a specific sport or helping athletes to maintain their general health and fitness.
Prospective employers include amateur, professional and semi-professional sports clubs, schools, colleges and universities, local authorities, sports development organisations, gyms and fitness centres, other leisure facilities and sports administration bodies.
Competitive sport is a global industry, with attractive employment opportunities for sports coaches with excellent skills and an established record of winning competitions or grooming potential winners.
Professional sports coaches with expertise in football, rugby, tennis, athletics and other popular sports can earn almost as much as the sportspeople they are coaching, and can choose to work anywhere in the world.
If you enter this profession, you will be responsible for assessing the performance of the athletes under your expert direction, and analysing the flaws or weaknesses of their forthcoming opponents. You’ll then be in charge of developing tactics and training activities.
You’ll also be helping your athletes to develop new skills and prepare mentally for competitions. Moreover, you’ll be liaising with other sporting professionals to make sure the athletes reach optimal fitness levels at the right time.
Salary & benefits
Your salary will vary depending on your sport, what level you coach at, your employer’s budget, your reputation and your level of expertise and experience.
Starting level salaries range between £16,000 and £30,000 per annum, increasing to between £25,000 and £70,000 or more with additional experience and expertise. Some national and international coaches can even earn millions of pounds a year.
Some coaches also receive performance-based bonuses, subject to the achievement of targeted goals, such as the number of competitions or matches won, promotion to higher leagues or the acquisition of prize money. Other incentives include health insurance, company cars and additional lifestyle benefits.
Corporate sponsorship, product endorsements and advertisements are also offered to coaches with prior sporting experience, international reputation and popularity in the public domain.
A sports coach’s job does not involve your typical nine-to-five, Monday to Friday routine. Early starts are the norm during the playing season, with training sessions often held between 6am and 10am.
Additional training sessions are also likely to take place in the evenings, between 3pm and 6pm. Matches and competitions are often scheduled in the evenings and during weekends when maximum crowds are expected.
Travelling for away matches or competitions is also a frequent occurrence during the playing season. Some coaches may even have to travel internationally for major events and tournaments.
An academic background in a sport-related discipline can be helpful, although in order to work as a coach, you will need to successfully complete a professional coaching certification in your chosen sport. This will have to be administered by a relevant National Governing Body (NGB) in the UK, such as the Football Association (FA).
Candidates must be at least 16 years of age to apply for introductory courses, which can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis. Certificate courses are likely to involve a mixture of classroom-based theoretical learning sessions and practical field-based training. You’ll need to complete all practical tests and modules in their entirety to receive the appropriate accreditation.
Training & progression
In order to maintain a competitive edge, many coaches take up additional training courses and skills development programmes with organisations such as Sports Coach UK.
However, a lot of your training and development must be self-initiated. To be a truly successful sports coach, you need to immerse yourself in the sport and keep up to date on all the latest developments and innovative training methods and techniques.
As you progress, you may develop a roster of various athletes who you will coach individually. You may also be offered new coaching jobs with bigger and better teams as your reputation improves. Some sports coaches eventually move into roles that focus on sports policy development and sports administration.