Relatively speaking, the idea that you can earn an education in Coaching is a very new concept to the higher education landscape. Kinesiology degrees, Physical Education, and Sport Management used to be as close as you could get. Now, there is a select list of universities than hone in on the techniques and wide array of skills required to become a coach in any sport and at any level.
Most coaching degree programs are held on campus, but at the Masters degree level, there are a few online options as well. A degree in coaching goes beyond the administrative and tactical knowledge - it address communication styles, leadership theory, and strategy of the specific sport in which you desire to lead a team. Because it's a new specialization in just the last 10 years or so, students graduating with this degree on their resume stand to have a leg up on the competition when they enter the coaching field.
What accreditation to look for in coaching degrees
The equivalent of a COSMA or NASSM type of accreditation for Coaching programs is called the National Committee for Accreditation of Coaching Education or NCACE, for short. The NCACE offers accreditation and national recognition to sport organizations, specifically institutions, responsible for the preparation of coaches at all levels of sport competitiveness.
4 Top Accredited Bachelors Programs in Coaching
#1 University of Northern Colorado - On Campus B.S. in Sport & Exercise Science - Sports Coaching Emphasis
On top of a quality sport and exercise science degree, this program goes in-depth on what it takes to coach a variety of sports. The core curriculum includes courses like Advanced First Aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, Introduction to Physical Education as a Profession, Biomechanics, and Social Influences on Sport and Exercise Behavior. Then, as part of the Sports Coaching Emphasis, students will encounter the courses of Teaching Diverse Populations, Principles of Coaching, and Planning and Instructional Design. Finally, degree-seekers will choose 2 Coaching and Officiating electives with 9 sports to specifically choose from: Volleyball, Swimming, Softball, Soccer, Track & Field, Football, Tennis, Basketball, or Baseball. Cost for Northern Colorado is estimated at $950 per credit hour total.
#2 Georgia Southern University - On Campus Minor in Coaching
While not a full degree program on its own, Georgia Southern is the only school in the University of Georgia system to be accredited by the NCACE for their minor in coaching. This track would pair well with their degree program tracks in athletic training, nutrition, and sport management. Requiring 15 hours, this minor adequately prepares students to sit for the GHSA Community Coach Certification, five of the National Federation of State High School Associations certificates, and seven of the Human Kinetics Coach Education certificates.
#3 University of Southern Mississippi - On Campus B.S. in Sport Coaching Education
This full degree program in sport coaching education also requires a minor of the students' choosing to round out their education. USM offers some of the most specialized courses in coaching, even among programs on this list. Also accredited by the NCACE, students can choose elective courses in coaching sports outside the mainstream sports of baseball, basketball, and football, like golf, track and field, or tennis, for instance. They also offer courses in Coaching the Male (and Coaching the Female) Athlete adapted to the specific anatomic differences between both genders.
#4 United States Sports Academy - Online B.S.S. in Sports Coaching
A university unlike any other, the USSA is a university dedicated solely to the mission of training up the next generation of sport managers, coaches, and strength and conditioning coaches. With textbooks included, and completely online, the Bachelor of Sport Science program in Sports Coaching carries a very approachable price tag of $485 per credit hour. Again an NCACE accredited program, you can rest assured you are getting a quality sports education from a recognized organization within the industry. USSA requires a senior research project as well as student involvement in a Bachelor mentorship program, which often leads to internship opportunities and, eventually, full-time job leads and offers!
5 Top Accredited Masters Programs in Coaching
#1 Northern Colorado University – On Campus & Online M.A. in Sport Coaching
It should come as no surprise when a top school for an undergraduate degree also has an outstanding graduate degree program in that same area of emphasis. Dropping the sport and exercise science curriculum, UNC’s M.A. dives deeply into the world of coaching. This Sport Coaching program has received Level 5 comprehensive accreditation from the National Committee for Accreditation of Coaching Education (NCACE). UNC is one of only five universities that hold this distinction. UNC is committed to six areas of learning outcomes for students: Sport Pedagogy, Injury Prevention, Sport Psychology, Training and Conditioning Principles, International Coaching Perspectives, and Applied Coaching Research. To complete this degree, it requires 30 hours of credits at a cost of $600 per hour over the course of 18 months.
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#2 Michigan State University – Online M.S. in Sport Coaching, Leadership, and Administration
Typically completed in 20-28 months (5-7 consecutive semesters, including summers), MSU courses are semester-long and last between 14 and 16 weeks. Courses are delivered online using a combination of video lectures, readings, and project-based assessments. Many classes also include live video-conference meetings using Zoom to discuss critical issues and provide opportunities to engage with your faculty and cohort. At just over $890 per credit hour, the entire programs runs about $27,000 in total. Courses include Physical Bases of Coaching Athletes, Stages of Athlete Development, Applied Research in Coaching Science, and Safety and Injury Control.
#3 Denver University – Online M.A. in Sport Coaching
Recognized by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the DU curriculum was designed around NCACE standards and includes required courses including Psychology of Athletic Performance, Organization and Administration of Sport, and Biomechanics of Athletic Performance. A unique aspect of this program is that all students are paired with a Mental Skills Consultant or a Sport Psychologist as a part of their practicum course. This provides additional support, experience, and perspective to students. Denver is also accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
#4 Ohio University – On Campus or Online M.A. in Coaching
At only $600 per credit hours for 30 hours, Ohio is known as a top economical option for online Master’s in coaching education. Ohio features a curriculum built around the requirements of the National Standards for Sport Coaches. Online master’s courses cover areas like injury prevention and risk management, performance and conditioning for athletic coaches, and performance recovery strategies for coaches. All courses are offered online except the Global Sport Coaching Seminar, which is a four-day intensive for students to engage with peers and faculty for a three-credit course. Like many online programs, there is no GRE required for admission and students can complete the program in about two years.
#5 Xavier University – Online M.Ed. in Coaching Education & Athlete Development
Unique to Xavier, this is an M.Ed. degree and includes more educational and teaching components to it than the standard M.S. and M.A. degrees do. While the majority of coursework is completed online, students come to campus twice during this program for short residencies. This program is less fluid in terms of self-paced workloads and instead sticks to 6 credit hours year-round for 2 years to completion. Carrying multiple accreditations, Xavier is backed by both the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the National Council for the Accreditation of Coaching Education. The most affordable program of this list, XU comes it at $525 per credit hour.
7 Typical Courses Found in Coaching
Foundations of Coaching
This course lays the foundation for what coaching is, how to do it effectively, and how to get the most out of your future athletes while also building trust and maintaining a culture of positivity and excellence. This course teaches the ability to identify the skills and qualities associated with effective coaching, how to construct a coaching philosophy, how the management of a team should shift depending upon different seasons of the cycle, how to create a positive, athlete-centered learning environment, as well as examining how developmental change influences cognitive, psychomotor, and social-emotional learning.
Ethics & Diversity
Ethics in sports requires comparing how actions that are morally permissible in sports may be morally impermissible outside of the sports arena and vice versa and allows students to debate a range of ethical and moral dilemmas confronting athletic coaches using various types of ethical analysis. critical reflection on solutions to ethical and diversity issues in athletic coaching through the application of critical reasoning skills and ethical, psychological, and social theory is imperative to moving a program forward especially with athletes from all walks of life together in one locker room.
Performance & Conditioning
Though many coaches will go on to work in departments with dedicated weight room staffs, it’s still extremely important to understand what you are asking of your athletes and their bodies and be able to interpret what movements will make them perform better on the field of play. Completion of this course will arm students with the ability to describe the structure, function, and neural control of exercising muscles, to explain the role of bioenergetics, muscle metabolism, and hormonal regulation during sport performance, and to discuss the role of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems in sports performance and changes that occur via aerobic versus anaerobic training.
This course provides exposure to the sociological dynamics of coaching through the study of social theories and how they apply within the coaching domain. Through exploring the work of key social theorists, students will understand sociological themes and how these themes affect athletes learning and future development. They’ll also be able to identify and apply them in relation to various environments. Students will be able to critically view social theories through the lens of different stakeholders and interested parties (i.e. assistant coaches, athletic directors, athletes, donors, etc.)
As important as competitions, training, and practices are, recovery needs to be attacked with the same precision and intention. This course explores strategies for athletic coaches to help athletes recover fully physically, mentally, and emotionally from the demands of their sport. This is done through covering fundamental concepts of fatigue and recovery, differentiating between post-competition fatigue and overtraining, assessing the impact of different post-training and competition recovery strategies, and critiquing different fueling, refueling and hydration guidelines.
Analysis of Sport Performances
This course exposes students to various analysis tools and methods used by coaching practitioners to assess sports performance and efficiency. More specifically, students analyze athlete and coach behavior utilizing a variety of technological tools, compare different technological tools used, and will be able to design and utilize systematic observation tools to critically analyze coaching behaviors and team performance as a result of this course.
Psychology of Coaching
Analyzes how psychological factors influence coaches’ understanding of athlete well-being and performance or hindrances to it. Psychological theories and principles are focused on, as well as their application in a sport coaching environments. Students will be able to compare how different personalities can influence team well-being and performance. Students will also be able to decipher how key principles associated with motivation, confidence, concentration, group cohesion, injury, and career transition can be integrated in the design and delivery of coaching.
Coaching Career Possibilities
Most obviously, the majority of students that pursue such a specialized degree track do so because they have a strong desire to be in that chosen profession. Depending upon which curriculum you choose, a degree in sport coaching will most definitely prepare you to lead a team in your preferred sport at the youth, middle school, junior high, high school and even lower-tier collegiate level. Division 1 universities often seek not only a Masters degree from their coaching staff, but also several years of experience at the collegiate level so an advanced degree while working a coaching job is highly recommended if you desire to coach at the highest level of amateur sports.
While sports coaching is certainly a specific type of leadership for a competitive purpose, that’s not to say the skills learned aren’t easily translatable to other industries. Should sport coaching not be exactly what you’re looking for, the strategic, problem-solving, and motivational leadership skills that come from a coaching program make a great case for someone who wants to teach a sport management course, help young people find their way in life and in sports, or take a more corporate approach by helping folks in the workforce move up the ladder, make a career transition, or land their dream job.
In this day and age, sports are not only competitive in terms of wins and losses, the opportunities to play in college are extremely limited. Working with talented young athletes and helping them craft a resume, highlight video, tournament schedule, and recruitment package to sell themselves to college coaches has become big business. There are several national organizations but also a multitude of individuals working independently to earn the business of families in exchange for these recruitment services. A good mix between sport manager, coach, and salesperson, personality traits like determination, self-starter, outgoing, persuasive, and communicative are all necessary to build a positive reputation as a dependable option for landing a quality athletic scholarship.