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How to Become a Basketball Coach After College

If you’ve got a passion for athletics and basketball, you might be considering a career as a basketball coach after college. Coaching can be a rewarding profession that lets you live and work in the world of athletics while helping young athletes achieve their goals, grow to new heights, and realize their full potential. If basketball has changed your life for the better, being a basketball coach puts you in the position of bringing that same kind of uplifting experience to other athletes. There’s not much better than that. 

If you’re interested in learning how to become a basketball coach, this article will give you some things to consider about taking on coaching as a career and what you should be doing in college to prep for a possible coaching job post-grad. 

Should you be a basketball coach? 

The best teams are led by passionate coaches who love the game and their team, but being a basketball coach is about more than just liking basketball. Your job as a coach would be to lead the team to victory. That means assuming a leadership role and teaching players how to play the game—whether at a beginner or very advanced levels. You’d be responsible for organizing practices, supervising conditioning activities, and creating game strategies. You’ll also need to be a leader “off” the court, which allots to analyzing each individual players’ strengths for the overall game and taking stock of your team’s wellbeing, while also handling the budgeting, equipment, interdepartmental goings-on, etc. 

If you want to be a basketball coach, it’s critical to understand that you’re not just playing basketball all day. You’ll also be responsible for recruiting, scheduling, budgeting, equipment/uniform purchasing, compliance, statistics, public relations, fundraisers, academic advising, and more. Though it’s a lot of work, it can be an immensely gratifying career path that will change your life and the lives of your players—if you are committed to it. 

Note: Coaching should not be a “fall back” if you don’t make it as a professional basketball player. Coaching is its own career path with its own unique challenges and rewards, so it’s something you’ll need to consider separately from your athletic career. 

Coaching is a growing field. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in coaching is expected to grow faster than average by 12% from 2019 to 2029. There’s a spike in the number of student athletes participating in college sports, especially in women’s college sports, so there are expected to be thousands of additional coaching jobs opening up to accommodate and train these incoming athletes.  

There are also a lot of coaching opportunities available out there. You can work with teams at a variety of levels, from youth groups and high school to college and professional. It’s a career you can make your own based on where you want to live, what kind of athletes you want to work with, and the sort of work lifestyle you want. 

It can be a lifetime career. 

Most basketball coaches won’t be assistant or head coaches forever. Think of coaching as a career path. You might transition to director of basketball operations or other roles in the athletic department for a high school or college. You never know, you may even end up doing athletic marketing for the school and donning your team’s lanyard everywhere you go. When considering your career path, look at the opportunities that a basketball coaching position would open up for you as opposed to just the coaching job itself. 

How much do college basketball coaches make?  

According to Ziprecruiter, as of December 11, 2020, the national average annual pay for a basketball coach in the U.S. is $42,573 a year. Of course, there’s a wide range of salaries, though, based on coaching position, level, skill, and record. Some basketball coaches, particularly part-time or with younger athletes, will see salaries around $21,000, while others like the March Madness winning men’s NCAA basketball coaches get several millions each year.

Your salary will depend on your experience, your winning streak, and the school where you coach. You won’t be making hundreds of thousands right out of college. Just like any job, you’re going to have to work your way up the ranks. If you’re looking to “make the big bucks,” you’ve got to prove yourself in basketball coaching. 

How to become a basketball coach 

1. Get your college degree. 

When hiring, most basketball coaching positions require a degree in a field related to sports. This might be sports management, athletic training, exercise science, physiology, kinesiology, fitness/nutrition, physical education, sports medicine, or even coach training. 

While not having a “coaching” academic background won’t necessarily disqualify you, having a degree in a field that lends itself well to coaching will make you a more attractive prospect. So, just like when searching for any job, you’ll want to choose a relevant major and finish your degree with stellar grades to open up job opportunities after college. 

2. Play or work in basketball. 

If you’re a basketball student athlete at school, it may give you a leg up over those who don’t play. It shows you have a deep understanding of the game and how coaching works. If you play basketball in the NCAA, keep it up.

If you aren’t part of the basketball team at your school, consider joining a club team or even intramurals. Most athletic department hirers won’t knock off points if you’re not in the NCAA but still show that you’re committed to playing and learning the game in some capacity. 

You may also want to consider working as a team manager or interning in the athletic department. This will give you experience on the “other side” of coaching, aka the more administrative side. Remember that coaching is about the game, the team, and all the other details that go into making the game go on. Plus, this is a great way to start building connections “behind-the-scenes,” which can be invaluable when job hunting starts. 

3. Get coaching experience. 

You’re not going to graduate and instantly become a head coach at Harvard or UNC, even if you were the MVP all four years in college. You’ll need to prove a history of coaching experience and a winning record. Start getting your feet wet in college by coaching a youth team, high school, club, or another league to get a leg up on the required experience. You can even see if there are any assistant basketball coach positions available at your college, whether it’s for the collegiate team or a summer program for kids. Throw on your school sweatshirt and get hyped up to start your coaching career. 

Having coaching experience is often more important than having playing experience when it comes to getting a position as a basketball coach, so start building your resume early and gaining the expertise you’ll need postgrad.  

4. Start learning the skills you’ll need. 

When you’re learning how to become a basketball coach, it’s about more than just knowing the game. Some of the skills and demands of being a basketball coach include:

  • Good sportsmanship 
  • High level of physicality 
  • Leadership 
  • Communication 
  • Responsibility
  • Resourcefulness 
  • Passion 
  • Ability to empower the team

Check out some more ideal skills teams look for in a basketball coach

The best way to learn these skills (and others) is by going out and getting experience in coaching and working in athletics. A lot of these learned skills are transferable, though, so be mindful of the activities in which you take part. For example, if you’re a college volunteer for an afterschool program tutoring high school athletes, you’ll still learn a lot about leadership, communication, and responsibility. You can even be an assistant watching game tapes to dissect how other teams play (which is an important job for coaches). There are a lot of unique ways to learn, so stay open to new experiences and start absorbing all the different skills you may need. 

5. Network. 

Networking in athletics is a lot like being recruited for college sports or even applying to your dream college. You’ll want to get yourself out there when it comes to chatting with coaches, university staff, and even some key players. Handing your resume to someone firsthand is more likely to see success than hoping you make it through the slush pile. You can network at games, tournaments, and even in your daily life, so always keep an eye out and be open to making friends in the industry. Networking is a skill you’ll need throughout your career as a basketball coach, so start now!

Pro-tip: Networking is about making connections and adding value to that connection. It’s not about taking from them. So, if you want a university coach to read your resume, you should first add value to them somehow, whether it’s by helping them clean up after the game, making them laugh, or volunteering to keep stats for them (if appropriate). Check out this guide to networking for athletic directors as a good starting point for tips and tricks on making connections. 

6. Start somewhere. 

You may not get your dream job right out of college. That’s okay. It’s super rare for that to happen for anyone in any industry, let alone a sector as competitive as sports. Just getting in the door of basketball coaching is a great first step to transitioning to coaching a college or pro team. You might accept other coaching positions in leagues or clubs, or you could consider positions on university coaches’ staff, like an assistant or coordinator. Over time, and with a lot of hard work and persistence, you can move up the ranks to the job that you’ve been dreaming about. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself in the beginning.

Check out: 9 of the Most Wanted College Players for the NBA Draft

7. Obtain professional certification. 

Although this isn’t mandatory to get a basketball coaching position, getting certified with a relevant program is a great way to show coaching expertise. For example, you could become a Certified Interscholastic Coach (CIC) through the NFHS or obtain a National Coaching Certification from the U.S. Sports Academy. The more you can prove your credibility as a coach, the better off you’ll be during hiring season. 

Becoming a basketball coach

Being a basketball coach is a rewarding career that can serve you throughout your professional life. If you love basketball, love pushing yourself and others to new heights and goals, and you’re willing to put in some mental and physical work, being a basketball coach can be an ideal career opportunity for you. 

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