Strategies For Breaking Into College Coaching

By Dr. Howard Gauthier

Six years ago, John was searching for a way to break into college coaching.  He had a real passion for basketball but didn’t have a mentor to help him along in the process.  After class one day, John approached his sports management professor and asked, “What is the best way for someone to break into college coaching?”   His professor shared some general tips and then asked, “Why don’t you schedule an informational interview with the head men’s basketball coach here at the university.”  Their conversation continued for a few more minutes before John was convinced he needed to visit with Coach Thompson in the basketball office.

John scheduled an appointment with Coach Thompson and was prepared with several questions.  Two days later, John was excited and nervous as he met the coach for the first time.  As they began to get to know each other, John was anxious to find out all he could about becoming a college coach.

Coach Thompson shared a book with John entitled “Getting Hired in College Sports”.  It was a book on career development and outlined the formula that many coaches and administrators have used when they were breaking into the industry.  In short, the book suggested that there are three broad areas a person should focus on as they develop a strategy for becoming a coach.

  • Learn all that you can about your sport
  • Begin to network within the industry
  • Get experience

Learn All That You Can

Beginning your career in college coaching is an exciting time. You will need to prepare yourself to eventually become an expert in your sport. Research shows that if a person wants to become an expert in a particular activity, they will need approximately 10,000 hours of experience.  This experience will include learning all you can about your subject; such as reading all you can about your subject, listening to audio programs about your craft, watching videos by expert coaches, and attending coaching clinics.  You will want to learn the proper skills and techniques for teaching and coaching your sport, and you will want to learn the strategies and schemes.  Finally, you will want to learn everything you can about developing a sports program.

Begin To Network

Networking is one of the most important elements for getting hired in any industry.  This is because people want to hire employees who they know and trust. Networking is building friendships and relationships with others within your profession. These friends/colleagues should help one another with advice, strategy, and emotional support.  Quite often, people will get to know each other through working in the same organization, by working sports camps and clinics, through attending games or tournaments, and through attending regional or national conventions.

Gain Experience

Keep in mind that having a successful career in any profession is a journey and not a race. Building a career takes time if done right.  Be patient and work your way up.  Prove yourself as a passionate and professional coach.  The following are some of the types of jobs that people are able to secure in order to start their coaching career and gain experience – graduate assistant, volunteer assistant, director of operations, small college assistant, student assistant, student manager, high school coach, or junior high coach. There is not one single right way to begin your coaching career.  The key is to work hard, learn all you can about your sport, network and get to know others in the profession, and be patient as you work your way up within the profession.

It didn’t John long to break into college coaching.  He used the advice Coach Thompson provided, and the tips and strategies he uncovered in the job search book.  John first became a student assistant, then a graduate assistant, and now he has a position as a full-time assistant coach.  John is definitely following his passion.  Remember, ultimately the job will go to the candidate who is prepared and who effectively executes the basics of the job interview process. In all you do, you will want to EXECUTE FOR SUCCESS!

Howard Gauthier is an Associate Professor of Athletic Administration at Idaho State University.  He is a former collegiate athletic director and collegiate basketball coach.  He is also an author of 9 books.  Check out his book, Getting Hired In College Sports – 2nd Edition at


12 thoughts on “Strategies For Breaking Into College Coaching

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