Guide to Coaching Student Athletes

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By Published On: October 28, 2022

As a coach, working with student athletes provides a unique opportunity to help not only develop athletic abilities and talent in young athletes, but also to help shape them into well-rounded individuals. Working with student athletes can be a challenging yet rewarding opportunity for any coach.

Coaching Job Outlook

Job requirements, as well as salary ranges, vary depending on the level of athletics you want to coach. For youth sports, many positions are volunteer positions, although it’s not uncommon to find paid positions. According to ZipRecuriter, the average youth coach salary is $33,892, with salaries varying by state. Salaries can also vary based on whether you decide to coach youth teams through an organization, or whether you choose to serve as a one-on-one coach, helping develop talented young athletes through private coaching sessions. Coaches who offer private coaching sessions or small-group coaching sessions can typically charge more for coaching than those who do general coaching for a team. 

Some positions may ask for you to complete coaching courses through the organization the sport is being run through, and many youth sports organizations require you to complete a background check for the position. Additionally, while youth coaches may not need a bachelor’s degree in sports management or a similar degree, like a collegiate coach might, they do need a strong background in the sport they’re coaching. Most coaches, regardless of the level they coach, will have played the sport they’re coaching for many years, often at the collegiate or professional level for those seeking to coach college sports.

For high school coaches, most will hold teaching or administrative positions at the high school they teach at, and will need to meet requirements for teaching in their state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, high school teachers make a median salary of $61,820. High school coach salaries can vary; some high schools offer coaching stipends to teachers, where they can earn on average an additional $5000 a year.

College coaches will typically need to hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum in sports management, strength and conditioning, exercise science, or a similar degree, in addition to previous coaching and athletic experience in that sport. Depending on the sport, requirements and pay can vary wildly; a football coach at a Big 10 School is likely to earn more than a baseball coach at a smaller institution. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics coaches at the university and collegiate level earn a median salary of $48,710.

Daily Life for Coaches of Student Athletes

As a coach to student athletes, your day to day job expectations will change depending on the level of students you are coaching. Youth coaches can hold careers in any field, and tend to dedicate coaching time outside of their traditional job. They develop practice plans and game strategies on their own time, and can have some of the lowest time commitment to coaching out of all the sport levels, depending on the type of organization they are coaching for.

High school coaches typically hold teaching or administration positions within the school they coach at. In addition to teaching and administrative duties, high school coaches will develop training plans and practices in their spare time, and conduct practices with their athletes before or after the school day during the sports season. They also can present off-season or pre-season training plans for their athletes, although typically to a lesser degree than collegiate coaches might.

While collegiate coaches may also hold other teaching or administrative positions at the institutions they coach at, it is less common than at the high school level. They dedicate more of their daily time towards training plans, athlete evaluation, play and strategy development, and recruiting athletes to their team. They also are more involved in the off-season and pre-season, and will develop training plans for their athletes year round to keep them ready for peak performance during the season. 

Important Skills for Coaches of Student Athletes

What makes a good coach? There are a number of important traits for a coach to have to ensure that they can serve their student athletes to the fullest of their abilities.


A good coach needs to be able to effectively communicate with both their student athletes and other members of their coaching team. Beyond being able to properly explain drills, workouts, and game strategies, good communication as a coach can help your athletes feel more comfortable coming to you if there are any issues in their training. Working with young athletes specifically means you’ll need to be able to explain in detail different concepts within the sport; a younger athlete who hasn’t played that sport for very long will likely need drills or game strategies and concepts explained to them more than a collegiate athlete would.

Communication is also key for communicating with other members of your coaching staff, game or match officials, and parents of athletes if applicable to ensure that everything runs smoothly. 


One of the key skills a coach needs to have is effective leadership. As a coach, you have to have a vision for what you want your team to accomplish, and follow through on the plan for how to make that happen. Coaches will draw up plans for their team for the season; skills to work on, training plans, nutrition guidance, and overall team strategies, and then put them into place. As a coach, student athletes will look to you to help guide them towards improving their talents in the sport and lead their team to success.


Compassion is an important trait to have, specifically for coaches working with student athletes over professional athletes. High school and college athletes are students first, athletes second, and are expected to balance school, athletics, and other responsibilities, in addition to the added pressures of entering adulthood. Holding space and having compassion for the stress student athletes can be under can help your athletes trust you as a coach and a mentor, and can provide students a place to feel listened to and respected. 

Exercise Science Knowledge

Having a background in exercise science can help you to train your athletes most effectively, using scientifically backed knowledge to help guide your athletes in all aspects of training. Holding a degree in exercise science provides you with the knowledge of how to help prevent injuries in your athletes, how to assist in  injury recovery, how to build effective training programs, and ways to guide student athlete nutrition. As a collegiate coach, many positions will require a degree in an exercise science related field. 

Ways to Support Student Athletes as a Coach

Student athletes at the high school and collegiate level are under unique pressures and have specific needs that coaches have to account for. 

At the high school level, it’s important for coaches to effectively prepare their athletes for future athletic careers, whether that athlete is interested only in playing recreationally post-high school, or they have collegiate and professional sport aspirations. Coaches should work one-on-one with athletes to determine their goals and abilities, and provide them with additional guidance and effective training to help them meet those goals. For some athletes, scholarships and other funding for college can rely on athletic performance, so it’s important that student athletes have the right training and support to perform at the best of their abilities. 

Nutrition for student athletes can be particularly vital. As young adults, some student athletes may have little nutrition knowledge, and require guidance on the best ways to fuel up throughout the season and on the day of competition. Developing good dietary habits, especially for high school athletes, can make a major difference in athletic performance for years to come. 

Student athlete mental health is also an important factor to consider while leading your athletes. With balancing school, athletics, and other responsibilities, stress can take a toll on a student athlete’s mental health. Prioritizing the importance of mental health for your team, just as you would physical health, and providing an environment where students feel comfortable discussing mental health and can have access to resources to help them when they need it can help keep your team at the top of their game.

Additionally, as student athletes are students first, coaches will need to help keep student athletes on track academically, making sure they are meeting academic requirements. Coaches should discuss with student athletes the importance of completing their school responsibilities and meeting expectations there to ensure they can continue to participate in their sport. 

Start Your Coaching Career

Earning your bachelors, masters, or doctorate in exercise science can help equip you with the knowledge you need to effectively lead your student athletes. At Concordia University Chicago, we have a dedicated, expert faculty with extensive backgrounds, who are all here to help you succeed.

Apply now to get started, or reach out to us anytime for more information.

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