Master’s in Coaching Program Guide

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by Staff Writers
Published on October 28, 2020 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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A master's degree in coaching may seem like a specific, niche investment; however, the degree can lead to several careers, allowing you to work in an office, in a gym, for a business, or on a practice field. Coaching professionals provide guidance to sports players, training clients, and business employees.

Coaching professionals provide guidance to sports players, training clients, and business employees.

For those in organizational behavior, team performance, or self-improvement willing to spend much of their workday face-to-face with other people, a master's degree in coaching can help you get a job that makes the best use of your talents. The following guide explores whether or not you should get a master's in coaching, what you can do with it, how to choose a program, how the admissions process works, and what you can expect from your program.

Should I Get a Master's in Coaching?

Anyone interested in earning a coaching master's degree must find constant human interaction appealing. Prospective students must ask themselves if they want to take classes online or in-person. Each delivery method works best with a different type of student. Online programs cater more to professionals who already work full-time or who want to change their line of work. They also provide higher education access to students without nearby colleges.

On the other hand, on-campus programs cater more to students who want to follow a more typical trajectory from high school to college to the coaching workforce. Moreover, in a field as people-focused as coaching, on-campus programs can also offer increased opportunities to practice coaching. On-campus programs may also offer easier access to professor office hours and the support of a peer group.

No matter the delivery method, students who enroll in coaching master's programs gain access to a school's resources and connections. Students can network with peers in their program or attend school-sponsored hiring fairs. Students can also benefit both from job placement assistance and from internship or practicum experiences. Many programs offer these opportunities as parts of their curriculum. Students also gain a competitive advantage in their coaching job searches by earning an advanced degree.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Coaching?

A master's degree in coaching can lead to careers in multiple settings, including schools, gyms, and practice fields. Below, we explore three common career options for graduates who hold a master's degree in coaching: sports coach, fitness coach, and physical education teacher.

Sports Coach

Coaches plan and run practices, oversee team strategy during games, and provide mentoring to players. Coaches must thrive in high-pressure environments, as their team's results likely determine their job security. A master's in coaching can provide a small boost to a coach's résumé.

Median Annual Salary: $59,170*

Fitness Coach or Trainer

Fitness coaches or trainers often work in gyms, yoga studios, or health clubs. They lead individual sessions or group classes, designing workout plans or sessions and motivating clients to stick to them. Many fitness coaches get paid by the hour, although some places offer salaried positions. Though a master's degree in coaching can help you get these positions, most also require a fitness certification.

Median Annual Salary: $39,210*

Physical Education Teacher

Individuals with a coaching master's degree may find employment as a physical education teacher in a school setting, where their knowledge of training and exercise can help them devise engaging physical activity curriculum for students.

Median Annual Salary: $59,170*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Master's Program in Coaching

Though relatively few master's in coaching programs exist, students should still assess their options thoroughly. Prospective coaching students should consider how long they want to spend in school. Some programs only offer full-time study, while others only offer part-time study. Other factors, like the number of credits in the curriculum or whether an online program delivers coursework synchronously or asynchronously, can also affect completion times.

Students should also investigate tuition to find a program within their budget. Students who want to enroll in part-time programs should ensure that their chosen school charges tuition by the credit and not by semester.

Several curricular factors help students differentiate between programs, including capstones and field experience. Most graduate programs conclude in a thesis or a dissertation. As a hands-on field, coaching programs can differ and often require a capstone instead. Field experience proves necessary for any coaching professional, as jobs typically require hands-on learning if you want to improve. The best programs offer internship or practicum experiences.

Colleges often boast connections with employers that operate close to campus. Before they enroll, prospective students should make sure that they feel comfortable with the idea of moving to their school's immediate vicinity after graduating.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Coaching

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) oversees programmatic accreditation for master's programs in coaching. The organization carries out site visits to these programs, evaluating them against set criteria. If the programs meet their criteria, the ICF awards accreditation. By doing so, they ensure high standards in the coaching profession.

Students should seek out the ICF seal of approval when choosing between coaching programs. In addition, they should make sure that their chosen program holds regional accreditation. Regional accreditation reflects the programmatic accreditation process -- site visits, criteria, and an independent examination -- except it evaluates the school as a whole.

Master's in Coaching Program Admissions

For on-campus master's in coaching programs, prospective students must generally submit an application form, undergraduate transcripts, and personal essays. Some coaching programs also require standardized test scores, generally the MAT or the GRE. Some schools establish a set admissions period that requires students to submit application materials and wait months for a decision. Others offer rolling admissions.

Online program admissions can require more investment, as some schools require personal interviews or assessments to evaluate prospective students' suitability for online learning. Whichever delivery method they choose, coaching students should apply to at least four or five programs. Because coaching is a smaller, more niche field that offers fewer programs, students should increase their chances of admission by applying to more programs.


As a graduate-level degree, a master's in coaching requires all candidates to hold a bachelor's degree. In most cases, students do not need an undergraduate degree in coaching to pursue a master's degree in coaching. Some programs -- especially online programs that cater more to working professionals -- require applicants to possess one or two years of professional coaching experience. Others require applicants to currently work in the field when they apply. Minimum GPA requirements vary greatly from program to program, but many graduate programs ask for at least a 3.0.

Admission Materials

Since graduate programs do not use the Common App, students must fill out an individual application for each program. Most applications take about an hour for the personal information section, longer if the application requires an essay or personal statement. Graduate applicants must submit transcripts from all undergraduate institutions. In most cases, schools charge a fee to send transcripts. All applicants should request at least two letters of recommendation from former professors or employers. Applicants should give their recommenders at one month to write these letters. Some programs require a test like the GRE or MAT. Scores can be sent to prospective schools when the test is taken. Minimum scores vary by program. While graduate application fees vary greatly, they generally cost more than undergraduate application fees. Fortunately, some programs waive fees for students with demonstrated financial need.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Coaching?

Though individual details vary, most master's in coaching degrees offer similar coursework and concentrations, as they must all prepare graduates for the same workforce.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Coaching
Concentration Description Careers
Sports Coaching The sports coaching concentration prepares graduates to work in high school, college, or professional sports. It includes coursework within the other fields in this table, including sports psychology, management, administration, and injury prevention. Sports coach
Physical Education This concentration generally prepares students who want to teach and coach at the same location. In addition to taking educational coursework and gaining a theoretical background in physical performance, students may take courses in leadership and sports psychology. P.E. teacher, sports coach
Leadership This general concentration allows graduates to work in fields beyond sports. A leadership concentration includes coursework in fields like management and organizational performance, allowing graduates to either work in-house as organizational coaches or as leadership consultants hired as contractors by different businesses. Organizational coach, consultant
Sports Psychology This concentration's curriculum combines coaching coursework with various studies in psychology, focusing primarily on performance and teamwork psychology. Sports psychologist
Sports Administration This concentration combines coaching coursework with foundational business and administration classes. Graduates of this program can find work in athletic departments and eventually become an athletic director. Athletic director

Courses in a Master's in Coaching Program

Courses in coaching master's programs vary depending on the program; however, since they all prepare graduates for the same industry, they include some of the same coursework. Below, we describe five common core courses in coaching programs.

Safety and Injury Control

This course provides an overview of how to spot and prevent injuries, including concussions, in athletes. Students also learn about how to ensure proper safety for their athletes at practices and competitions. The course caters to high school coaches in particular, who may not enjoy access to the medical staff of a college or professional team.

Career Counseling

This course introduces future career counselors to different models, theories, and approaches in career coaching. Students gain access to mentor counselors and often get the chance to apply their skills in the field.

Legal and Administrative Issues for Coaches and Administrators

This course deals with compliance, risk management, supervision, and contracts. It helps coaches know their professional rights and responsibilities and provides knowledge to students who plan to advance from coaching to athletics administration.

Stages of Athlete Development

Falling under the umbrellas of kinesiology or exercise science, this course covers topics such as athletic developmental stages from early childhood through adulthood, the psychology and sociology of participating in sports, and how to develop talent.


Many coaching curricula include a practicum experience that allows students to work under the guidance of an adviser or mentor. Students in this course often get the chance to videotape their coaching performance, and the course often involves a concluding project or portfolio.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Coaching?

Most on-campus master's in coaching programs take one to two years of full-time study to complete. Online program and part-time completion times vary more widely, with some students taking up to five years to complete their master's, opting for one course each term. The typical master's in coaching curriculum includes between 36 and 54 credits.

While these estimates hold true for the majority of coaching programs, several factors can affect completion times. Some schools only offer full-time study, while others only offer part-time study. Some online programs deliver coursework asynchronously (without set class times), while others deliver coursework synchronously (with set class times) -- which tends to offer more defined completion times. Some programs also offer accelerated tracks, which allow students to graduate faster by taking additional courses each term.

How Much Is a Master's in Coaching?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average master's program charged almost $18,000 in yearly tuition in 2015-2016. The same data set revealed that the average private university charged approximately $23,000 in yearly tuition for a master's degree, while the average public university charged about $10,000. As such, students should expect to spend an average of $36,000 on their master's degree in coaching.

Several factors can affect this price. For example, some programs charge tuition per credit as opposed to per semester, catering more to part-time students. Moreover, students particularly concerned with costs should consider enrolling in online programs. Online students receive in-state at most schools, regardless of home state.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Coaching Prepares For

Associate Certified Coach

Awarded by the International Coaching Federation, this certificate requires 60 hours of training and 100 hours of coaching experience. Applicants can also receive this certification by submitting a portfolio or by completing a coaching training program accredited by the ICF.

Professional Certified Coach

Also awarded by the ICF, applicants must complete at least 125 hours of training and 500 hours of coaching experience to earn this certification. They can also get certified through a portfolio or an accredited program.

Master Certified Coach

Yet another certification awarded by the ICF, students can only get this certification by completing 200 hours of training and 2,500 hours of coaching. Unlike the ICF's other certificates, candidates may not earn this credential through a portfolio or an accredited program.

Positive Psychology Coach

Awarded by the American Coaching Association, this certificate demonstrates expertise in positive psychology. In order to earn the certificate, candidates must complete a 10-module course or a fast-track workshop with an accelerated curriculum.

International Association of Coaching Certification

The IAC certifies coaches who complete a test and several coaching sessions and who demonstrate command of the organization's nine Coaching Masteries. The IAC offers three certificate levels: masteries practitioner, certified masteries coach, and master masteries coach.

Resources for Graduate Coaching Students

Positive Coaching Alliance Resources

The Positive Coaching Alliance focuses on avoiding corporal punishment and increasing the use of positive psychology in the coaching profession. This webpage provides a list of resources related to those topics.

NCDA Internet Sites for Career Planning

Offering value to career counselors and career counseling students, this site provides a list of links and tests that can help job seekers find the career that fits them.

Association for Applied Sport Psychology Resources for Coaches

Future sports psychologists can gain a lot of value from this page, which provides a list of resources that help coaches use sports psychology to their advantage.

Instructional Coaching Group Resources

This site provides resources to professionals who coach teachers. The site offers three types of material: presentations, videos, and coaching tools and books.

The Library of Professional Coaching

This page provides a wide range of resources for professional coaches and future professional coaches, including case studies, tools, best practices, a magazine, and a bookstore.

Professional Organizations in Coaching

Membership in a professional organization can help coaching program graduates with networking, the job search, and professional development. Many such organizations offer job boards, annual conferences, access to publications, and continuing-education courses. Below, we explore five of the coaching field's best professional organizations.

The ICF primarily focuses on accrediting collegiate coaching programs; however, the organization also offers access to research and a professional credentialing program for practicing coaches. ACA links professional coaches with people who want to receive professional coaching, serving as a go-between for coaches looking for work. The organization also offers a positive psychology coach training program. IAC aims to take professional coaches to the top of their profession by providing training, certification, and other professional development opportunities. NCDA provides advocacy, access to publications, and professional development to professional career counselors. The organization also offers job boards, webinars, and annual conferences to its members. EMCC consists of different mentoring and coaching councils throughout Europe. The organization offers access to research, an annual conference, and webinars for professional development.
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