Earning a Master's in Coaching Online

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), coaches and scouts can expect to see 13% employment growth between 2016 and 2026, while athletic trainers should experience 23% growth in that same time frame. These rates suggest heightened demand for professionals in the coaching field. Coaches can find employment with only a bachelor's degree and certification, but a master's degree creates opportunities for career advancement and higher earning potential. This article reviews what it takes to earn a master's degree in coaching, plus how to finance a graduate program. It also highlights growth potential for master's degree holders in the field, and provides links to professional coaching organizations and resources.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Coaching?

An online master's in coaching can help aspiring professional coaches achieve their career goals. Students who already hold a bachelor's degree in physical education, exercise science, or sports coaching may wish to advance their careers through further education. These students might also choose to specialize their master's degree in a particular subfield within coaching. Professional coaches may decide to go back to school for a master's to expand their career prospects or increase their salary. Prospective online master's in coaching students should consider how the degree aligns with their career ambitions.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Coaching?

Obtaining an online master's degree in coaching allows students to further their knowledge and expertise in the fields of exercise science and education. It also lets them specialize in a particular area of coaching, such as sports coaching, physical education, strength and conditioning, sports administration, or sports psychology. Holding a master's degree in coaching also opens the door to higher-level positions positions with improved earning potential. Pursuing this degree online introduces students to online learning technology, which they can transition to professional development skills later in their careers.

Prerequisites for Online Coaching Programs

The admissions process for an online master's program in coaching can prove overwhelming. Prospective students should keep a few prerequisites and application requirements in mind during the application process.

  • Work Experience: Master's programs in coaching typically do not require prior work experience, but coaching-related jobs and internship experience can help an applicant stand out against the competition. These jobs might include student-teaching at a local YMCA, or volunteer-teaching at a school gym.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Some master's in coaching programs require students take the GRE. Others might recommend it without requiring it, while others specifically do not require the GRE. Programs requiring the GRE generally impose a minimum score of 297 on the exam's combined verbal and quantitative portions. GRE scores are valid for five years.
  • Coursework: Most coaching master's programs require students to hold a bachelor's degree in a related field, while some simply require students to have previously completed certain courses. Prior course requirements might include anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and exercise physiology. Most programs require at least a 2.5 or 3.0 GPA overall. Each institution and program might impose its own course prerequisites.
  • Recommendations: Most coaching master's programs require at least two letters of recommendation from individuals who know the applicant's capacity as a student and can speak to their potential in the field of coaching. These recommendations are usually written by college professors.
  • Essays: Many coaching master's programs require an academic statement or letter of intent, wherein applicants describe their professional goals and how their prospective program would help them attain those goals. Each program may impose its own essay requirements.
  • Interviews: Most master's programs in coaching exclude Interviews from the application process. However, if students visit their prospective school and meet with professors, they should essentially treat those meetings as interviews to gauge whether the program is the right fit.
  • International Students: International students must take the TOEFL exam to demonstrate their English competency. Some prior course credits may not transfer for international students, so they may have to retake certain undergraduate courses before qualifying for graduate programs.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Coaching?

Salary potential for a graduate with a master's in coaching varies, depending on the student's prospective career. Coaches, trainers, and other professionals in the physical education or exercise science industry typically make between $32,000 and $50,000 annually. Other jobs are available to graduates with a master's in coaching, as well, including nontraditional career opportunities.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Coaching Graduates

Career Stats Description


Median Pay: $32,270

Job Growth: 13%

Coaches teach and instruct amateur and professional athletes on how to improve their performance in a given sport. They guide and mentor their students, and sometimes participate in scouting as well, depending on their coaching level.

Ideal for: Athletic individuals passionate and knowledgeable about sports with a knack for teaching.

Athletic Trainer

Median Pay: $46,630

Job Growth: 23%

Athletic trainers are responsible for designing and implementing treatments or prevention regimens against muscle and bone injuries. They provide first aid and patient care, evaluate injuries, and carry out rehabilitation programs.

Ideal for: Organized and detail-oriented athletes with an interest in healthcare who work well with people.

Exercise Physiologist

Median Pay: $49,090

Job Growth: 13%

Exercise physiologists design exercise regimens for patients to improve their cardiovascular function, muscle composition, and flexibility. They often work with patients with chronic illnesses, or who are recovering from an injury.

Ideal for: Organized individuals with an interest in nutrition and physical health who work well with people.

Fitness Trainer and Instructor

Median Pay: $39,210

Job Growth: 10%

Fitness trainers and instructors guide individuals or groups through series of exercises, strength training, and choreographed movements. They might specialize in physical activities such as zumba, yoga, strength training, and cardiovascular exercises.

Ideal for: Physically active individuals with good public speaking and interpersonal skills, who enjoy teaching.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Coaching Graduates

Career Stats Description

Training and Development Manager

Median Pay: $108,250

Job Growth: 10%

Training and development managers work in nearly every industry, coordinating training and professional development programs for their organization's employees. They review training materials, instruct and oversee training instructors, and work to allocate the available resources in the most efficient and beneficial way.

Ideal for: Highly organized and detail-oriented individuals with excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Postsecondary Teacher

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary teachers work at educational institutions beyond the high school level, such as community colleges, technical schools, and universities. They typically specialize in a particular field, and conduct personal research in addition to teaching.

Ideal for: Lifelong learners with excellent written and oral communication skills.

School Counselor

Median Pay: $55,410

Job Growth: 13%

School counselors assist students in designing a schedule, succeeding in their classes, improving their social skills, and finding an appropriate career path. They might conduct aptitude tests and interviews with students to ascertain what can they can change and improve to achieve success.

Ideal for: Individuals who enjoy interpersonal interaction and helping others.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Coaching

Paying for an advanced degree can prove overwhelming and stressful. The cost of an online master's degree in coaching varies by institution and program, study timelines, and options for accelerated degree paths. Master's students can access federal financial aid, as well, mostly in the form of loans. Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to learn whether they qualify for federal aid. Many independent organizations and institutions offer scholarships to master's students, as well.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

There are plenty of grants and scholarships available for coaching students. Depending on their coaching program, students may qualify for scholarships in psychology, education, physiology, or exercise science.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Coaching Program

Online master's programs in coaching generally require 30-36 credit hours and take one to two years to complete. Some programs require a thesis analyzing a coaching-related issue, or a practicum experience in which the student interns with or works as a coach for a certain number of hours. Other programs require a research project and comprehensive exam. Completing a degree online entails mastering virtual classroom technology as a student, which may benefit students who become educators.

Major Milestones

A master's student in an online coaching program can expect to complete the following milestones throughout their degree:

  1. Complete Core Courses

    Core courses comprise foundational courses required to obtain a master's in coaching. They usually cover topics such as research methodology in exercise science or safety and injury control.

  2. Complete Concentration-Specific Courses

    After students complete their core courses, they might select a degree specialization. Concentration areas can include strength and conditioning, health and wellness, or physiology.

  3. Complete Elective Courses

    After completing their core and concentration courses, students may still have to take electives, which they may fulfill outside of the student's department. For instance, if the master's in coaching degree is available through the education department, a student might take some psychology of exercise courses through the psychology department.

  4. Comprehensive Exam Preparation or Thesis Research

    If the program requires a thesis, students must prepare for it and conduct research so they have original material to write about. They must conduct research before completing their theses, which usually entails independent study hours.

  5. Internship or Practicum Experience

    Some programs require an internship or practicum experience, in which students shadow a professional coach to gain hands-on experience in the field before graduation.

  6. Thesis or Comprehensive Exam

    A thesis is a long essay based on original research conducted by the student. It should draw conclusions by synthesizing material the student learned in their program with his or her own research. A comprehensive exam is a cumulative test, usually tailored to each individual student.


Courses in master's coaching programs build a knowledge base of exercise and sports science, ensuring competence in safety or injury situations, and instructional training. See below a few examples of courses you may encounter in a master's in coaching program.

Philosophy of Physical Education, Sports, Recreation, and Leisure

This course presents the history and philosophical background through which modern physical education and sports recreation has emerged. Students should come away with an understanding of the industry's beginnings and most popular theories.

Safety and Injury Control

This course prepares students to deal with injury or illness on the field or during class. Most coaches must have some degree of safety and injury control training, according to state law.

Physiology of Exercise

This course delves into the physiological processes of the body, relating them to physical activity. Students learn how untrained and trained individuals differ in physiology and how training can make a difference.

Education Research

This course teaches students how to conduct education research and apply their knowledge in practice. Students should learn basic statistical techniques and other research methods.

Physical Education for Students with Disabilities

This course covers a spectrum of disabilities, which may affect motor skills in school-age children. It also discusses how coaches and instructors should accommodate students with disabilities.

Requirements to Practice

Coaches are generally not required to hold any type of licensure or certification, though some individual employers may look for them. However, some states may impose minimum training requirements. For instance, in Florida, coaches and student athletes must take courses concerning concussions, heat illness prevention, and sudden cardiac arrest. They should also hold experience in the specific sport or activity for which they wish to become an instructor. See below a few coaching certifications available to aspiring coaches:

  • United States Sports Academy Sports Coaching Certification: The United States Sports Academy is a nonprofit organization that provides bachelor's and master's degrees, plus continuing education programs in sports-related fields. Their sports coaching certification boasts international recognition and includes courses on coaching methodology, sports psychology, and conditioning and nutrition.
  • NFHS Coach Certification: The NFHS Coach Certification program is a nationally recognized professional credential that transfers easily. They offer two levels of national certification for interscholastic coaches, plus a certification program specifically for middle school and high school coaches.
  • NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist: The National Strength and Conditioning Association offers certification in strength and conditioning. Strength and conditioning specialists focus on training athletes in the gym to enhance their performance on the field. To obtain this certification, students must take and pass an exam.
  • NAYS Coach Training and Membership: This is not a certification program, but it does provide basic and professional training to youth sports coaches. Many volunteer coaches undergo this training to develop their coaching skills.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional coaching organizations offer students and working coaches opportunities to meet and network with one another, improve their practice through continuing education programs, present and listen to the latest research at conferences, and find jobs through career services. Coaching spans a variety of fields and specializations, so students may benefit from seeking a professional organization specializing in their specific area of expertise.

See below five major professional organizations and resources in the field of coaching, kinesiology, physical education, physiology, and sports psychology.

  • National Academy of Kinesiology: The National Academy of Kinesiology promotes the study of the art and science of human movement, providing resources in the field of kinesiology. These include an annual conference, publications and other research documents, and a doctoral program evaluation.
  • Positive Coaching Alliance: The Positive Coaching Alliance aims to foster better coaches and leaders through resources for high school sports coaches, parents, administrations, and student athletes. They also offer a variety of workshops and online courses.
  • American Physiological Society: The American Physiological Society promotes scientific research, education, and professional development in the physiological sciences. They provide resources on education, career development, conferences, and publications in the field.
  • Association for Applied Sport Psychology: This interdisciplinary, international organization for sports psychologists and consultants provides resources in sports science, social work, counseling, and clinical psychology. They work to provide resources and professional development opportunities for their members.
  • Society of Health and Physical Educators: SHAPE comprises health and physical education professionals, and seeks to advance the field in areas of professional practice, research, and education.

See below five resources for graduates with master's degrees in coaching or students currently pursuing a master's degree in coaching.

  • American Council on Exercise: The American Council on Exercise is a nonprofit professional organization that also offers certifications. Their areas of certification include personal trainer, group fitness instructor, health coach, and exercise specialist.
  • National Athletic Trainers Association: The National Athletic Trainers Association works to advance athletic trainers' careers. They provide a variety of continuing education resources, and their website provides a job board for working professionals and students.
  • National Federation of State High School Associations: NFHS membership is not limited to coaches, but rather serves anyone working in a high school or with high school students at the interscholastic level. They provide coaches with training programs, online courses, and certifications.
  • American College of Sports Medicine: The American College of Sports Medicine promotes education, research, and professional development in the field of sports medicine. They provide certifications, events and conferences, online training, and a job board.
  • National Commission for Health Education Credentialing: The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing provides health education certification, continuing education programs, and a jobs board.