Instructors & Coaches, Sports & Physical Training

Significant Points

  • Work hours are often irregular.
  • For many positions, certification is required.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

An increasing value is being placed upon physical fitness within our society. Consequently, Americans are engaging in more physical fitness programs, joining athletic clubs, and being encouraged to participate in physical education and activity at all ages. Sports and physical training instructors and coaches help participants improve their physical fitness and athletic skills.

Sports instructors and coaches teach non-professional individual and team sports to students. (For information on physical education teachers see the section on school teachers elsewhere in the Handbook; coaches of professional athletes are classified with athletes, coaches, umpires, and related workers which are included in the section on Data for Occupations Not Studied in Detail elsewhere in the Handbook.) Sports instructors and coaches organize, lead, instruct, and referee outdoor and indoor games such as volleyball, football, and soccer. They instruct individuals or groups in beginning or advanced exercises. Using their knowledge of sports, physiology, and corrective techniques, they determine the type and level of difficulty of exercises, prescribe specific movements, and correct individuals’ technique. Some instructors and coaches also teach and demonstrate use of training apparatus, such as trampolines or weights. Sports instructors and coaches may also select, store, issue, and inventory equipment, materials, and supplies.

Physical training instructors tend to focus more on physical fitness activities rather than organized sports. They teach and lead exercise activities to individuals or groups ranging from beginning to advanced levels. These activities take place in a gym, health club or other recreational facility. Because activities are as diverse as aerobics, calisthenics, weight lifting, gymnastics, scuba diving, yoga, and may include self-defense training such as karate, instructors tend to specialize in one or a few types of activities. Personal trainers work one-on-one in health clubs or clients’ homes. They evaluate an individual’s abilities, determine a suitable training program, demonstrate a variety of exercises, offer encouragement, and monitor their correct use of exercise equipment and other apparatus.

Depending on the sport or physical activity involved, instructors and coaches use different kinds of equipment. Many work with children or young adults, helping them to learn new physical and social skills, while also improving their physical condition.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Irregular work hours are common—many instructors and coaches work part-time, evenings, and weekends. Instructors and coaches in educational institutions may work additional hours during the sports season. Some coach more than one sport, and may work year round. Some work outdoors, depending on the sport or activity. Instructors and coaches may travel frequently to games and other sporting events. Their work is often strenuous and they must guard against injury when participating in activities or instructing others.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Sports and physical training instructors and coaches held about 359,000 jobs in 1998. About 1 out of 6 was self-employed. Almost half of salaried workers were in public or private educational institutions. Amusement and recreation services, including health clubs, gymnasiums, and sports and recreation clubs provided almost as many jobs. Most of the remaining jobs were found in civic and social associations.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

Education and training requirements for instructors and coaches vary greatly by type of employer, area of expertise, and level of responsibilities. Some entry-level positions only require experience derived as a participant in the sport or activity, while others require substantial education or experience. For example, aerobics instructor jobs are usually filled by persons who develop an avid interest in the activity by taking aerobics classes and then become certified. On the other hand, some coaches must have qualifying experience such as past participation in the sport, or must work their way up through the coaching ranks.

School coaches and sports instructors at all levels usually have a bachelor’s degree. Employers within the education industry often draw first from teachers and faculty when seeking to fill a position. If no one suitable is found they hire someone from outside. Coaches may have to be certified, in accordance with the school district’s policies. Some districts require recertification every 2 years. A master’s degree may increase opportunities for employment and advancement. Degree programs are offered in exercise sports science, physiology, kinesiology, nutrition and fitness, physical education, and sports medicine.

Certification is highly desirable for those interested in becoming a fitness, aerobics, tennis, karate, golf, or any other kind of instructor. Often one must be at least 18 years old and CPR certified. There are many certifying organizations specific to the various types of sports or activities and their training requirements vary depending on their standards. Part-time workers and those in smaller facilities are less likely to need formal education or training.

Instructors and coaches must relate well to others. They also must be resourceful and flexible to successfully instruct and motivate individual students or groups. Good communication and leadership skills are essential.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

An increased need for instructors and coaches is expected to increase employment in this occupation faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2008. Additional job opportunities will be generated by the need to replace workers who leave the occupation. Job prospects should be best for those with bachelor’s degrees and extensive experience within their specialization.

Demand for instructors and coaches will remain high as long as the public continues to participate in sports as a form of entertainment, recreation, and physical conditioning. Health and fitness clubs will continue to change to address the public’s ever-changing tastes. In addition, as the more active baby-boomers replace their more sedentary parents in retirement, the demand for sports and recreation instructors and coaches will increase.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Median hourly earnings of sports and physical training instructors and coaches were $10.69 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $6.54 and $16.48 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $5.70 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $23.10 an hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest number of sports and physical training instructors and coaches in 1997 were as follows:

Colleges and universities  $13.70
Elementary and secondary schools  11.00
Miscellaneous amusement and recreation services  9.70
Civic and social associations  7.80

Earnings vary by education level, certification, and geographic region. Some instructors and coaches are paid a salary, others may be paid by the hour, per session, or based on the number of participants.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Coaches and instructors have extensive knowledge of physiology and sports, and instruct, inform, and encourage participants. Other workers with similar duties include athletic directors, athletic trainers, dietitians and nutritionists, physical therapists, recreational therapists, school teachers, and umpires.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

Information about a career as a fitness professional is available from:

For information on a career as a coach, contact:

  • National High School Athletic Coaches Association, P.O. Box 4342, Hamden, CT 06514. Internet: http://www.hscoaches.org

Selected industries employing instructors and coaches, sports and physical training, that appear in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries:

O*NET Codes: 31321 About the O*NET codes

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