April 6, 2015 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Climbing the career ladder

Obtaining a master’s degree can significantly jumpstart the career of any graduate assistant or aspiring coach, but finding the time can be difficult.

That’s something more colleges and universities with sports administration programs are attempting to address.

Online programs and degrees that can be earned in a short period of time are becoming more popular, as those in the industry try to balance their coursework with the hectic schedules of their full-time jobs. Master’s degrees aren’t mandatory in the coaching industry, but they’re necessary for anyone hoping to move up the career ladder or join the athletic program at a Division I school.

That’s why institutions are trying to make them more attainable, whether you’re a student looking for a career change or a coach or athletic administrator trying to build your resume.

online education“I think a master’s is really important if you want to become a head coach or want to move up the ranks and become the head of a department,” said John Paradis, marketing development manager for the University of Northern Colorado. “This gives you a step above the competition, because in this day and age having a master’s degree is the bachelor’s degree of the past. That’s what really starts to separate you.”

Paradis said the university’s sports administration program is ranked one of the top five in the nation. It also offers an online sport coaching program that was created within the last five years.

That’s becoming the norm these days, as campuses have learned to adapt to the needs of prospective students. The University of Northern Colorado’s coaching program allows for all of the courses necessary to earn the degree to be taken online, while the sports administration degree allows a portion of its classes to be taken remotely.

These types of programs are designed with busy coaches and administrators in mind. Paradis said those currently enrolled in the program are a mix of graduate assistants and those already employed in athletic departments, but the degree is becoming more popular across the industry. The University of Northern Colorado continues to add courses, while Southern Nazarene University added an entire program.

Sylvia Goodman, director of SNU’s sport management and administration, said the university’s brand new program has its first cohort of 13 students. It includes those with traditional business backgrounds and others who have already worked in athletic programs.

Goodman agrees demand is increasing, especially in Oklahoma where she said SNU has become just the second institution in the state to offer the program. Students continue to seek out educational opportunities in the sports industry, and Goodman felt like there weren’t enough colleges and universities to accommodate them.

That meant offering a program that’s convenient for the students, and SNU is among many schools that do just that. Goodman said classes are held on Wednesdays, which is typically not a night used for athletic competition at schools.

“This is a program that’s really reaching out and meeting the needs of lots of folks, whether it’s collegiate, local or private,” she said.

Students also don’t need to worry about pursuing a degree that’s going to take two or three years to earn. SNU’s sports management and administration degree can be earned over 18 months, taking classes like sport marketing, ethics in sport management, sport law, facility planning and management, and organizational communication. The program consists of 12 courses in all.

That’s not to say participation in sports administration or coaching programs is a breeze. It’s still a considerable commitment that challenges students, but most institutions say their programs — especially those made available online — can be completed at the student’s convenience.

What coaches and athletic directors must determine is whether the investment is worth it in the long run. A master’s degree in sport coaching may not be beneficial to a part-time assistant helping out the local varsity soccer team, but industry leaders prefer to hire those with greater educational backgrounds. After all, coaching is teaching and athletic directors want someone qualified and passionate about their jobs.

A master’s degree can lead to an increased salary and greater job security, so for those who plan on building a career in sports, the decision is a simple one.

“Most head coaches in major programs already have a master’ degree in something,” Paradis said. “This is just a nice option so those who want to can get a degree in something they’re really passionate about.”

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