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What's the Difference Between a Coach and an Athletic Director?

Do you want to be in charge of setting a practice schedule and getting your team prepared for its next big game? How about operating the entire athletic department from behind the scenes? Read on to see if a career as a coach or athletic director sounds like a good fit for you.

How Coaches and Athletic Directors Differ

The main difference between a coach and an athletic director is that the coach is in charge of the athletes during practices and games while an athletic director is responsible for providing direction for the program and supervising the coaching staff. Some traits, like excellent communication, are requirements in both jobs, although each job has its own set of unique responsibilities. Coaches are often viewed as the public face of their program while athletic directors often make most of their decisions out of public view.

Important Facts About These Careers

Athletic Coach Athletic Director
Median Salary (2019) $42,812 $60,137
Similar Occupations Athletic trainer, dietitian, school teacher Operations manager, executive director, chief executive officer
Work Environment Commonly on the field or in the gym, though setting office hours is also regular Commonly in the office, occasionally working in the field for oversight
Key Skills Dedication, decision-making, and leadership skills Management, coordination, and fund-raising skills

Source: PayScale.com

Coach Responsibilities

If you are interested in becoming a coach, one of the most important skills you would need to have is first-hand knowledge of the game or sport; this is usually done by having some experience playing the game on some level, although some coaches have no prior game experience. Some other duties of a coach include setting the schedule of practices, developing a set of player guidelines and monitoring the educational progress of student-athletes. While some coaching positions do not have any educational requirements, jobs with public schools and colleges would require you to have a bachelor's degree in a field like physical education.

Athletic Director Job Duties

As an athletic director, one of your responsibilities would be to ensure that your athletic department is operating within its budget. You would also make personnel decisions and help scout potential recruits. If you are interested in a career as an athletic director, you'll be expected to have a background in physical education and at least a bachelor's degree. A master's degree may increase your chances of successfully landing a position with a college.

Employment Options

In whatever role you choose to pursue, positions exist at a variety of levels. The primary distinction between the two from an employment standpoint is that athletic director jobs are limited to academic institutions while coaching positions can be pursued inside and outside of academia.

Coaching Positions

As a coach, you might work with children in elementary, middle or high school. At early grade levels, you typically will introduce players to the sport and help them develop their skills. In high school, you may work more with players to help them perfect their game and catch the eye of scouts who may be looking to recruit them to college teams. You may also work at the college level, where the focus is on winning games and developing a sense of team spirit. You will develop strategies and plays by using the strongest players to create a team that can win games.

Work for a coach is also available at the professional level and for Olympic teams. The main goal of a professional coach is to win games. As a professional coach, you will train players hard and be expected to mold a team that consistently wins games. Olympic coaching will be on a more personal level. An Olympic coach helps players define their individual skills and train their bodies to win a medal.

Athletic Director Jobs

Athletic directors will typically work for a school, either secondary or postsecondary, but in this position, you may also work for an organization. An athletic director usually oversees all types of sports, unlike a coach who will usually focus on one sport.