5 Steps to Becoming a Basketball Coach

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 17, 2024 at 6:59AM UTC

Basketball coaches work with teams at different levels, including high school, college and professional, helping athletes hone their skills and fostering qualities like sportsmanship and collaboration in the team. They also strategize about game tactics, lead practices and manage games. 

For some people, coaching is a lifelong dream, although there are many challenges associated with the profession. If you’re passionate about basketball and coaching, find out what you need to do to make it a career.

Should I become a basketball coach?

Basketball coaching may seem glamorous, and many people thrive in the profession. A love of the sport and strong leadership qualities can make it a glove fit for some. But there are also some drawbacks. For example, the work is very demanding, and the field is fiercely competitive. You can’t control some aspects of your success, even ones that may put your job in jeopardy, such as the team dynamics and abilities (although you can work your hardest to teach your players) and your win and loss record. You'll have to deal with players, employers and even fans who will want to tell you how to do your job and may be unhappy with the decisions you make. These and other factors can make the work highly stressful.

That said, leading a team to victory and helping players grow and come into their own can be very rewarding. For many people, the career feels much like a calling.

5 steps to becoming a basketball coach.

There are many different paths toward becoming a basketball coach. These are the basic steps most coaches follow in order to succeed in the career.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree.

Most basketball coaches earn their bachelor’s degrees, usually in a discipline related to coaching and the sport. In some cases, you may even be able to major in athletic coaching itself, although other programs can provide you with good preparation for your career as well. See below for a list of related majors and coursework you should take.

2. Play the game.

At the collegiate and professional level, most employers will expect you to have played the sport. You don’t necessarily need to have been a superstar, but you should have enough playing experience to give you a solid foundation in and extensive knowledge of the sport. This will inform your work as a coach and help you better work and communicate with your players, since you’ll have common ground and an understanding of the inner workings of game. 

3. Gain experience.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22, but in order to become a basketball coach, you’ll need to have coaching experience already. Start gaining experience in college — working at the youth level, volunteering with your high school’s team, managing your own school’s team and even serving as an assistant coach, although even this position will usually require some experience. You should also get to know successful coaches and ask their advice on pursuing the career yourself. Make sure to attend and watch plenty of games, too — this will help you understand tactics and strategies. 

4. Become certified (depending on your area of focus).

In some cases, you’ll need certain certifications in order to be a coach. For example, if you work at the high school or college level, you may be required to have a teaching license, complete additional coursework and/or become CPR and first aid certified. You will also likely need to submit to a background check if you’ll be working with minors. If you’re unsure of the necessary requirements for your area of focus and state, check with your state’s governing board. For example, if you plan to work at the high school level, you should check with the Board of Education in your state.

5. Advance in your career.

It’s possible to become a high school coach relatively quickly. However, to advance to the professional and even college level, you’ll often need plenty of coaching experience. You’ll also have to demonstrate a strong track record, particularly if you hope to advance to the professional level. There are many different paths to becoming a professional coach — some may start as basketball players and have minimal or even no coaching experience, while others may have extensive experience as assistant coaches or coaching at lower levels. 

Required education, skills and certifications

In addition to taking the above steps, you should also have the following skills in order to be a successful basketball coach:


• Teamwork

• Sportsmanship

• Analytical

• Problem-solving

• Passion for the sport and coaching

• Leadership


• Resourcefulness

• Adaptability

• Organization

• Knowledge of the sport (and often experience playing)

• Teaching

• Interpersonal

• Discipline

• Dedication

• Commitment


• Decision making (often under pressure)

• Public speaking

What degree do you need to be an NBA coach?

In most cases, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to be a basketball coach. This may not be required in every instance, however. In order to reach the NBA level, it will also require a significant amount of experience at the high school, college and/or professional level. 

What education is needed to become a coach? 

While you’re not required to major in anything specific, many prospective coaches focus on disciplines related to the profession, such as sports management, kinesiology, physical therapy, physical education, business, exercise and fitness and others. You should also complete coursework in areas such as biology, nutrition, marketing and other topics that are often applicable to athletic coaching in general.

How long does it take to become a coach?

The length of time it takes to become a basketball coach can vary significantly. Some people become assistant coaches right after or even during college and reach the level of full coach within a few years. Keep in mind that some types of coaching require more time and effort than others; for example, if you’re satisfied with coaching at the high school level, you may get there relatively quickly, while coaching at the NBA level will likely take many years of experience.

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