By Kate Ward, Disabilities Allies Chair

I started my college coaching career relatively recently, and something I hear about a lot is people wondering how the coaching world works and how to get a foot in the door.

The main thing that I’ve learned is that getting started in the coaching world requires a whole lot of volunteer time and sacrifices, a ton of networking, and a little bit of luck.

Everyone’s journey will be a bit different – and, in a lot of respects, my journey has been pretty traditional.

I played four years of Division 1 soccer and graduated in 2016, then went on to get my master’s degree as a graduate assistant at another Division 1 school. I was really lucky to be involved in a post-graduate program that was catered to athletics, and one that also worked in close conjunction with the athletics department to ensure that graduate assistants could meet the expectations of their respective programs.

So…advice number 1: Look for a volunteer assistant or graduate assistant role! It’s highly unlikely you are going to happen upon a full-time collegiate coaching job without any experience.

So, what does a graduate assistant do? Well, it depends on the school, the program, and the head coach. It depends on the resources the team has, and what the roles are of other staff members, including volunteer coaches or student managers.

My advice to anyone wanting to be a GA who is seriously considering a coaching career – involve yourself as much as possible. Work at arranging your schedule so you can be at practices, hang out in the office and pick up any and all tasks that you can, and get to know the other people in the athletics department.

Use your time as a GA to learn as much as possible, and be ready to grind. You might have your school paid for, you might not. You might have a stipend, you might not. You might need to pick up a club coaching gig to make ends meet (which is a great way to get more experience!). You’ll have a few late nights and many long days, but you’ll get a really unique insight into the coaching world. Every GA is different, but each one is an opportunity to learn. Take advantage of it.

Advice number 2: Find a mentor…or a few.

I’m super lucky to have some awesome role models in my life who have offered advice and guidance since I first expressed an interest in coaching. There’s no reason why you can’t have multiple mentors or people that you turn to for help, and don’t be afraid to ask for it! I’ve found that almost every coach has been willing to utilize his or her own network to help me out. It’s a two-way street though, so be sure to work on building a relationship too.

Advice number 3: Go to the convention and get involved. And network, network, network.

The Convention is super cool! And a great way to get involved and meet other coaches. Geek out at the exhibit hall, take notes at field sessions, introduce yourself to those doing lectures or panels. Go to meal functions, attend social hours, check out the Advocacy Groups! Follow up with those you met at the Convention, you never know what can become of these meetings – whether it’s a lifelong friendship, a mentor, or a future job offer.

At the end of the day, every coach will follow a different path. You’ll learn what your priorities are, and what you are willing to compromise on and what you aren’t. You’ll likely make a few mistakes and have a few bad experiences, but those moments will also be the ones you learn the most from. If you’re just getting started, take advantage of any and every opportunity you may have. You never know where it will lead!