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Enjoy sports, mentorship and want a varied job? Consider coaching

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Chris DeStefano, 44, has a long commute and works 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, usually beginning at 8 a.m. — and he’s perfectly fine with that. “I love it,” said DeStefano.

He’s the co-director of junior tennis at Gotham Stadium Tennis at Mill Pond Park in The Bronx. “A lot of times it doesn’t feel like a job. It’s a great environment.”

He works with kids from 5 to 18 years old, running lessons, drills and competitive events, speaking to parents and working alongside 14 other coaches.

DeStefano coaches kids from 5 to 18-years-old. Stefano Giovannini

“It’s great teaching kids who are enthused about tennis, to see how happy they are and how they improve,” the Lower East Sider said.

The former top-ranked junior and college tennis player earns a steady paycheck with benefits. He loves getting “a read on the kids,” especially in their summer camps, figuring out what encourages them to effectively communicate.

Coaching any sport may serve up an ace to a career that won’t chain you to a desk. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, coaching and scouting jobs are going to grow “much faster than average” through 2032.

Paul Annacone, former Top 10 nationally ranked junior player, is the former coach of champions Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. Currently, he’s the co-coach of tennis player Taylor Fritz (currently 13th in the world).

“It’s great teaching kids who are enthused about tennis, to see how happy they are and how they improve,” DeStefano said. Stefano Giovannini

Moving from playing to coaching is “an interesting transition,” he said. “You go from being totally in control of what you can and can’t do on a court to trying to impart philosophies, wisdom, thoughts and strategies from the sideline, where you have very little control. You have to be patient and deal with adversity. I believe that in 90% of what we do, the mental stuff drives the physical.”

Annacone, a Tennis Channel analyst, is also the author of “Coaching for Life: A Guide to Playing, Thinking and Being the Best You Can Be” (Irie Books, 2017). “You have to problem-solve on your average days — that’s what the best players do.”

Professional players’ coaches are independent contractors. According to Annacone, contracts are usually annual and can vary from a weekly salary of $500 to around $10,000 or $15,000, plus expenses and bonuses based on results.

Top-caliber coaches often land clients through word of mouth, but when just starting out, credentials and experience are essential.

“Accreditation and certification for coaching is through organizations like Professional Tennis Registry and the United States Professional Tennis Association,” said Jenny Schnitzer, executive director and CEO at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Eastern.

DeStefano loves working six days a week with his students. Stefano Giovannini

The USTA also offers coaching fundamentals workshops — two-day in-person courses about coaching principles. After becoming accredited as a Level 1 coach, participants may teach in the community such as at camps and parks. (The next workshop will be held on June 8 and 9 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing.)

The path to becoming a coach in any individual sport is similar. Dawes Marlatt, senior director of education and talent development at the Professional Golf Association of America (PGA) in Frisco, Texas, recommends pursuing education and professional street cred by becoming a member.

“There’s a multitude of steps,” he said. “That journey is filled with training, development, mentoring and participation. There are two pathways — 17 universities deliver PGA training programs and the other way is through the PGA associate program.”

The latter encompasses three levels and involves 10 days in Frisco. Associates, as well as students and PGA of America members, can access its job board and tap into career services support.

Team sports, however, are a whole other ballgame altogether.

“Team sports are different,” said Justin Spizman, author of “Coach: The Greatest Teachers in Sports and Their Lessons for Us All” (Half Full Books, 2022). Players don’t choose their coach and they’ll have multiple. “You’re coaching a larger group of people, trying to figure out how to motivate the quarterback versus the wide receiver versus your point guard.”

Although it’s not mandatory to have played the sport that you coach competitively, “You have to know the sport inside and out,” Spizman said. “Before anyone is going to coach at the highest of high levels, they have to coach at the lowest of low levels. You have to start somewhere.”

To get your foot in the door, Christa Racine, director of athletics at Drew University in Madison, NJ, and former head women’s soccer coach, said, “Start at a grassroots level — club or high school. Or volunteer at Division 2 and Division 3 levels.”

Adjacent roles are possible, too like personal assistant to a head coach, scouting, recruiting and video coordinator.

“Usually, first steps aren’t attached to a significant amount of money,” cautioned Racine.

DeStefano plays with a student at Stadium Tennis Center. Stefano Giovannini

She suggested searching the National Collegiate Athletic Association Marketplace and the Chronicle of Higher Education for collegiate athletic jobs.

But, don’t call a foul when you realize that a job in collegiate coaching won’t mean you’ll spend all your time on the field.

“Coaches spend the majority of the time in recruiting and program management,” said Racine.
Melissa Inouye, head softball coach at Fordham University, agreed.

“I don’t just coach softball,” she said. “The only coaching that I did today was an hour and a half. I’m doing scouting reports for the weekend. I’m dealing with marketing. I have an alumni event next weekend.”

After their last inning has been played and seniors graduate, coach-player relationships may still flourish. Alumni often call Inouye for help negotiating job offers, and she received many wedding invitations.

“I love that part — the mentorship,” she said. “Yes, I love competing and adding championship rings to my jewelry collection, but at the end of the day, I love the impact that I can have.”

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