Realistic Character Occupations: My Experience as a Sport Coach

To win readers over we need to write characters so authentic they feel like real people. How do we do this? By brainstorming a character’s backstory, personality, needs, desires, and their day-to-day world. Lucky for us, one aspect of their daily life is a goldmine of characterization: the type of work they do.  

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Think about it: a job can reveal personality, skills, beliefs, fears, desires, and more, which is why Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi created The Occupation Thesaurus, a writing guide that profiles 124 possible careers and the story-worthy information that goes with each. To help with this project, I’m sharing my experience as a coach below, in case this career is a perfect fit for your character!

You can find the full list of Contributed Occupation Profiles and check out The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers at Writers Helping Writers.

OCCUPATION: SPORT COACH

OVERVIEW

Coaches teach athletes across various levels (youth, high-school, university, recreational, Olympic, professional) how to play sports. Their responsibilities include technical instruction, physical conditioning, recruiting, and team organization. They train athletes in order to perform their best at competitions. I’m lucky to have coached a sport I adore: competitive swimming.

NECESSARY TRAINING

I swam competitively for fourteen years before coaching, and it is necessary but not sufficient to have played the sport first. Some of the best athletes struggle to teach the sport to others because the skills came so naturally to them. Beyond athletic experience, training varies by location and level of competition. In Europe, standardized certification is required for youth sport coaching, whereas in the United States, certification differs among national governing bodies for each sport. Coaches at the university level often have undergraduate or graduate degrees in education, coaching, or sport science. It is common to start as an assistant coach before becoming a head coach.

USEFUL SKILLS, TALENTS, OR ABILITIES

CLEAR COMMUNICATION, PATIENCE, GROWTH MINDSET, PERSUASION, MOTIVATION, PHYSICAL FITNESS, COMPETITIVENESS, STRONG WORK ETHIC, BASIC FIRST AID, CHARM, CREATIVITY, DETAIL-ORIENTED, EMPATHY, EQUANIMITY, GAINING THE TRUST OF OTHERS, GOOD LISTENING SKILLS, GOOD WITH NUMBERS, INTUITION, LEADERSHIP, MAKING PEOPLE LAUGH, MECHANICALLY INCLINED, MULTITASKING, NETWORKING, ORGANIZATION, OUT-OF-THE-BOX THINKING, PEACEKEEPING, PERFORMING, PUBLIC SPEAKING, STAMINA, STRATEGIC THINKING, TEACHING, VISION

SOURCES OF FRICTION

Assistant coaches may disagree with the head coach but have to toe the line.

Overinvolved sport parents often complain to coaches that their children don’t get enough playing time.

Parents or athletes accuse coaches of favoritism.

The job performance of coaches is very public, sometimes dependent on factors outside their control (young athlete’s behaviors, athlete injuries, etc.)

Coaches get fired often.

Coaches may develop romantic feelings for their athletes (and vice versa).

There has been hidden sexual abuse in youth sports for years.

Administrators may clash with coaches, leading to a power struggle.

Funding is a struggle for some athletic organizations.

Sport participation is an opportunity for athletes from different cultures to work together toward a common goal, but there may be conflict on the team that affects sport performance.

Athletes may incur life-threatening injuries.

At the university, professional, and Olympic levels, coaches work long hours and struggle with work-life balance.

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Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

WRITERS SHOULD KNOW…

To add authenticity, writers need a deep understanding of the sport their character coaches. Each sport has a unique lingo and culture. I’m writing a romance between a volleyball coach and football coach. Even though I played volleyball in college, the game has changed, and I’m learning all I can about quick-sets, middle blockers, and liberos. My research needs to be even more systematic for football, a sport I never played. Coaching can be quite rewarding. Ask any person to name the top five most influential individuals in their lives, and a coach is often on that list. Coaching is ideal for characters who don’t want a desk job.

Have any questions about this job? I’d be happy to answer. Just leave a comment below!