How Do You Become an Ice Hockey Coach? (USA & Canada)

Posted on March 5, 2022 by Dan Kent
Hockey Coach

Choosing to be a coach for a sport that you’re passionate about can be an incredibly fulfilling and worthwhile endeavor. However, how to actually become a coach can feel like an overwhelming query at times, as it can be difficult to know where to start.

If you’re interested in coaching hockey, you’ll need to find out whether or not you require a coaching certificate/license. From there, you can begin searching for an entry-level coaching position if you don’t have any previous experience as a coach. Assistant coaches are a great starting place for those with head coach aspirations.

Types of Hockey Coaches

While the head coach position is often thought of as the most sought-after role, there are many other coaching opportunities — such as assistants and coaches that specialize in individual positions (such as a goaltender coach).

Not everyone is cut out for the stress of being a head coach and having the weight of failure fall onto your shoulders. However, the resulting pride you feel when your team comes out ahead can feel second to none.

Assistant coaches are an integral position for a fully functioning team. They assist the head coach and may be responsible for equipment and maintaining the facility for the team.

If you’re particularly well versed in goalies, having previously been one yourself perhaps, you may find yourself drawn to being a goaltender coach. You’ll get to work with the goalies and help them to improve their game and point out their weaknesses so that they’re then able to improve upon them.

How to Become Certified to Coach Hockey

Photo by Mark Mauno licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In order to be eligible to coach hockey, you’ll likely find that you need some type of coaching certification. This is a common requirement, whether you’re in the United States or Canada. In Europe,

The process of certification ensures that coaches are up to a similar standard and understand all of the safety rules that are in place so that they can best guide and teach their teams. It’s in everyone’s best interest that coaches go through modules and training clinics so that they can be up on the current information and best practices.

To Become a USA Hockey Coach, You’ll Need To:

  • Register as a member of USA Hockey — which costs $46.
  • Pass a background screening.
  • Finish the safe sport training for USA Hockey.
  • View modules that are specified to the age group you want to coach ($10 per module).
  • Register for a certification clinic and successfully attend it — this will cost you $55.

Depending on where you live, you may find that the certification requirements differ from the above list. It’s best to look up the certification process that you need to follow, to ensure you have completed the proper steps and are completely certified to begin coaching.

You may need to spend a couple of hundred dollars upfront to get your certificates — which may seem like a lot before you’re even able to land your first job. However, it’s worth the investment if coaching is something you’re going to be passionate about.

Do You Need a Degree to Coach Hockey?

While a college degree is not a requirement for getting a job as a hockey coach, many head coaches do have bachelor’s degrees. A lot of the individuals who go on to become ice hockey coaches majored in business — with kinesiology being a close second.

A business degree can help you understand the ins and outs of how to lead and manage a team, which is instrumental in being a good coach. Studying kinesiology ensures a grasp on how the human body moves and functions — which is a helpful piece of knowledge to have when coaching any sport.

A psychology degree is also relatively high on the list, which makes sense when it comes to managing a team and all of the different emotions and struggles that come with it. At the end of the day, choose a degree that feels like the best fit for you and you can surely use it to make you a stronger coach and mentor.

If you have a high school degree but a lot of first-hand experience, you’ll likely be able to land your first coaching job without a college degree. A proven track record is a great stand-in for a four-year degree when it comes to coaching.

How to Find a Hockey Coaching Job

Finding your first position in your coaching venture may be difficult, but it doesn’t mean you should give up. Depending on where you live, there may not be many positions to choose from.

Living up north goes a long way when it comes to having more options available to you. Most schools will have hockey teams and there will be local clubs as well. If you live south, you may find there’s only a job or two within a few hundred miles — meaning you’d need to move if you were hired.

1. Volunteer With a Local Team

If you have applied and gotten rejected for not having enough experience, you can offer to volunteer with a team and perhaps get a better idea of how the head coach operates. While you won’t be getting paid immediately for this gig, it will get your foot in the door.

As you spend more time around coaches, you’ll inevitably pick up valuable information and create contacts. When there is eventually an opening, you can ensure that your name is near the top of the list.

2. Search on Hockey Specific Job Boards

There are various job boards for open hockey coaching jobs, such as on the AHCA website. Remember to keep a positive outlook while you’re job searching, as it may take some determination and perseverance to land your first coaching job.

You may find yourself needing to check the online boards daily, so you can apply quickly when a job opens up.

3. Start Your Own Hockey Camp

Photo by Vinnie Langdon III licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

If you live somewhere that hockey isn’t as popular as it is up north, you may be able to start your club or winter hockey camp. This avenue would take some work and you’d likely need to find a couple of investors, but it’d be a great way to introduce people to the game.

This is a great option because you won’t necessarily need to get “hired” anywhere, as you’d be helping to create the camp yourself. You’d naturally be the top choice as a coach and it would look great on a resume when you go to apply to future coaching roles.

4. Start Small and Work Your Way Up

For many, coaching amateur players — such as younger club teams or even some high school teams will be the first leg of their coaching journey. If you don’t possess the desire to move up and coach professionally, you may find yourself perfectly content to stay at this level.

Coaching players who are younger is an entire job in and of itself, as you may need to be teaching them the basics of the sport before you can even begin to work on skills. Young players are still malleable and it’s important to encourage them and motivate them to continue.

If you’re capable of facilitating effective teamwork and strong communication skill, you may find that coaching a young player is the perfect fit for you. You’re in charge of developing the players’ character on and off the ice and providing a safe environment for them to have fun and enjoy the game.

How Much Do Hockey Coaches Make Per Year?

If you’re wondering if you could live off of your coaching salary, it will depend on what level you coach. Of course, NHL coaches make significantly more than high school hockey team coaches do — which is sometimes nothing.

While the seven-figure salary of some professional coaches may sound enticing, it also comes with a lot of stress and possible termination if the team doesn’t play as well as expected. If you don’t want the added pressure of ensuring a team plays to its full potential, private coaching may be an option for you.

NHL Head Coaches & Assistant Coaches

It’s not uncommon for NHL coaches to be pulling in seven figures a year. Mike Babcock made $6,250,000 in the 2019-2020 NHL season when he was the head coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Mike Vernon - Assistant Coach
Mike Vernon – Assistant Coach: Photo by 5of7 licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Even assistant coaches in the National Hockey League can break six figures (usually between $150,000 to $200,000). Now, this will be a hard role for an inexperienced coach to break into — so you’ll likely find yourself looking into getting hired with the local teams first before you shoot your shot with the professional teams.

Oftentimes, to become a head coach of an NHL team you’ll require many years of participating in the sport and a proven track record of your successes in leading a minor league or college team.

College Hockey Coaches

Getting a job as a college hockey coach can be lucrative as well, with head coaches of men’s college teams reportedly making an average of $170,000 a year.

This can be a great position as you’re coaching players that may very well go onto the NHL within a few years. You will find yourself helping to develop players that will be future stars in the big league and you’ll feel a sense of pride when their name gets called during the draft.

This can be an especially unique position if you previously played for that college — and you’d likely have a higher probability of getting hired on as an alumnus.

High School Hockey Coaches

When it comes to coaching high school hockey teams, some coaches do this work without compensation and on a purely voluntary basis. Others may bring in around $30,000 annually — which is a far cry from the six figures mentioned above.

However, coaching high school players can be fulfilling in its own right. You may be teaching some of the kids how to play hockey for the first time, while others may have been playing for years already.

Coaching a high school program successfully could lead you to a better-paying job in the future. The more experience you get coaching, the better you’ll look to potential teams later on.

Private Hockey Coaches

If coaching an entire team isn’t for you and you prefer to work with players one-on-one to improve their specific set of skills, then private coaching may be a solid option to consider. You have the freedom to set your own schedule and rate, which is a huge benefit for most people.

Depending on your own experience as a player and as a coach, you could potentially make a full-time salary from private lessons once you build up your client base. Word of mouth is very important, so you’ll want to make sure you have business cards on hand.

Private coaches can make anywhere from $30 to over $100 an hour. The wide range in earnings will be dependent on location as well as your local clientele base. If you’re living in an area such as Texas where hockey isn’t as popular, you may struggle to find enough clients to fill your schedule.

Coaching Takes Passion — On and Off the Ice

Hockey Coach
Photo by Mark Mauno licensed under CC BY 2.0

In order to be an effective hockey coach, you must love the game and understand the rules in and out. Your passion for the sport will motivate you to push your team to succeed and to bring a sense of camaraderie to the locker room.

The best coaches have a few attributes in common, such as being strong motivators and encouragers. They also tend to be goal-oriented and observant, so that they can know when to continue pushing players or when to allow them time to grow into themselves and build confidence.

If you’re looking to start coaching hockey, you should look into getting certified and then finding an entry-level position as an assistant coach — so you can observe a head coach for a year or two before trying to make the jump yourself.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada,

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