Where Do Soccer Players Go When They Retire (Part 2: Coaching)

Although the title has taken a more creative turn (Thanks to an indirect title suggestion from a fellow Business of Soccer writer), this is part two of a series that looks at some of the career options available and being pursued by former professional soccer players.  The fact is that professional careers in sports are dramatically shorter given the nature of the job that many find themselves carving out second careers after their first one as a professional player is done, and many times while playing may no longer be an option, a second career within the sport isn’t out of the question.

The first installment took Tim Howard’s latest deal with NBC as a commentator and looked at the broadcasting path that some player personalities have taken once they have retired.  Former pro athletes are no strangers to broadcasting sets and soccer is no different.  This week  looks at another branch of the former professional careers tree, and like last week, it finds its inspiration from another USMNT standout: Landon Donovan.

(Read: Post-Career Player Development [Part 1: Broadcasting] click here

While not immediately, it is understood that Donovan is interested in working with the Galaxy’s youth program. This potential turn in a career is not a surprising or new move for a retiring player.  Coaching may in fact be one of the most popular moves for a former player as it is the closest continuation and application of what they did prior to retirement, and in many cases it serves as a win-win with the club able to hire someone already familiar with the club itself and the culture they are looking to foster.

Jose Mourinho in an interview with BT Sport, talks about how his biggest achievement in his career is to be where he is as a manager without being a “top player”.  He mentions that in his time starting as an assistant coach, not being a former professional was “a situation difficult to beat.”

Mourinho claims that now is a time where there is more acknowledgment of the ability of coaches who never had a top playing career. This may be true and it may also seem intuitive to assume that retiring players moving into management happens often, but it is never safe to assume so to start let’s take a look at MLS’ coaching breakdown and determine the number of former players that find themselves now in the coaching ranks of teams currently competing in MLS.

In this case the assumption was clearly safe to make.  Of the nineteen clubs currently competing in MLS, seventeen employ former professional players in their head coaching positions, and furthermore, 51 former professional players occupy assistant roles in some form in the first team. This doesn’t even touch on how many are involved in the clubs’ youth academies as directors and coaches.

Looking at the Premier League in England, the numbers add up to a similar result.  17 of the 20 clubs currently in the Premier League employ former players as head coaches and an additional 55 occupy assistant roles.  Both the average number of assistants and the median number of assistants per team who are former players both equal three exactly.

Interestingly enough, in both leagues the head coaches/managers who are not former professional players are fairly high profile and successful coaches.  In MLS the two coaches are Seattle’s Sigi Schmid and LA Galaxy’s Bruce Arena.  In England that small group of coaches includes Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, and Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool.  Another interesting high profile coaching position filled by someone with no professional playing experience is the US Women’s National Team Coach Jill Ellis, who rose through the ranks of USSF following a standout college playing career.

Whether former players have the edge or not, in order to coach they still have to get the same coaching licenses non-players do…sometimes.


Here in the US there are two options for coaching licenses. One of those options is the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) which is self-described as the “world’s largest coaches association that serves members at every level of the game.”

NSCAA uses an interesting  structure based on Diplomas and advancement depending on your previous experience in the game.  Diploma levels 1-3 are considered “Beginner” while 4-6 are considered “Intermediate”, both with their own “Special Topics” courses.

Beyond Beginner and Intermediate, they maintain “Advanced” coaching Diplomas which range from a National Diploma to a Master Coach Diploma as well as a Masters Program in Partnership with Ohio University whereby the degree is in Recreation and Sport Sciences with a concentration in soccer coaching.

NSCAA courses and Diplomas operate in cooperation with USSF and in many cases have recommendations for various courses that the applicant should already have various USSF coaching credentials depending on the course or Diploma.

USSF Coaching License Structure - Photo Courtesy of USSF.com

USSF Coaching License Structure – Photo Courtesy of USSF.com

USSF also provides its own coaching licenses and curriculum.  “E” and “D” licenses are administered by individual state soccer associations where “C” and above are administered by the USSF coaching schools.  “E” and “D” licenses are intended to teach core coaching competency to coach 9-14 year olds, while “C” is targeted towards 15-18 year olds. The USSF “B” License is geared towards 16- college age players and the “A” license is for older, more senior players.

Each license level tailors a lot more information than simply coaching to an age group but age is a simple way of separating each license.  At each level there are minimum age requirements and the pre-requisite that you have held the previous License for at least 12 months. The only License that you have to renew is the “A” License.

In the end, former professionals do have a leg up because assuming they have coaching experience, at any level they can be waived out of both the “B” and “C” licenses.  The “C” license requires three years coaching experience and three years playing at a national level or FIFA recognized “1st division”.  The “B” license waiver has the same requirements except the time periods need to be five years instead of three.  There are no waivers for the “A” license.

Beyond the US coaching credentials, there are a large portion of coaches in the US who also hold UEFA coaching credentials as well as, or in lieu of, US coaching credentials.  That process and structure is another discussion altogether, but regardless of whether a coach holds a UEFA, USSF or NSCAA coaching Diploma or License, at the professional coaching level, there is a high likelihood that man or woman was a  former professional player.  Professional coaching is almost always a viable option for a player and it helps that they have been developing contacts over the years of playing by simply doing their job.


What do you think about the viability of a coaching career for former players once they retire? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

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