What does it mean to be a professional coach in US Soccer?

For some, it’s an opportunity to teach young athletes, paving the future to be a star in MLS.

For others, it means to explore and build on their tactics. Lessons learned from already established coaches with the potential of getting a job at the USL or MLS level.

However getting there to begin with is not easy, the process is expensive, and time-consuming.


The US Soccer Federation currently offer seven coaching licenses. There are restrictions on the age group, depending on the license the coach acquires.

The licenses start at F and is one of the easiest to obtain. At F and E they are State Level licenses, before becoming national at D. The prices on F and E licenses vary State to State. Overall, a coach spends around 6 hours of their time obtaining them.

After that it’s where the problems start. From D to A, you rely on course programs. Those programs could be booked full months in advance, and that is if there are ones close by. Forcing a new coach to having to take off work and spend extra money on hotel and travel.

The Process

Let’s say Coach John Doe wants to coach at the USL level or even the MLS level.

A bit about Coach Doe, Coach Doe lives in NJ, and he currently has a full-time job and has to support a family. To keep his costs down Coach Doe is willing to travel around 200~ miles.

So what kind of road will Coach Doe be met by?

Before a new coach can even attempt to obtain a license, the US Soccer Federation requires that new coaches take a 20 minute free introduction to the pathway that the coach has to go through. Finally the coach can go on to start the next level.


F and E Licenses are handled by the state, and are classified as Grassroots level introduction to Coaching.

In New Jersey a new coach will need to take a two-hour course whether it be online or in-person and is pretty cheap at $25. Once you have completed the first step, the coach can continue to obtain their Grassroots Coaching License, now jumping to a 4 hour course and must be done in person, but still reasonably cheaply priced at $70 dollars.

Coach Doe is now able to coach a little league team, kind of. State of New Jersey requires one more license, the State E Certificate also requiring an additional 9 hour course plus $75 more.


D Class

Once Coach Doe has completed all three, he can now finally hunker down for the long haul. The classes needed are packed. The once easy route increasingly adds hurdles. Coach Doe has to pay $350.00 for the course, with the length of the course at 40 – 45 hours.

In the State of New Jersey there were only 2 classes in 2018, both booked full months in advance. So Coach Doe decides to look at Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The result? What he and many other coaches will find, absolutely no classes in Delaware. Classes in Connecticut & Massachusetts also fill up months in advance.

In Pennsylvania it’s slightly a different story the only classes available and open are near Pittsburgh, a bit outside of his range but still feasible, but there’s a catch the course is held over two weekends, at a minimum of 4 weeks apart from one session to another.

Meaning either 4 long 6 hour rides in a car or paying roughly $410 in flights for both weekends, and roughly $700 for the hotel right next to the Complex.

Total: $1,450 out of Coach Does’ pocket for a license that will allow him to coach an age group of 13-18.

If interested here’s an old out of date manual on what the course ran through from Dakota Alliance Soccer

C Class

Okay, maybe Coach Doe had a bad run of luck. The C class license should be easier right? Wrong.

Coach now has to wait a full year, and has to have a full squad of players, ages ranging 13-18, available as part of the requirement to get the new license. Cost go up dramatically with License cost going to $1,875.00.For the team required to be with the coach for 5 days,  the coach must arrange team travel and stay.

Traveling out of the state is not an option for Coach Doe, not with a full team. So Coach Doe has to do what every coach in the State of New Jersey does: Wait until next years registration opens, hope he can register quickly enough, and also pay for hotel rooms for the team.

Total: $1,875.00 not calculating transportation or hotel.

B Class

Coach Doe faces another hurdle now that he is done. From now on, the classes are based out of handful of locations.

Another difference is that it requires a comprehensive application from all interested coaches. So not all coaches may make the cut. For many this is the end of the road.

At this point, coaches face another full year wait, and a whopping $3,000 fee for the course. However, the package includes hotel accommodations and meals.

What’s also different here is the length of time the course runs, 4-5 months. The coach must come back three times. There are two 5 day long sessions, and a 2 day assessment.

Total $3,591 including 3 round trips to the closest course.

A Class

Youth & Senior

At this point the road has been treacherous, and it only becomes harder. Now the comprehensive application becomes standard.

At this level Coach Doe also is expected to be working with an elite youth team for the Youth license course. A high-performance U19+ team for the Senior course. He also is expected to show the results of the course at an assessment done with the team he is coaching or interning with.

With only 2 separate 6 month waits this go around, but the fee increases again to $4,000 for each license. The food and hotel accommodations previously offered are no longer offered. Coach Doe is also required to be at three different 5 day long meetings to go over the course of the programs.


Coach Doe finally made it, he can finally apply for the Pro license. Except he can’t. He would have to be invited to apply for it.

At $10,000, it’s the most expensive license and longest course, taking place over an entire year. This license would mean that Coach Doe can finally coach in MLS.


All in all, it takes years for some, decades for others. The US Soccer Federation is the only one to make it this intense, rigorous, and almost down right unobtainable. Unlike all the other major sports in the United States.

Teams from other sports believe that experience and success is the best qualifier for a position within the major leagues.

Other Sports

Outside of NCAA, no other major sports league has strict guidelines on becoming a coach. No strenuous coaching licenses courses that need to be had. No trips to different states, or need to return for a second course weeks or months later.

The NBA G League and Major League Baseball responded to email queries sent to all major sports leagues.

NBA G League Officially States:

While there are no minimum requirements to coach in the NBA G League. The league recommends those interested in a career in coaching start at the local high school level. Coaching is much like any other profession in that you work your way up as you improve.

MLB Officially states:

Each team hires a manager and coaching staff based on each organizations unique criteria. There is no minimum requirement across all thirty Major League teams in regards to what previous experience is required. With that being said, most managers and/or coaches generally have played in the Minor Leagues or Major Leagues, or have at least spent time around the game in a professional manner.

Coming back, the NCAA requires that you have one of two licences. Either a Certified Interscholastic Coach license from the National Federation of High Schools Associations, or a National Coaching Certification from the United States Sports Academy.

The Certified Interscholastic Coach license from NFHS costs $270 and it’s an at your own pace online course.

While the United States Sports Academy license consists of four different courses, each varying different lengths of time each costing $150. All courses are online classes.

One can argue that needing a four-year sports management related bachelors degree for the NBA could constitute as a serious requirement, but the subject here is license.

Why the disparity? Why not make it more simple?

There’s a unique opportunity to see what it is like for actual coaches.

A Chance For More?

At Rider University, Coach Charlie Inverso has been in charge since January 2011. In his tenure so far he earned the NSCAA Northeast Region Coach of the Year in 2015. Inverso lead the Rider University Broncos NCAA Tournament appearances in 2015 and 2016. He also coached ex-Red Bull II player Jose Aguinaga. Inverso proved to be a great candidate to interview about his ideas for the current format.

Could talk about your experience with the process of getting a coaching license?

I started out getting my ‘C’ license when I was a senior in college. From there I worked up to receiving my ‘A’ license when I was 26. This was quite a few years ago!

For many people, it’s a subject of debate due to the nature of the travel and extra costs associated. What do you think?

I think the cost makes it very difficult for many coaches to get a license which is unfortunate.

There are people who believe that the US Soccer Federation deliberately makes it harder for the average person to get their license above B, can you speak to that?

I will be honest, John, I have never heard this. Although I have heard that it is difficult to pass if you struggle with technology.

Do you believe that certain coaches get preferential treatment by the US Soccer Federation over others in the way they get their license?

I think it is only natural that certain coaches who have extensive playing and coaching background would get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to passing the course.

Do you think the current process needs to get reformed?

If I had my way, John I would institute something called a “Community License”. It would be a very short (3-4 hours) classroom session on how can the youth coach improve soccer in their own community. This course would require a progressive thinking coach/curriculum which is innovative.

Some of the topics would include:

1) How can we find and recruit the better athletes in our community to play soccer. I think we need to find parent coaches who not only will look to attract better athletes to play our sport but there should be a panel of parent coaches who oversee player development.

2) How important skill is and how we can help parents/coaches develop skill in their kids/players.

3) How we can be creative to make the best developmental environment in our recreation and travel programs.

4) How critical it is to retain players year after year. There are too many players dropping out of soccer.

5) Explaining to coaches that they cannot hang on to their players if those players have a chance to go to a better developmental program. How moving up to a higher level is a natural part of the development process.

6) Show them models of how our best soccer nations produce players and how shockingly different it is to our developmental system.

7) How unimportant winning is but at a certain age it is okay to teach kids to compete.

8) How we cannot rely on the pipe dream of street soccer but adults can create this environment in their own communities.

9) Most importantly, how we can get many more under-served kids playing soccer.

10) How the administrators need to let the true soccer people make player developmental decisions.

I also believe that there are way too many knowledgeable coaches who are not being utilized in coaching schools. I have learned much more at coaching courses by just listening to the best instructors talk over dinner or out socially. There are way too many brilliant minds that are being underutilized.

Do you have any words of advice for those aspiring to be a coach at the collegiate level?

My advice would be:

1) Stay with it and make the decision to be in it for the long haul. It took me 30 years to get a full time head coaching job.

2) Work a lot of different camps in the summer. It is amazing how many contacts you will make by doing various camps

3) Make sure you find a few good mentors. I was extremely blessed to have been around some of the best coaches in the country. Don’t be afraid to contact a successful coach and ask them for 20 minutes of their time to pick their brain.

4) Be respectful. You will climb the ladder in this business by having older coaches with influence pushing for you. Refer to experienced coaches as ‘coach’. Don’t come across as a know it all or try to throw around the latest jargon when you are on the field or recruiting. Never act like a fool when you are out socially in a big soccer crowd.

5) Don’t forget to spend time with your family.

or Trust The Process?

A former instructor with the US Soccer Federation, and current coach with Rutgers University Dan Donigan has plenty of experience with the system. 2015’s Big Ten Coach of the Year, Coach Donigan is not just another collegiate coach. Coach Donigan had led the Scarlet Knights into the NCAA tournament, and has gotten them ranked Top 25. Coach Donigan has also been a coach to 15 MLS Super Draftees. A perfect candidate to review his experiences with the license system.

Could talk about your experience with the process of getting a coaching license?

I was very fortunate in the process of earning my coaching licenses. I began coaching at my alma mater and my head coach at the time was the legendary Joe Morrone. He pushed me to get my licenses from both US Soccer and the NSCAA at the time.

Because I had played professionally and I believe my background within the game, I was able to begin at the B level license than I had to wait around 6 months or so before earning my A license, which I did as soon as I was able to be accepted into the coaching school which if I remember correctly was around 6 months to a year.

I also earned my Advanced Diploma from the NSCAA at the time and then most recently I earned my Director of Coaching license from the NSCAA as well because I have started working as the Technical Director/Director of Coaching at a local club in NJ, PDA (Players Development Academy) and felt it was important that I learn as much as possible about running a youth soccer club in America.

For many people, it’s a subject of debate due to the nature of the travel and extra costs associated. What do you think?

Yes, it’s not cheap or inexpensive, but nothing of quality rarely is so I think the value is debatable, but I would imagine that there are some costs with running a course that doesn’t come cheap (food, housing, staffing etc…..) Personally, my belief is that the coaching licenses are very valuable and there needs to be a cost associated and there also needs to be a high standard that the candidates need to be held to in order to earn their licenses.

Just because you can afford the course does not mean you should be given the license. I’m very proud of earning my licenses and want it to be earned and not simply given to people who pay and show up. You must educate yourself or get educated and learn from experiences within and around the game in order to be certified.

I have instructed courses for US Soccer on the C and B levels and feel there are many people who attend the courses who have no right to be there as they simply do not understand the methods to coaching. I am pretty confident that people get pushed through some levels because they paid and they just get their license at the state level then they advance to the National level course and they really struggle to coach.

There are people who believe that the US Soccer Federation deliberately makes it harder for the average person to get their license above B, can you speak to that?

I would need to know the definition of the average person trying to earn their license, but I am not knowledgeable of that principal, but would highly doubt this idea as why would we want quality people and qualified people to help our game? Seems like a cop out for those who don’t make the time or effort to do what the course offerings require.

I stopped instructing the courses because of the expectations of the instructors and because of the time required, but that was my choice.

Do you believe that certain coaches get preferential treatment by the US Soccer Federation over others in the way they get their license?

I do not! I get tired of hearing people think processes are made in order to make life difficult, why can’t people simply work for what they want?

Do you think the current process needs to get reformed?

US Soccer has continually reformed the process over all the years I have been around and to my knowledge I have seen the courses reformed for the better.

Do you have any words of advice for those aspiring to be a coach at the collegiate level?

Earn your higher education degree, get involved within the game in as many levels as possible and learn more about higher education on top of simply being a coach. My job responsibilities fall more outside of the game of soccer then simply coaching my team. I am more of a CEO than a coach. I consider my job to be much more than just a soccer coach.

You need to know business, ethics and ethical decision making, manage people, motivate people, create a maintain a culture, monitor academic progress, keep up with modern best practices of higher education. The best thing I did for myself was earn my masters degree in Higher Education as this is what has helped me the most with my day to day responsibilities as a collegiate coach.

I see people that want to be a college coach because they love the game and just want to coach, but they have no clue what it means or what it takes to be a REAL collegiate coach. The title of College Head Coach is very misleading.

Player Turned Coach

In the MLS, USL, PDL, and NASL it’s not rare to see a former player become a coach. Especially for the Red Bulls, in its 22 year history there have been only 3 instances where a coach has not had prior experience playing soccer at a professional level. Those three being Bob Bradley, Carlos Alberto Parreira, and Octavio Zambrano.

Former New York MetroStars, and current Red Bull II Head Coach John Wolyniec, is a good example of a player turned coach coming in and finding success relatively early in his career. He lead New York Red Bulls II to their first championship win taking home the USL cup. Wolyniec agreed to sit down to an interview about his road to where he is now.

You are one of the many people that made the transition from player to coach, can you talk about why you did it?

I knew I wasn’t done with the game, I wanted to continue on. I had some experience with coaching youth teams on the side. As I said I just knew I didn’t want to leave the game just yet. I felt I could contribute to the game much more than I already have done so.

Did the Red Bulls help you out with the process?

Not initially, I paid for the initial costs. After I got my first license the Organization invited me to coach their academy teams, from there they helped the rest of the way.

There are people who believe that the US Soccer Federation deliberately makes it harder for the average person to get their license above B, can you speak to that?

Well, I think it’s about allowing candidates that stand out from the rest going through. If a team is looking for a B or A license coach, it’s hard to sift through thousands instead of a handful. The thing that does need to be looked at is who decides to allow these candidates, or what is their criteria based on. There should be more transparency on what guidelines are set in place.

Do you think the current process needs to get reformed?

Since my time numerous changes have been made and the system has been reformed since then. I do think there are areas that do need to be looked at for improvement. It’s just a matter of starting that conversation and finding out what improvements are needed. Teams in the USL and MLS have talked about what changes should be made, they just need a spark to start that conversation again.

I spoke to Coach Inverso from Rider University and he mentioned a Community license and how it would help the younger generation, what do you think about that?

While I’m not familiar with the new Grassroots initiative that the Federation put in place, I do think there needs to be more avenues for coaches to get the experience. So something like the Community license is a great idea. The more we help the future of soccer grow, the more we all benefit from it.

Do you have any words of advice for those aspiring to be a coach in the USL or even the MLS?

Just start. Get yourself involved somewhere, for example Red Bulls have open training sessions, so anyone can come out and see what it takes to coach at this level. Intern for a college, train and learn learn from someone. Just get yourself involved.

The Seeds For Success

No matter the positions one may take on the subject, it is very clear that US Soccer Federation has strict guidelines of what kind of coach they expect at the professional level.

But is it too much?

Are they restricting the ability to allow talent to naturally and fully flourish?

Don’t people deserve the ability to learn from experience along with their mistakes without needing to spend massive amounts of money to have the ability to coach?

It seems that the answers to those questions aren’t as straight forward as one may hope.

However, not all is lost. The US Soccer Federation is improving. The future depends on them finding something that can work, without needing Coaches to go at great lengths to have an opportunity to teach the new generations to come.

Authors Note: The audio recording for John Wolyniec’d interview was lost due to corruption to the file and is not verbatim. Before publishing his interview, permission was granted to publish the portions that were recalled from memory.

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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