By Kyle Merber
March 1, 2023
Much is made of how little professional athletes get paid, which makes sense – they are the ones in the spotlight and with the social media followers. But if you want to stay in this sport as a career, then there aren’t many options as ubiquitous as coaching, and let me tell you… the pay there can really suck, too.
When you are 19 years old and Googling what a derivative is the night before your calculus exam, then spending every weekend for the rest of your life hanging out with teenagers on long bus rides seems like a nice alternative.
And while we all sit around waiting to be named the new head of the next On Athletics Club, the majority of us didn’t have a cool nickname like the Big Mazungo and are shit out of luck. Going from volunteer assistant coach at your alma mater to director of a Big XII school requires a journey that cuts through more states and carries a higher chance of dysentery than trekking the Oregon Trail, but that’s generally what it takes. Still, for many, the transition into coaching is not a choice, but a vocation.
Reading about the move by Athletics Ireland to start paying ten of their top coaches $80,000 a year – split equally amongst them – actually makes the NCAA look quite generous in its wages. From an outsider’s perspective, an annual payment of $8,000 might not be worth much, but there’s significant gratitude from the selected coaches and athletes for this grant. It’s the first step towards professionalizing a job that requires an incredible amount of time and effort. Between the cost of petrol and the distance driven to get on the few tracks available for use in Ireland, this is only a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start!
When I first came out of college, I paid my coaches $100/per month for their services – an absolute bargain to be yelled at by one of the legends of the sport. Once I was on contract and had a salary, that got upped to a few thousand dollars. Not every shoe company bakes that payment into their athletes’ compensation package, but they all should. Some coaches may take a percentage of earnings, or get paid directly by a brand if there is a team contract.
Among the many reasons that the United States is a destination for pro athletes from all over the world is that we have the most consumers ready to be marketed to and the highest average wage (about $70K) in the world. It makes sense for shoe companies to invest their resources in terms of contracts and training groups here.
However, we have something else going for us: the college system, which includes housing, training facilities, equipment, physical therapists, travel, a side of education, and yes, coaches that are paid actual money to coach – even if it’s not always much. In an ideal world, talented runners shouldn’t have to make the decision to leave their families to pursue the sport at its highest level if they don’t want to. As a former Irish junior champion, my wife made that choice to matriculate to Stony Brook University without ever having been on campus. I am glad she did or we wouldn’t have met, but I am not sure if I would have been able to do the same thing in her position (re: marry me!).
Acting in a supporting role can be a thankless job, and it’s not one that I envy. So while we may scoff at $8,000, there is a long list of coaches outside of the United States who are doing it for free. That’s much too low of a price to deal with some of the bullshit that we put them through.
There’s not an obvious answer here, especially since what I’m hoping for is higher pay for coaches all over the world, under different governing bodies, and within wildly disparate economic circumstances. So while athletes certainly deserve a raise, they’re not the only ones.
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After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.