The full-time strength coach as a profession is still in its infancy. In 1988 when I graduated from college, there were only a handful of collegiate and professional strength and conditioning coaches. Little did I know that 25 years later, I would be working in this amazing, challenging field, shaping the lives of young athletes.
Currently most - if not all - professional teams and Division I schools have full-time strength and conditioning staff. Many small colleges and high schools are employing strength and conditioning coaches on a full-time basis too.
The purpose of this article is to make a clear case for the need for full-time strength and conditioning coaches at every secondary and collegiate athletic program.
Benefits of a Full Time Strength & Conditioning Coach
It is difficult to know how many full-time strength coaches there are in the U.S., as accurate statistics are hard to come by. Many full-time coaches serve dual roles either as teachers or administrators, in addition to their duties as a strength coach. Currently the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA) is compiling numbers at the high school level, and they should be available later this year.
According to the NCAA, there are 8 million high school athletes in the U.S., with 480,000 going on to play collegiate athletics. There is an increased need for coaches at the secondary school level.
The benefits of having a qualified strength and conditioning coach go well beyond the athletic field. Today's S&C coaches need to be great communicators, teachers, and users of technologies. The skills of ‘Strength Coach' go beyond sets and reps:
- They increase performance while minimizing injuries both in the weight room and on the athletic field
- They contribute to long-term athlete development
- They increase confidence and self-esteem in young men and women
- They improve health and wellness while teaching life skills
- They decrease the school’s liability and risk management
- They bridge the gap between the medical staff, athletic trainers, and sport team coaches
It was not long ago that many schools did not have an athletic trainer on staff. Today most schools have athletic trainers in a full- or part-time capacity. Although this is a positive step forward, the role of the athletic trainer is mainly involved in immediate care of injuries. One of the strength and conditioning coach's key roles is to be proactive in the reduction and severity of injuries.
Don't Have The Money? Get Creative With Your Budget
By far the biggest reason most organizations site for not hiring a full-time strength coach is budget. Creativity may be needed in order to present the value that a strength coach brings to an organization. Many institutions put in expensive fitness centers and weight rooms, but may not include a qualified coach as part of the budget.
I have seen many great coaches create programs with nothing, but when you marry quality coaching with proper facilities, magic happens.
Those who make the decision need to consider the following questions.
- How many scholarships makes it worthwhile to hire a full-time strength coach?
- How many serious injuries makes hiring a qualified strength coach cost effective?
The strength and conditioning coach can have a large impact on the school’s athletic program. Due to restrictions the NCAA has on team practice time, the strength coach often spends more time with the athletes than the head coach. At the high school level there may be only one full-time coach, who works with every athlete. This may be the only person on campus who interacts with every athlete every week.
Who You Should Be Hiring
The criteria for full-time strength coaches should be a minimum of a degree in a health science or related field, along with a well-respected strength and conditioning certification such as National Strength and Conditioning Association’s CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist).
Too often this vital position is given to an assistant coach, fitness instructor, or volunteer who does not have the background or education in order to safely and effectively build a program and run training sessions.
A qualified, knowledgeable coach brings many additional skills to the program.
The knowledge to work with the athletic trainer, doctors, and physical therapists in designing and implementing return to play (RTP) programs cannot be underestimated in its impact on the athlete and team. Having an expertise in a particular sport or area or specialty such as nutrition, recovery, speed, and technology can add value to the position. With many new technologies available today, the strength coach needs to be versed in sports science, and know how to implement and analyze data in the areas such as VBT (velocity-based training), heart rate, GPS, wearables, and other analytics.
Famed basketball coach John Wooden never referred to himself as a coach but rather an educator. The weight room should be viewed as both a training facility and classroom where young adults can learn how to train safely and effectively, and develop self-responsibility and discipline.
The ability to communicate and collaborate with medical staff, sport coaches, and administrators is vital in the ability to deliver your values of your program. I am fortunate to work with some of the best high school coaches in the country, collaborating and learning from them has made me a better coach.
These coaches will become your best allies and advocates.
An Investment In Your Students
As the profession of strength and conditioning continues to evolve, we all play a role in choosing the direction. We can choose to advance it through professionalism, education, and leadership to raise the profile of the full-time strength coach.
Hiring a full-time quality strength coach is an investment in the program and in the future of young student athletes.
If you look at the most successful athletic programs, you will find a great strength coach is the glue holding all the pieces of the program together.