First, I applaud Kurt Hester for his willingness- as an institution employee- to call out the NCAA and its role in understanding the student-athlete (SA) health and performance delivery dynamic of the strength and conditioning (S&C) coach; certifying strength and conditioning associations and their absence of a joint agreement towards one of the goals of SA health and welfare; and for once again stating the not so uncommon practice of some sport coaches dictating the responsibilities of an S&C coach in and outside the scope of their job description and expertise.
Coach Hester, you've added a spark that hopefully ignites a raging bonfire of discourse that ends up in a clear solution. These are not topics for diplomacy.
I applaud Bob Bowlsby, Commissioner of the Big 12. At this year's Big 12 media day he mentioned the NCAA will be looking at S&C coaches and what “they can do, how they're supervised, and the like”. Bowlsby is the chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee and hopefully this will affect the entire profession. FootballScoop.com characterized Bowlsby's discussion as the NCAA looking specifically at “…certification processes and hiring practices, as well as subsequent oversight after hiring.”
I say bring it on and when and where can I help! Here again, diplomacy does these topics no justice. Difficult questions and answers will rule the day.
Here is what has not been said:
The issue is NOT certification or divided S&C associations- whose joint discussions, thought by some to be nearly unified, are now recently less than that- or sport coaches stepping outside their expertise (not the only faction doing that in a performance group). Until the direct report of the S&C Unit is an S&C veteran/expert at the senior staff level (Senior Associate AD), the oversight of the Unit cannot be supervised or managed comprehensively leading to a less than fully functional and highly effective S&C department.
This subject matter expert with S&C oversight should have immediate and unfettered access to the Athletic Director and be responsible for S&C only; no sport or event responsibility. Think about it- surprising that the only department on campus whose staff literally has “hands” on every SA multiple times during the week (would love to debate those who believe otherwise) does not directly report to the Athletic Director at many institutions.
Easy to understand the staggering challenge having a working knowledge of exercise, nutrition and preventative/rehabilitation science to say nothing of the time available to critically supervise those areas.
A great deal of senior staff members who typically supervise the S&C Unit also supervise:
- Sports medicine
- Sports nutrition
- Sport psychology
- Sports science
- and 2-4 sports or other areas.
Truth be told, the Senior AD position I speak of should cover the entire performance area:
- Sports Medicine
- Sports Nutrition
- Sport Psychology
and again, with no other responsibilities.
In regards to catastrophic instances, as Bowlsby states, few are occurring during the season and “are happening during conditioning and off-season practice.” So, going forward I'd like to see the NCAA Safety In College Football Summit, whose day 1 agenda in 2016 included catastrophic injury in football, address off-season training AND encourage attendance of S&C practitioners.
Of the 70 participants, not one collegiate S&C coach was listed and no mention of off-season measures.
For a look at documents, recommendations and attendees, here is the address- http://www.ncaa.org/sport-science-institute/safety-college-football-summit. Of particular interest are examples of policy recommendations listed by the “Interassociation Consensus Statement on Best Practices for Sports Medicine Management for Secondary Schools and Colleges” in the document Independent Medical Care for College Student-Athlete Best Practices.
Of particular interest are principles #7, #9, and #10 clearly showing the sports medicine arena separating themselves from being influenced by anyone outside of their services delivery system and expertise.
S&C coaches take notice:
9- An athletic trainer's professional qualifications and performance evaluations must not be primarily judged by administrative personnel who lack health care expertise, particularly in the context of hiring, promotion and termination decisions.
A concept for us has a precedent. A collegiate health care and performance delivery system has to be ‘athlete-centric'. Sport coaches influencing or making those decisions is contrary to that concept.
Furthermore, when the NCAA looks into hiring practices and certifications, S&C practitioners must be present as well as those in direct supervision of them so that there is candid and honest dialog, some of which will be uncomfortable. Without the aforementioned in attendance and actively participating in the discussions, a task force will be feigning an attempt at moving closer to preventing heartbreaking occurrences and job performance miscues as well as myopic S&C performance reviews.
Hold on now, S&C coaches are not innocent of some of the criticisms bestowed on us.
As Coach Hester said in no uncertain terms, ‘Let's do something!' He mentioned to me that he received positive responses on his Facebook comments; “Hundreds” I believe he said.
My question is," Are you prepared to do more than talk about it?"
If you are, I don't know a better time ladies and gentlemen. And for the certification naysayers, the absurd notion that “certifications don't mean anything” couldn't make our profession or the person saying that look worse. Nine times out of ten those saying “the initials after your name don't mean anything”, have, well, no initials after their name! Educate yourself- MD, PhD, ATC, CPA, PT does not mean you're good at your job OR that you have the maximum knowledge available but it sure gives you a better chance than the guy who doesn't.
Will credentials save someone from gross negligence? Doubtful.
However, I'm certain a coach would not want to find out how much a certification “means” when he/she answers “No” to a litigator who asks “Are you certified to do your job?” in an investigation.
Frankly, we cannot blame the NCAA for an institution's inability to make a competent hire. We certainly can't blame them for a coach's or institution's lack of common sense or due diligence. Unequivocally, we cannot. It is the member institution who is culpable.
That being said, in no way am I implying a supervising coach is excused from the responsibility of SA safety. Instant liability is in effect when any coach is overseeing SA activity. What I am saying, and as Coach Hester and Mr. Bowlsby suggest, is that it's the evaluation systems and hiring practices- before and not after life changing instances- that need the closest scrutiny to safeguard against bad things happening. And, while a valid certification is requisite, vaulting professional integrity and our rightful place in the performance delivery system hinges on whether or not we have an impactful, authentic senior staff position on every campus.