The entire athletic department stands to benefit from hiring a strength and conditioning professional. Aside from enhancing the play on the field, all sport coaches should be glad to have less on their plate once the responsibilities of performance training are taken by the strength coach. In addition, overall care for the athlete is improved through synergy between the Athletic Trainer and the Strength and Conditioning Coach.
Improving the Athletic Department as a Whole
I don't think many people would disagree with the claim that hiring a strength and conditioning professional can significantly improve an athletic department. From a performance standpoint, there are countless ways in which having a true performance coach can help the athletes and their respective sports teams improve their outcomes on the field.
Without delving too deep into the performance factors, let's briefly address a couple potential benefits:
Improved movement quality, proprioception, kinesthetic awareness, and tissue tolerance allow for greater degrees of freedom of movement on the field/court, and a greater ability to withstand these athletic movements, thus reducing the likelihood of injury.
Increased strength, allowing for a greater capacity to produce power, will ultimately lead to an enhanced ability to express other athletic traits.
The two points above are essentially the main goals of the strength and conditioning professional; prevent injuries and enhance performance, in that order. Together, these goals seek to accomplish a much broader mission. Win games.
There are other significant benefits that the athletic department stands to gain, though, which may not come to mind as quickly as performance enhancement and injury prevention.
More Freedom for the Sport Coaches
Most pertinent to sport coaches is the amount of time and effort that will become free for use once a strength and conditioning professional takes over the performance training programs. In the very least, this will give each sport coach 2–4 hours of additional time each week to do what they originally signed up for. This might allow them to be a head/assistant sport coach and in many cases, a teacher. The headache that is associated with the weekly question, “What are we going to do in the gym/weight room?” will vanish.
If, at any given point in the year, just some of your “major sports” (MBB, WBB, Football, BSB, Softball, MSOC, WSOC) are training in the weight room, that gives at least seven coaches a break from trying to design, implement, and coach workouts. Instead, those coaches can spend their time in a more beneficial manner. Time will be used more efficiently, and the sport coaches will be much more content in the long run, even if they don't initially jump at the idea of yielding some of the control over their program.
In some cases, it's the sport coaches who also must communicate amongst each other on weight room scheduling, all trying to deliberate on who gets priority. Other times, it's the Athletic Director or another administrator who bears this responsibility. This is another area where a strength and conditioning professional can help streamline the department as a whole.
Creating a “Medical Staff”
Intra-departmental communication can improve in another major way with the hiring of a performance enhancement professional. Let's consider the athletic trainer and the ways in which a strong partnership with a strength and conditioning coach can enhance both of their jobs and, essentially create a “Medical Staff” in the department.
Something that I truly came to appreciate working in Professional Baseball was the relationship that can be developed between the strength coach and athletic trainer. For the duration of the season, you become tied at the hip, and together you work solely in the best interest of your athletes.
How can this help the athletes, and ultimately the entire athletic department, at the high school level? For starters, it takes the responsibility of communication out of the equation for the athlete.
For example, let's look at a scenario in which a basketball player rolls his or her ankle during a game. The ATC must evaluate the athlete that night, then re-evaluated the next day. Then, the ATC must develop a return-to-play protocol for that athlete. Not to mention all of the treatment that the athletic trainer must also give, it is then up to the ATC (or the athlete) to ensure that the sport coach knows of the injury and follows the plan set for a safe return-to-play.
But, what if the ATC does not (or is not able to) write an injury report that is sent to the sport coach? Undoubtedly, the ATC is seeing tens of athletes each day for treatment, and has to cover as many teams as possible, making communication very difficult.
Having a strength and conditioning professional may not directly help this process, but it could facilitate progression in the right direction. For starters, the strength coach and ATC could have discussions about what the right return-to-play protocol looks like for certain athletes, and where in that process the strength coach can step in to help the athletic trainer. And, to that end, the integration of a strength coach could further constitute the development of an injury report to keep everybody on the same page.
Ultimately what will benefit the athlete the most is getting the athletic trainer, strength coach, and sport coaches on the same page as it pertains to the health and well-being of the athlete. Knowing, not only how to treat an injury, but also what limitations that injury leads to in the weight room and during conditioning, and giving the athlete more resources to improve their treatment.
Hiring a strength and conditioning professional will not turn the athletic department into gold but, it will be a great step toward improving the athletic department as a whole, and the athletes only stand to benefit from this improvement.
Isn't that what this is all about, after all, providing the optimum environment for the student-athlete to excel? With a Physical Education teacher or sport coach admitting that they are not educated or certified in any performance training components and need the help.
Likewise, I would certainly say that just because you are a strength and conditioning specialist that does not mean that teaching Physical Education classes is something that you are expected to be prepared for. Rather, it is up to the professional, no matter what profession, to get formally educated and/or certified in additional areas if they wish to increase their scope.
On a briefer, yet equally important note, there are several other factors that affect safety during training, such as the cleanliness of the weight room, the upkeep of the equipment, and the clothes and gear that the athletes are permitted to wear. A professional strength and conditioning coach has been formally taught the importance of maintaining safe and properly functioning equipment and clean surfaces. Also, they know what gear an athlete should wear to avoid any injury, such as the wrong shoes.
Safety certainly is not the exciting part about performance training, but it is probably the most important. It does not matter how strong the athlete gets if they get hurt in the weight room. Of course, the sport coach will be upset if this were to happen, but liability is another issue in and of itself.
Ultimately, it is the needs of the athlete that should always come first, no matter what level of athletics we are discussing. The athlete doesn't simply need a place to train and a program written on the whiteboard, they need guidance, and they need a safe environment to grow and develop as athletes and young adults. While a non-certified performance coach can certainly do their best to make this a priority, one that is certified or credentialed can almost certainly ensure of it.
In writing this, it shouldn't be inferred that sport coaches or Physical Education/weightlifting coaches are incapable of training athletes. Instead, the message hoping to be received is that hiring a professional in performance training will ensure that the athletes get the best attention and teaching in that specific field. Athletes will get professionals who are trained in weight room safety, movement technique, and weight room upkeep. They will also get professionals who are passionate about performance training, and are not only required to continue their education as a strength and conditioning coach, but are internally driven to do so out of their own passions, not just out of obligation.
Ryan is the Arizona Performance Coordinator for
Cleveland Indians Baseball