- The strength and conditioning coach, at times, is the only coach on staff that interacts with nearly every athlete, every day.
- This exposure, combined with the traits needed to be instilled by the coach in order for the athlete to be successful in the weight room, give the strength coach a unique platform/vehicle.
- In the very least there needs to be a standard of education/knowledge, safety, and professionalism for coaches working with athletes in the weight room.
In speaking with another strength coach recently, the topic of job responsibilities came up. Strength and conditioning professionals tend to wear a multitude of “hats”, oftentimes shouldering a greater load of responsibilities than what is listed in their official job description.
During this discussion, the question was posed,
“Of all of the hats that we wear, which ones are most important? Sets and reps, counseling, recovery, nutrition?”
For me, personally, it's the platform that we get as strength coaches that gets me out of bed each day. It's the opportunity to set a positive example and teach lessons that go beyond the field and weight room that really draws me deeper into the profession.
Any coach, though, can use this platform?—?from the strength coach, to the lacrosse coach, or even the athletic trainer… It wasn't until I spent a full season professional baseball that I realized what seems to separate the strength coach when it comes to the inherently great platform to impact the athletes.
This may not be the case for the collegiate strength coach, but it is certainly true in professional baseball and many high school circumstances: the strength and conditioning coach is traditionally the only coach that interacts with nearly every player on a given team, every day.
Where the pitching coach may only interact with the pitchers, the athletic trainer with the athletes needing treatment, and the head coach only with the team as a unit and certain individuals, the strength and conditioning coach will run multiple warm-ups, lifts, conditioning bouts, and stretch/recovery sessions daily. Even if it is not every day, you can certainly bet that during off-season periods when the team can't practice, it is the strength coach who is still running training sessions.
This is not to say that the performance coach has any more importance or responsibility than other coaches, it just means they have, at least at certain times during the year, more exposure to the athlete.
Now, let's contemplate the characteristics that the strength coach is attempting to teach each day. Either directly or indirectly, traits such as discipline, work-ethic, attention-to-detail, resilience, perseverance, mental strength, accountability, etc. are taught with every repetition of work. These character traits and lessons go beyond the weight room. They have the potential to change lives.
Now, let's be real for one second: there is nothing in the NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist exam that tests our competency of teaching life lessons or the aforementioned intangibles. So, how would hiring a performance specialist benefit the athlete in this regard, when any coach with a positive mindset and a full grasp of this platform could certainly leave his or her mark on his/her athletes' lives?
Remember the Vehicle/Platform
Anybody can have a positive message, and they can be effective spreading that message. It is the platform or vehicle, though that gives a greater and wider deliverance of that message.
A very simple example of the point I'm trying to get across is this: Tim Tebow is an incredible person who makes it his mission to spread the Word of God and positively impact the lives of others. He could easily accomplish this mission with or without football simply due to his nature and conviction. But, it is his athletic abilities that have served as the vehicle that has allowed him to deliver his message on a much greater (and international) scope.
An easy way to create your own platform to positively impact others is to take what you are good at?—?whether it is career-based or simply a hobby?—?and use that as your vehicle.
Those who go above and beyond to certify and better themselves as professional strength and conditioning coaches can not only improve athletic performance, but they can also use their passion and/or career?—?strength and conditioning?—?as a vehicle to do something greater.
Ultimately, though, it's not the certifications or diplomas that help the strength and conditioning professional succeed in accomplishing this mission. It's building relationships, relationships that are developed by initially establishing trust from the athlete.
To gain the athletes trust, the strength and conditioning coach has to be knowledgeable and, if they don't have an answer to any given question they receive from an athlete, they have to have the resources and desire to find the answer for them.
Just as a catcher in baseball can earn a pitcher's trust by being good at his craft (blocking breaking balls, receiving pitches well, calling a good game), the strength coach can also earn his or her athlete's trust by being good at their craft.
It's this trust that fosters the creation and development of relationships in the weight room, opening the door for the opportunity to build those desirable, life-altering character traits, and take advantage of the great and high-exposure vehicle that strength and conditioning can be for positively impacting others.
Considering all of the points addressed in this three-part series, surely we can see the benefits of hiring a professional strength and conditioning coach at the high school level. But, of course, I know it isn't this easy: simply convince the athletic director and, voila, there's your new strength coach. Money is involved, and so are many other logistics.
This was never thought to be a one-year revolution of athletic performance at the high school level. Rather, it is a long-term project that simply needs to start somewhere. Maybe that “somewhere” is at the micro-level?—?the school?—?or at the institutional level, like the county or state education boards.
Here's my proposal for those who wish to take a step in the right direction:
For any coach who wants to call themselves a strength/performance coach, work with athletes in the weight room, or has the responsibility of overseeing the weight room or “weight lifting” classes during the day, require that they earn a certification (maybe the CSCS, or maybe a cheaper/easier alternative at first) within the year to continue holding that position/responsibility.
Should the school choose to do this, they could fund these couple hundred dollars, consisting of the study materials and the exam (or reimburse the coach for the expenses once they've passed the test). If they don't pass the test after the first go-around, then the coach is responsible for paying for the re-take, or only get reimbursed until they pass a test.
What's even better, is that many certifications require continuing education for upholding certification, this holding the coach to a standard of improving their knowledge for the good of the athlete.
Sure, a lot of coaches may not want to go through this hoop, but to be blunt, do we really want our athletes to be influenced by those who don't see the obvious benefits of creating a standard baseline of knowledge/education, safety, and professionalism?
Maybe I'm dreaming, but I see this as a reasonable first step toward ensuring the athlete gets the best care in the weight room that can possibly be provided by that school. This won't cost as much as creating a new PE position for the performance professional, it won't cost any other teachers/coaches their jobs, and it certainly won't cost as much as outsourcing training.
What it will do is help satisfy many goals?—?from improving performance, preventing injury and ensuring safety, to taking the greatest advantage of the great platform to positively impact the athletes' lives.
Ryan is the Arizona Performance Coordinator for
Cleveland Indians Baseball