What is Really Wrong with Strength and Conditioning

So picture this. You are an assistant strength & conditioning coach, GA, or intern and you feel you have chosen this career for the right reasons. You determined that silly things like money, sleep, and the time to build meaningful relationships with anyone beside your fellow coaches and athletes are not important. You arrive at work at 5:15am and leave 12-14 hours later to go back to the small apartment you share with the coaches you spent all day with.

Don't worry, you'll have the weekend off, if you aren't traveling with a team, so you can look at the social media posts of all the cool things all your friends are doing that you really can't afford or are not available to do because of the small college town you live in has the population of 2000. The most happening place is Wal-Mart and the closest thing you have to a social life is the only gym in town that is not your weight room you work at.

The only people that realize what you are going through are either going through it with you or have already gone through it. This gives a new meaning to shared suffering and you realize you don't need a prowler and a partner to go through it.

But, you are lucky because you have a number of people like Mark Rippetoe criticizing how you and all of your colleagues train athletes, although they have never actually seen how you train athletes. Outsiders will criticize every aspect of the profession you have dedicated your life to pursue. And then you ask yourself, "Why am I working so hard for so little when I am obviously doing things wrong based on the opinion of critics who never do things wrong?" Well for them, that wouldn't sell their eBooks.

According to 97% of "Online Coaches*", I was an idiot the entire 15 years I was a college strength coach. But, no one could tell me why I sucked, just that I sucked because I coached college athletes. If only those online coaches could have taught all my athletes how to lift properly we would have won the super bowl in every sport. Shucks.

*there is no such thing as on-line coaches. the term in itself is an oxymoron.

What am I getting at?

College strength coaches will forever be criticized for whatever reason. Maybe it's jealousy and the thought that if you are lucky enough to be a strength coach at the college level you shouldn't be a turd. Maybe people that have never been in a college setting have a false sense of reality and an inflated sense of themselves. Not sure, but no matter how crappy the profession is in terms of job security, hours and pay; there are thousands who would just about do anything to be in it. Why is it that the best job in the world is also in the worst profession?

Being a college strength coach is the best job I could have ever had based on the definition of each word in the title.

  • College: Working with that age group fit my skill set and communication style.
  • Strength: The numbers don't lie and you can be the objective part of the subjective world of college athletics.
  • Coach: Coaching is teaching and teaching is the most rewarding thing  any selfless person can do.

Being such an awesome job on a day to day basis adds the biggest deterrent  of job satisfaction. Saturation. There are way more coaches than jobs. And when you poll current strength coaches concerning their biggest frustrations with their jobs; they all lead back to these basic areas.

  • Job Security
  • Sport Coach Relationships
  • Long Hours - Low Pay

Now, this is not to say all coaches deal with these issues. There are coaches out there that don't have to worry about getting fired and make great money. Also, there are other frustrations coaches have that lead to dissension. Let's just say for arguments sake, we'll focus on these.

So why is it that if a DI coach has a full-time position open up, he or she will get 300-400 resumes? Why is it that big-time schools can still offer full-time positions in the high 20s to mid 30s and get away with it? Why is it that a coach can be looking for a new job a few months after moving his entire family across the country because the head football coach was let go?

You see, those three frustrations and scenarios are not the problem. They are the result of the larger problem. They are not the cause but actually are the effects.  So what is truly the biggest problem in the strength and conditioning profession?

 

elitefts SPTS

No one has figured out how to objectively evaluate the strength & conditioning coach

That may sound crazy, but that is the root cause of most of the issues strength coaches have.  I first heard that statement from Vern Gambetta during a podcast and it has stuck with me. The more I can observe this profession from the outside in, the more I think Vern was dead-on.

This is a universal problem

This issue doesn't just effect college strength coaches, but also private sector coaches, teachers, personal trainers, CrossFit coaches, gym owners, and so on.  This goes back to Patrick Lencioni's 3 Signs of a Miserable job. Immeasurment.  How do you know if you are doing a good job or not? Whatever answer you come up with, there will be a hole in it. Think about the task of a strength and conditioning coach. We are trying to evaluate and assess our athletes as objectively as possible when the process of doing so cannot be objectively evaluated. We are a process based profession in an outcome based system. 

The issue is not lack of comparison. The issue is Devaluation.

It's not about the ability to compare and contrast a facility, staff, or coach to another. Any attempt to do so will result in a dead-end of non-quantifiable measures serving as opinions. The simple fact the worth of a strength & conditioning coach depends heavily on opinion which literally tears apart the value of that position in general.  The fact that there is not objective measures to evaluate a strength coach provides the notion that the specific coach in that position is irrelevant. 

So hopefully you are thinking to yourself, "How should I be objectively evaluated?" Or even, "How do I know who is really a better strength coach?" Or better yet, "Why would someone hire me over another coach?"

Before we realistically look at possible ways coaches can be university and objectively evaluated (which I don't know if I can come up with any, even as I am writing this) let's look at how you probably can NOT evaluate strength coaches.

1. By Maxes

Some of these are going to be so painfully obvious that if you don't agree with their unworthiness, then you are the problem.

Listen, I get that getting your athletes strong may be the most important thing we do as "strength" coaches. But, you realize that measuring a strength coach's value on what his/ her players can lift in the weight room is like evaluating a teacher on their ability to teach reading comprehension by grading how well their student's spell.

The simple facts that all players arrive into your program at different levels, progress at different rates,  respond differently to the same stimulus, and all will make progress no matter what the program entails should be proof enough that your athletes' strength levels are not about you.

2. By Players going the the next level

This is not indicative of how good of a strength coach you are. In order to convince me that you as the strength coach is responsible for the high school player going DI or the college player making the Olympics or a professional team; you have to answer these questions. Let's use a player who earned a D1 scholarship that you are taking the credit for as our example.

  1. Would that player not have been a D1 player without training with you?
  2. If that athlete's success is because of your training, why aren't all of your athletes Division 1 players?

Just as the strength coach should't take credit for their athletes' success, they shouldn't take the blame for a below-average recruiting class, the athlete's work ethic, or poor play-calling. This is a poor factor to judge a strength coach on.

3. By improvement

This goes along with #1. As we all know, athletes with younger training ages will make the most improvements in terms of strength. Is player development almost as important as recruiting? Absolutely. But because athletes start at different levels and their exposure to training depends on numerous factors, this is not a reliable measuring tool.

When a coach brags about how much their players have improved they are doing one of two things.

  1. Fighting for their own jobs
  2. Forgetting the basic scientific process that says there is no way they can account for the fact whereas another program could have yielded greater results that they weren't using.

4. By injury rates

As a strength coach, you need to take pride in the reduction of injuries amongst your teams. Having zero non-contact soft-tissue injuries is an attainable goal for any team. But, just becasue an injury happens, it is not indicative of the programming of the strength coach.

When I arrived at Army, the women's soccer team had 3-4 ACL injuries that first Spring. Was that my fault? Whether it was or not I blamed myself and looked hard at our programming. Maybe implementing as much posterior chain work that early in the off-season was a mistake. Addressing a prominent injury potential so aggressively may have been adding to the fatigue. The next year we had none. That winter, the wrestling team had a few. Again, I took a hard look at programming and got some feedback on how those injuries happened. No amount of pre-hab or Posterior chain work can prevent an ACL tear when an opponent grabs a leg and wrenches it while the foot is stuck.

The point is, there are many factors when looking at injuries and is difficult to quantify the cause. There is a long history that you may not be aware of, external factors, practice habits, treatment plans, etc. All can make the root cause waters very cloudy.

elitefts john powell throwing camp

5. By on the field or court performance

Be careful about taking credit for on the field performance of your athletes. Remember the number one factor that predicts success on the field or court is the ability to play that particular sport. I will admit we have a large problem with strength coaches taking credit for their athlete's success outside the weight room. But, that pendulum shouldn't swing the other direction so far as to blame strength coaches for inadequate performance.

Understanding the difference between physical, mental, tactical, and technical preparation is something strength coaches are getting well versed at. Unfortunately, not all sport coaches are.

6. Sport coach approval

This may be a prelude into what are some factors that cold be used for coach evaluation. This, however, also depends on the sport. Football and basketball coaches often hire their own strength coaches. Like my guy Chris Bates told me, they are "pre-approved." They get to choose their own and evaluation should be nothing more than honest conversation. You hired the guy. Let him do his job.

On the other hand, most Olympic Sport strength coaches do not have  say in the hiring on an assistant strength coach. That decision is made by the head S&C coach with some feedback from a "committee." Most sport coaches don't have a say in who trains their teams. That being said. Shouldn't they have a say in the evaluation process? The problem falls back to "How?" What is the basis of that sport coach's assessment of the strength coach. What are they basing it off of?

If I had 23 sports then I would have 23 different cultures and 23 different opinions of what a strength & conditioning coach should be toward their teams. That is 23 different interpretations of what the strength coach is worth to the program.

7. Player feedback

At Denison, athlete evaluations (along with student evaluations for off-season training via phys ed classes) were valued at a very high (sometimes to high) level. Every semester, I would get a few negative comments that totally contradicted each other. We lifted "to heavy" we didn't lift enough, the workouts were to hard, to easy, to long, not long enough. It made me realize that not all athletes were as invested and it was my job to ensure they had the best opportunity to succeed.

Once I stopped trying to please everyone, the reviews got better and more predictable. We made sure that if someone was going to complain about training, they were going to complain that it was to hard, to intense, to in-depth, etc. Funny thing is, I never had anyone ask me to "take it easy" on the athletes after reading the evaluations. Point is, those evaluations couldn't accurately portray our training program. Most athlete questionnaires asked:

  1. Is the instructor/ coach knowledgeable about the content?
  2. Did the instructor/ coach increase your interest in the subject?

These are questions that are a.) difficult for the athlete to answer or b.) out of context.

I never see questions like:

  1. Do you feel stronger, faster, more recovered?
  2. Do you look forward to training?

The answers would be subjective anyway. But, those may give the strength coach the best feedback. It would just be difficult to evaluate him/her on those answers in a quantifiable measure.

8. Administrator observation

Tell me honestly that if an administrator, athletic director, or parent (at a private facility) would observe your training session and interaction with athletes they would be able to give you an accurate evaluation. Does anyone else besides another strength coach really know if you are really doing a better job than your predecessor or a strength coach at their last institution or facility? Sure, coaches know when another coach is making an impact with their teams. It would take me about 30 seconds to figure out if a coach is really about their athletes or about their ego. But, is that comparison really based on anything more than a feeling?

NSCA Ohio State Clinic

So How Do We Fix This?

I am not 100% sure we as a profession actually can fix this problem. My main point is to reinforce my beliefs about the strength & conditioning industry.

Here is the formula: Over-saturated + Under-valued = detrimental job market. This is a volatile mixture of factors for individuals who want to make a career out of this field. You cannot manage what you cannot measure.

I hope I don't sound arrogant but I  honestly believe that it would be hard argue with these facts I am presenting.

  1. It is almost impossible to quantify the job responsibilities of a strength & conditioning coach.
  2. That lack of objective evaluation is what leads to the strength coach position being undervalued.
  3. Being undervalued as a profession leads to less than desirable situations in an overly competitive market.

Do you want to know why athletic directors pay strength coaches so little? Because they can. When I left Denison, I was told there were at least 150 applicants for my job. And it was only 50% Strength & Conditioning. For every job you cannot afford to take, there are hundreds that would... for less money. Sad. And it is what drives salaries down.

Sport coaches have quantifiable numbers to be judged by (justly or unjustly). For a college sport coach, you can look at the number of admissions applications to the number of visits to the number of accepted to the number of enrollments and really see of those, who really contributed on the field or court. There is objective data in that process.

Conclusion

It is my humble opinion that there is only a few ways a strength coaches can be evaluated and none of it may be objective. Here are some basic points that are just my opinion.

  • There is no discernible way to compare one strength coach to another. Please correct me in the comments if you disagree.
  • Objective evaluation cannot come from the Athletic Director, sport coach, or athlete.

So what can we do as a strength coach to evaluate our staff or gain some objective feedback on our own jobs? Here are some ideas.

1. Make sure you have Clarity on what you will be evaluated on. Regardless of whether you can gain objective feedback, the most important factor is to communicate with sport coaches on what exactly they are expecting from you as a strength coach.

2. Use a Rubric with a few key components of the job responsibility. Use feedback from sport coaches, administrators, and athletes as a way to build a profile of the coach's impact. This rubric should have several measurable and repeatable components. Avoid the cliche' basics like trustworthiness, dependability, etc. Factors like communication, initiative, adaptability, and overall rapport are still subjective. But, if you take the following steps with the Rubric, it will help.

  • Keep on a 1-3 scale. The worst thing about evaluations is when no one really knows the difference between a 7 and an 8 on a scale of 1-10. keep with 3 (maybe up to 5) numbers. This will drift closer to yes or no type answers.
  • Make sure those numbers have a definition. If a 3 means the coach is a great communicator, then tell be what a 2 is and give me an example of each. It becomes more tangible and clear.

3. Bring in an outside coach to evaluate all aspects of your program. Bring as many different colleagues as possible and have them give you honest feeback. Enough feedback to come up with an action plan to address them. One of the best things I've done was bring guys like John Patrick and Mark Cannella to look at how we were training athletes. That evaluated experience was crucial. It was tough on my ego but great for my athletes.

4. Have formal evaluations from administrators. I realize I just wrote how most would not be able to tell a well-run training session from chaos. But, by scheduling these sessions, the administration will have a better idea of what you do everyday. They will see you in action and the impact you have on those athletes. If you cannot gain an objective evaluation, then at least you can provide the powers that be  a glimpse into what you do.

Give me some feedback

This is an issue that won't be solved anytime soon. maybe I have made a bigger deal of it than most. But, I believe true dialogue will benefit all coaches to improve this profession. Weigh-in and tell me if I am way off in the comments.


SATURDAY

Log Press

  • 200 x7 (1 Viper, 6 strict)
  • 200 x4
  • 170 x7

Trap Bar Deadlift

  • 440 for 5 doubles


Trap Bar

Croc-Lock Collar

Elitefts™ 10" Strongman Log

0-90 Incline Bench

Hi-Temp Bumper Plate

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