A while back, I wrote an article about the state of collegiate strength and conditioning. I stand by that article, and I'm very proud of what we do as a profession. I also wrote an article about grading us as a profession. Again, I'm proud of that article and I stand by my words. I truly believe that we, as a profession, tend to do a good job making our athletes better. However, I also still fully believe that we fail daily at being professionals. This is a difficult issue to balance because people expect us to be over the top and screaming all the time. I'm asking that we raise the level of professionalism. This isn't an easy task, and I'm writing this article to challenge all of us to improve in this area.
State of the Profession
Where are we as a profession? I think about this daily because we still have student athletes dying in our care. I don't know what the answer to this problem is, and I’m not sure there's a solution. Something we struggle to admit is the fact that while we like to call ourselves stress managers, we are really stress inducers. The reality is in order to make an athlete stronger, we must add stress.
There are 347 Division I schools. If the average school has about 300 athletes, this means we're responsible for 104,100 humans. With a number that large, I don't know if it's possible to not expect someone to fall ill or, in a rare case, die. Please don't take this as me ignoring or downplaying the issue of illness and death. I'm just using some basic math to show that we may add stress that seems appropriate, but a young athlete may have an issue that we don't know about. Take for example, Sickle Cell. We must find a universal reporting for all testing in order to protect our athletes.
So, as a profession, we must figure out how many deaths can be avoided. If a student athlete dies because of a sickle cell issue and you, as the strength coach, wasn't aware of the issue, is that preventable? I think it's 100 percent preventable. How do we work on this issue? First and foremost, we must have conversations with those in charge. I know there are many out there trying to do just this, including Scott Caulfield, Ethan Reeves, and Kurt Hester. What are the rest of us doing? I know I emailed my athletic director and explained the issue and how I think we should address it. We are far from perfect, and I never want to be responsible for an athlete's death.
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With all this said, what is the state of the profession? In my opinion, it’s a sad state of affairs. We still have two organizations (both of which I like) with no unifying message. We still have uncertified coaches as well as certified coaches who are ordered or pressured to change programming because a head coach wants to do what he did when he was a college athlete. In addition, we aren't doing ourselves any favors by holding professional clinics and then proceeding to stand in front of a crowd in flip flops while swearing like sailors. If we want respect and people to listen to us, we must clean up our message. When you think of great orators, few of them stood in front of their constituents swearing and demeaning others. It's imperative that we raise the bar that we have set for ourselves.
The Rest of the Grades
I speak to scores of strength coaches every month. One of the coolest parts about writing for elitefts is that everyone in our field visits and reads the site. I remember when Tanner Kolb (the strength coach at West Virginia University) said to me, "Everyone knows you. You write for elite." I laughed, but there is some truth to this. Dave has put coaches and strength professionals together in the same place to share a ton of information. Yes, most coaches do read elite and it has increased my network at least tenfold. Knowing that it’s easy for me to speak to many coaches, I take advantage of this. Whenever I speak or visit other coaches, I'm always amazed at how well most of them are within their environments. So I still stand by what I said a few years ago. As far as making student athletes better, we are doing an amazing job as a profession. I rarely visit someone without coming back with five new ideas and questioning myself and why I'm not better at what I'm doing. I give coaching an A+.
Helping each other
This one is difficult because most of us tend to do a ton to help other coaches. Often, coaches will send me their work and say, "Feel free to steal whatever you want." Again, when it comes to the athletes, we do a great job. Where I see us failing takes us back to the professionalism issue. Think about this — your salary is actually just charity from your administration or head coach. I know many are thinking that this isn't true and that you bring value to your job. I'm sure you do, but remember — there are many qualified coaches who would do your job for much less. If Nick Saban said, "I want a new strength coach," he would have a few hundred resumes in hand that day.
Now let me ask you this — if Nick Saban said, "I'm taking that $600,000 salary and making it $100,000," how many resumes would he have? Yes, a few may drop off the list, but I'll go out on a limb here and say that most people reading this would still apply and many would do a great job. So with the saturation that we have in our profession, how many people are willing to do your job or a similar job for less than what you currently make? I don't have the solution to this problem. Do we form a union with the help of the NSCS or CSCCa? I think it’s worth looking into. I'm not sure if I see many other options out there. I give this area a C.
Challenging our way of thinking
Do we challenge our beliefs and what we think we know? If we do, is this done often enough? I've spoken about Ryan Horn in the past. One of the things I like about Ryan is that he is always challenging his and our paradigms. Are we too often emotionally connected to what we think we believe? Think about real-life examples of when we all do this. How often do we hear coaches all laugh about some “stupid” program? Yet we all, at one time or another, wrote one of those “stupid” programs, and many of us, including me, would have defended that program to the grave. I think about the dumb fights I had as a young strength coach and I realize how far I have come. So as an industry, I don’t know how to grade us, as this seems to be something one can only learn with experience. I'll give this area a B–.
In a documentary about Lamb of God called 'As the Palace Burns,' there is a great line that I think relates to this article. D Randall Blythe says (and I paraphrase), "They are going to find out. I’m not sure who they are or what they are going to find out, but they are."
What does this mean? It means that we all think we are frauds. I know I do. I listen to some strength coaches speak and I go home and google words because I don't know what they said. Don’t take this the wrong way — I believe in what I do and I think I’m pretty good at what I do. Yet I'm convinced that one day, the world will find out that I'm just doing my best and that I'm not the best. Then the world will all come crashing down. I know this sounds self-defeatist, but it isn't. It's healthy. Be skeptical of everything and be most skeptical of yourself. Grade yourself on a curve on this one.
At the beginning of August I began writing an article addressing many of the issues you covered and several more. I was up to 10 pages and felt like I was just getting started when school/teams began, but haven't done much since. I need to get back to working on it, but right now I am swamped with work, so we'll see when it gets done. Ought to be an interesting read when it gets completed, though. May have to break it up into several parts.
I also believe the NSCA and CSCCa are trying yet they don't have the power (money) that big time college athletics is controlled by. So what is the answer? Keep trying to educate and speak up when it is time to speak.