The Education Disconnect

TAGS: young strength coach, GAS, graduate assistant, university, students, education, interns, strength and conditioning, college, coaching, strength coach

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A colleague in South Africa has just sent me an excellent document that he wrote in relation to his planned internships that he is offering at his strength and conditioning institute. The material in it suggests to me that he has received interns in the past with very little knowledge in the area of exercise technique and programming.

I had a similar situation the other day when a third-year sports coaching strength and conditioning major was doing some exercise technique demonstration under my coaching instruction for a video to accompany an article for Westside Barbell’s Conjugate Club. This is the second 10-minute session we have done over the last couple of weeks, and his statement after the session floored me. He said that he had learned more about exercise technique in those two 10-minute sessions than he had over the entirety of his degree to that point.


RECENT: Progressions in Exercise Selection Based on Technical Proficiency


I consider strength and conditioning to be an industry and not a profession, but probably more so, I consider it to be a trade. In trades over the last thousands of years and more, you had a master tradesman who willingly passed his knowledge over time to apprentices. This was more than likely a generational thing as well, as masters learned from previous masters and the traditions and techniques were passed down and improved along the way.

In New South Wales, where I grew up, there were education facilities to teach the scientific elements of the trades. These Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges were similar in a lot of ways to traditional colleges of advanced education, and teacher training schools taught what was needed to get a solid understanding of the theory of a trade and then the art if you like was taught working under the master over the indentured period of your apprenticeship.

Investment in education. Business development

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My way of thinking is that a four-year sports coaching degree should be three years of the sciences and then a one-year apprenticeship to learn the trade with a mentor coach and also a TAFE-like course to intensify the programming learning, similar to a Diploma of Education following on from a degree.

At present, I am consulting with a colleague who wishes to introduce a strength and conditioning degree at his current university. In an article about what I expected from an intern or a new strength and conditioning coach, I wrote about the need to have trained and competed in one of the iron sports. One of the proposals I have put to my colleague is that this new degree should have a multi-disciplinary approach in those specific areas, such as sports management, that will be included in the curricula.

An example I raised with him was as follows. In Year 1, the students undertake a program where they learn the powerlifts, they train using a variety of different training methods, such as Wendler’s 5/3/1, 5thSet, Westside Conjugate, Sheiko, etc., but at the concurrent time, they are working with the sports management faculty to set up a competition where the students will compete. In this process, they will have input from the nutrition department as well to ensure they are able to make an appropriate weight. They will also look at recovery techniques.

I have heard the following statement many times over my career: “Coaching is an extension of teaching,” and I feel now that my generation of coaches is the last one to have teaching as our profession and coaching as our vocation. Today, there is a huge emphasis on the science and the metrics, and I honestly do get this as a positive move to objectify training. The cost, unfortunately, is a loss of education in pedagogy and how this applies to the art of strength and conditioning.

Recently, a colleague of mine in the United Kingdom informed me that last year alone, there were over 5,000 graduates from universities in the UK and Ireland released into the job market. Combine that with the fact that at last count there are 948 universities in the U.S. offering sports science-related degrees, 79 universities in Australia, and nine in New Zealand offering a variety of degrees in sports science and sports performance.


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The number of people coming into the limited job market is increasing at an exponential rate. Do we cater these programs to the needs of the industry for which they are supposedly being prepared for? Or do we need to re-evaluate the needs of the industry and have the university programs develop a greater synergy with the market place they are attempting to satisfy?

People like Brett Bartholomew and Ron McKeefery are doing wonderful things in their respective courses and companies to maintain “people” at the forefront of coaching. I believe that the Art of Coaching that Brett provides should be units within all university courses, ensuring the art is aligned with the science. As Loren Seagraves has brilliantly said, “Educate people, train animals.” In order to achieve this, courses need to look at more than just the science and delve into more of a multi-disciplinary outlook in order to ensure the coaches of the future benefit from the wisdom of those that have gone before.

Knowledge is extremely important, and I believe that wisdom comes as a result of the application of knowledge and the aligned problem solving over time. As rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll once famously said in a post-match interview:

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to use it in a fruit salad.”

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