Collegiate strength and conditioning is one of the most competitive job markets for any young professional. The number of aspiring strength coaches compared to the job availability is grossly one-sided. Add the fact that the field is male-dominated and you will see the obstacles a female strength and conditioning coach must go through.

In this four-part series, we will get to know these women and gain some valuable insight on how they got started in the profession, their training philosophy, their challenges, and their advice to other strength coaches in the field.

In part one of this series, we looked at the competitive athletic background of these coaches and how it affected their career paths. In part two, they talked about their general methodology and the principles that guide their training of athletes. Part three delved into the challenges these women face in the field and on a day-to-day basis. In the final installment, these coaches will provide advice for any coaches wanted to pursue a career in strength and conditioning.

What advice would you give to any young aspiring strength and conditioning coach trying to break into the field?

You are always interviewing.

Many coaches believe they are only being interviewed when they are flown to campus with resume in hand. This is a dangerous mindset that could stunt your professional growth almost immediately. Athletic performance is a “who you know” profession. The moment you accept any position on a staff, you are interviewing for a future position. Sport coaches and athletic performance directors understand how quickly moves are made in this field; therefore they consistently observe other strength coaches, formulating a hypothetical “dream team” in the case they ever need to quickly put together a crew.

Your conduct with all athletes, how you support or do not support the message of the head coach, your conduct at meetings and conferences, the ability to be loyal to the mission of the department, your reputation in social settings, the ability to be proactive on the job, and a score of other scenarios all affect your own professional perception. Any time you are in the presence of other athletic performance directors you are being interviewed, and, as in life, you are always being judged by those around you.

Above all, you must enjoy working hard and have a passion to help others succeed. You cannot be in this just because you “like to workout” or for the money or self-recognition. This field has enough gurus. The hours you’ll work, at least in the collegiate setting, will not match your pay. Once you’ve decided that coaching is something that you’re passionate about, you’ll continue to grow as much as you’re willing to apply yourself. I always tell our interns that they’ll only get out of their internship experience as much as they put into it.

Take initiative. Once you’ve been around a facility or program long enough to know the expectations of daily operations take initiative with cleaning and set up. Don’t wait to be told to do something. If you are standing around waiting to be told something you are told to do every day, I’m going to think you’re not really that interested in being here. Taking initiative shows some leadership qualities.

Be intentional about everything that you do. I think this is extremely important, especially for females in this field. There are stereotypes or misconceptions that people may have about you before they get to know you or work with you. As a result you’ll need to work a little bit harder than your male peers to present yourself professionally and be intentional about how you interact with people. Some of the athletes that you work with may be your peers outside of your internship experience and that will present a greater challenge for you and how you conduct yourself. I’m not saying you can’t be friendly with them, but you have to be wise about how you interact with them outside of the weight room. You can’t be out socializing with the athletes on the weekend and then expect to be taken seriously in supporting leadership role during the week. All of the social media interaction today can make this challenging and therefore you need to be cautious and intentional on what you post or who you follow or accept on Twitter or Facebook.

Train yourself. If you don’t have a specific training program that you’re following or some competition that you are preparing for then take a copy of a team’s training program and do it yourself. You need to know what it is like for your athletes to do at least some of the training you’re asking them to do. Plus it will help you coach better because you’ll have a better understanding of what it feels like to do a specific movement, move a heavy weight, safely fail, or finish a conditioning session. Your athletes can tell if you are someone that pushes yourself in training (even if it is not the exact same sport or training that they do) and will respect you a lot more for it.

My advice to a young aspiring strength and conditioning coach is to learn as much as you can from every person you meet in the field, book you read, or experience you come across. Many of my opportunities have been because of the relationships I’ve built with other strength coaches I have worked with or who I have met at conferences. Networking in strength and conditioning is very important. For the most part, our field is filled with nice and hard-working people who are willing to help others. Assertiveness, being confident, and willingness to learn goes a long way. One of the most important things I have learned from my mentors is to always ask questions.

Never lose sight of your goals, whatever they might be. If it’s to be a football strength and conditioning coach, a nutritionist, an assistant athletic director of strength and conditioning, or a head tennis coach, go after it and don’t let anyone tell you no. You will have to pay your dues. You will have to work hard. But nothing ever worth pursuing was done without hard work and dedication. Find a mentor, network, read, and read things other than manuals and books about training. Never stop learning. Train hard. Realize that you’ll never know everything or everyone. Enjoy the journey. Stay committed to what lights you up inside.

The best advice I could give an up-and-comer is to realize that you will face some adversity along the way. Knowing how and when to choose your battles is something we all learn. I am stubborn and don’t take no for an answer. It has helped me 95% of the time.

Volunteer and intern at as many places that you can. Yes, that will probably mean unpaid. Unpaid and hard work now can turn into paid later. There is a ton of turnover in the field; someone you may have interned for early in your career may call you five years down the road for a great paying high-level job. First impressions are everlasting (don’t be known as a complainer or whiner, be known as a self-starting, hard worker that went above and beyond).

Do not get caught up in just one way to do things; keep an open mind. I worked for five different head strength coaches and they all had their own philosophies and program design. It made me a better coach.

Don’t expect your first job to pay you a six figure salary. They are few and far between. Assistant positions make anywhere from 24k-74k. It all depends on the level of school, if you are with football only or Olympic sports, and/or how much does the athletic department endorses strength and conditioning.

People ask me why I got out of the college side and went to the private setting. The first and truthful answer: family. I was a college strength coach for 12 years and was still working 70-80 hours a week. I didn’t mind because I am a work-aholic, but my husband did. The second reason: I was dumb. I listened to people tell me the only way I would ever be a head strength coach was if I was in the private side. I kick myself in the ass everyday for leaving the college setting. I would go back in a heart beat.

Gain as much experience from a variety of sources, be open-minded and learn new ways and means. Do not burn any bridges!

You need to be persistent and willing to step up and take initiative in this field, nothing will be handed to you. Be ready to work hard and spend a lot of time doing the less glamorous jobs in the weight room.  Show that you can be responsible with smaller tasks and you will be trusted with more. Reach out to more experienced coaches and ask questions. Get as much hands on experience as you can. This is an extremely competitive field, so don’t give up. Keep grinding and never stop learning.

Volunteer and get as much experience as you can under your belt. This field has grown to be more about what you've learned, done, experienced, and who you've learned from. Degrees and certifications can never hurt, but they should never take the place of practical experience.  The strength and conditioning field is a double-edged sword: In order to get a job, you need experience. In order to get experience you need a job. It's tricky. This is where volunteering, interning and doing all you can to learn from others is the best start you can give yourself.

Be a self-starter; don’t wait for someone to ask you to do something. Put in the time and effort and it will not go unnoticed. Contact, talk, and visit as many professionals in the field as possible. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Get in the gym and lift, feel, and experience. If you aren’t truly passionate about working with student athletes and/or strength and conditioning, or aren’t 100% sure you love it, don’t do it.

Find a solid and committed mentor. Never stop reading and learning. Don’t do what others do, but seek to find your own answers and create your own systematic approach/methods based on what you believe.

Keep a daily journal of your success and mishaps so that you can one day reflex back and live, learn and pass on those experiences. Coaching, like life, is a learning processes. Everyone makes mistakes. Just make sure you take something away from each one.

For those trying to get into the field, try, try, and try again. Do not give up. If this is something you truly want to do, you will hear “no” a lot. You just need to keep pushing on. I don’t know how many times I was turned down for jobs or told by administration that I couldn’t do something. As much as it sucked, I kept trying and eventually achieved my goals.  Also, take your internships seriously. Do not take for granted the opportunities you are given. When I was an intern I was afraid to ask questions and I was always afraid to be wrong. Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to be wrong.

Seek out a mentorship with a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach. Mentorships will provide invaluable experience in many areas of the profession. As a mentor, you may not be given much responsibility at the outset, but if you are willing to do the little (but no less important) things consistently and without grievance, more responsibility will be given. When there is a team on the floor training, even if it’s not one of “your teams,” show up, all the time, every time. Just watch and listen. Don’t just “borrow” drills and exercises from other coaches. Observe how and when they use it and, more importantly, why.

In your first few experiences, take time to focus on learning how to relate professionally to coaches, athletic trainers and the student-athletes. Never do so without the approval of your mentor. Instead, follow their lead. We are all on the same team with the best interest of student-athletes in mind.

Offer to help out with any day-to-day administrative duties, projects and challenges that a director or head sports performance coach is working on (hold a camera, input data, blow a whistle, make a phone call). Ask everyday until someone says yes.

Make yourself more marketable by having an additional area of expertise you are honing such as nutrition, sports medicine, counseling, psychology, administration, or business. These can be in the form of certifications, minors, dual majors, or experience. These are assets that will help you fill a niche with a program or specific team.

Lastly, when you finally get the opportunity, work smarter, not longer.

Be vocal and active when coaching. Be willing to do anything: cleaning, setting up, breaking down, typing workouts, being a “human cone," whatever the coach(es) needs for you to do to get the workout completed in the time set. Learn, learn and learn some more. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, however listen to how the coaches coach and what they are expecting the athletes to do. Be willing to go outside of your comfort zone to get an internship/GA or part-time position. Be willing to go to a smaller school, Division II or III school. You will probably learn more than at a big Division I school. Be willing to work ANY sport, football/men’s basketball are not the end-all/be-all, and those jobs are hard to come by. Be willing to WORK, put in time and earn the next position. Just because you are good at lifting or know about lifting doesn’t mean you know how to teach or coach it. Keep things simple when teaching.

Background images of lifters' hands courtesy of Kenneth Richardson.