One recent strength and conditioning trend that has struck me is the sheer number of job titles (some of them self appointed) that abound in the field:
- Strength and conditioning coach
- Physical preparation coach
- Performance specialist
- High performance manager
- High performance director
- Sport scientist
- Rehabilitation specialist
- Movement coach
- The list goes on…
This trend is understandable: as our field becomes more and more oversaturated, the quality of work will inevitably drop and competition for jobs rises. People seek catchier sounding job titles to stand out from the crowd, distance themselves from lower quality practitioners and bump up their marketability.
The downside of this trend, besides the obvious bullshitting, is that it leads to confusion amongst practitioners about what their job actually entails. In recent times have met with strength coaches who spend all their time crunching numbers, performance directors who had no input over the training programme, and performance specialists who seem to moonlight as physiotherapists and do nothing but “corrective exercise”.
Without clear boundaries and expectations of a coach’s role within a team, athletes can slip through the cracks, performance can stagnate and injuries can result. At its worst, this “job title buffet” our profession is suffering from can mislead sport coaches, short change athletes and retard the development of the programme.
For the benefit of my fellow coaches, for those looking to break into the field, and for the coaches and athletes we serve, I want to list the major strength and conditioning coaching roles within professional sport, along with their primary responsibilities. Comments are welcome.
High performance director/manager
Typically the most experienced and qualified individual on the physical/performance staff. This individual should be responsible for all areas of performance outside of tactical and technical coaching (though even these areas should receive some input).
The director should dictate the overall direction of the programme and leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of enhanced performance: medical and rehab services, sport science interventions, nutrition, logistics, motor learning, sport psychology, strength and conditioning. These are all fair game for the high performance guy or girl, who should have a passing knowledge of all these areas.
Due to the sheer breadth of this job title, the HPD will obviously not work IN the system of each of these disciplines but ON the system. They are responsible for appointing and managing staff, making sure all the programme components complement one another, and reporting back to the head coach. The buck stops with the HPD and he/she is ultimately responsible for the success of the programme.
Strength and conditioning coach/performance specialist/physical preparation coach
The HPD works ON the system, the S&C coach works IN the system. In an ideal world the HPD should rarely see the inside of the gym, because they are so busy organising and tweaking the system. On the other hand the S&C is at the coal face, working with the players on every aspect of physical training performed in the gym and on the field.
This coach is responsible for designing and implementing the physical training of healthy players. Whereas the HPD is only concerned with the outcome and making sure they provide their coaches the means and environment to achieve it, the S&C coach is concerned with the detail of the programme and HOW the outcome is achieved.
Often the strength coach will be reliant on the input of other practitioners within the system like a sport scientist, nutritionist or analyst to inform their work. However the strength coach will not have the authority/desire/need to dictate how these people work.
The laptop is to the sport scientist what the gym is to the strength coach. “That which gets measured, gets managed” remarked Peter Drucker. It is the role of the sport scientist to measure, collect, process, manage and present data to other practitioners within the system. These practitioners then use that information to better perform their roles e.g. a strength coach may use heart rate response data from a field based session to infer progression/adaptation.
The sport scientist should also be responsible for research and development; for seeking out ways to improve and optimise the programme as a whole (perhaps as directed by the HPD). This may include recovery modalities, nutritional interventions, use of new technology, motor learning progressions/regressions, pre and post match strategies etc.
Strength coaches should deal with healthy athletes (or those close to it) only. For injured athletes who are unavailable for selection, it is the role of the rehabilitation specialist to bring them back as quickly as possible and keep them there by minimising re-injury rates.
The rehab specialist will adopt a far more intensive approach. Smaller athlete:coach ratios are necessary. Data collection needs to be a lot more frequent and granular so as to guide the return to play process. The rehab coach will have far more detailed knowledge about the science of injury, recovery and low level performance, whereas the strength coach will have more experience and skill at the high end of the spectrum.
The rehab specialist should act as the bridge between the medical staff and the strength coaches. Consequently this guy/girl’s knowledge and skill should span both domains (though expertise is obviously not mandatory), with good information collecting and sharing skills to safely guide athletes through the grey area that usually exists between the “rehab programme” and the “regular programme” (hint: there is only one programme).
Movement specialist/sport psychologist/nutritionist
Movement specialist is a term that the industry has not figured out yet. Some people like Shawn Myzska have used it to describe coaches who are extremely well versed in the science of motor learning, and primarily responsible for development of the quality, timing and task solving aspects of performance rather than pure force production. Others have unfortunately used it to bullshit people into parting with their money for a weekend certification of crawling around like an animal.
Sport psych and nutritionist are obvious terms so for reasons of brevity I will not discuss them here! Please share your thoughts either in a comment below or on social media.