Driving a Sense of Urgency for Hiring a High School Strength Coach
The Three-Phase Plan:
Over the last year and a half, I have shared many conversations with Mike Winkler, NHSSCA Great Lakes Regional Director and Director of Strength and Conditioning for Archbishop Hoban High School. Often, we find ourselves talking about what we need to do to get more high schools to create Strength and Conditioning Jobs. Mike often remarks that a major reason for his devotion to NHSSCA is to grow this profession. However, we find that there does not seem to be much urgency when it comes to creating these jobs. Many Athletic Directors will say they would love to have the role, but do not have funds. Some schools have administrations that love the idea, have the funds, but find that teachers’ unions present adverse challenges. In most cases, the path of least resistance is to obtain a teaching license to teach PE and run a strength program through that manner. There is certainly a lot of benefit to this path, but that should not be the only way that administrations can create this vital position without pushback. The reality is that more schools need to create this role whether they go the PE route or choose to invest in a Full-Time Strength and Conditioning Coach. There must be a sense of urgency for the importance of this role, and we must speak in terms that administrators and union representatives can understand. To do this we may have to take an uncommon approach. This is where my diverse background comes into play and I use this article to spotlight the problem that schools face by not having a qualified Strength and Conditioning Coach.
I hold a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in Disaster Preparedness Emergency Management. In short, I like to say I am a risk manager that uses reasoning and outside-the-box thinking to find solutions. In addition, I have served as a Police Officer and spent years in Logistic Operations Management. My coaching career started back in 2014 and I have been everything from a stipend Football Coach that was the “Strength Guy” to a Full-Time Salaried Head Strength and Conditioning Coach. I’ve worked at small high schools and Ohio Division 1 High Schools. I have worked in the inner-city public school setting and a well-funded public school. I really have seen a wide variety of situations. The one thing all these places had in common was the “find a way” mentality and a general understanding of the importance that a Qualified Strength and Conditioning Coach would provide to their school. So, it’s just a matter of creating urgency and clear understanding.
So, how do we create urgency? In Emergency Management there are four key sectors that disaster preparedness is broken into.
The first two deal with keeping the bad thing from happening or limit the severity of it. The other two deal with how efficiently you clean up the mess and get back to normal. When schools do not have a qualified person running their weight room it is like finding yourself out in the woods during hunting season without your orange vest on. Wearing orange over your camo doesn’t guarantee you won’t take a round of buckshot, but it does make your support so much stronger. If you say, “I got shot in the rear” and the game warden asks, “Did you have your orange on?” and you respond “No” that wouldn’t bode too well for your sympathy from the game warden. Same can be said for a high school without a qualified Strength and Conditioning Coach when a student-athlete gets injured in the weight room and the school is sued. Although a qualified Strength and Conditioning Coach does not omit the risk of lawsuit, it does ensure that the school took proper steps to be prepared. That is an administration’s responsibility to an operation—to manage risk. Therefore, not having this role in place creates a problem!
Phase 1: Validate the Problem and Justify the Solution.
“Right Guy, Right Thing, Right Time.”
What exactly is the problem?
The problem is risk of weight room injury to student-athletes, and the legal ramifications that the school district would have to contend with. The problem is compounded by the fact that there is little urgency for this problem because most administrative decision-makers do not have all the information to understand just how at risk they are when they 1) offer athletics, 2) have a weight room in their school, and 3) when they do not have a justifiably experienced and qualified person set in place to develop safety procedures, as well as, develop scientific-based programs that emphasize differentiated instruction and ability groupings for their student-athletes. Before we dive deeper, let’s look at what a qualified strength and conditioning position could be. A school district would be wise to offer a step program which makes the role more of a career and not a job. This will ensure a better pool of qualified individuals. The strength and conditioning position would be determined by budget and overall school belief in the role’s merit. It would look something like this:
Strength and Conditioning Coordinator (Stipend pay to Salary range
) - This person would run all athletic strength and conditioning programs for a school (High School or Middle School). They would work with the sport coaches to provide them with a certified strength and conditioning professional. This role would ideally be the first strength and conditioning position at a school, therefore pay may be supplemented with additional duties in the school district.
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach (Full-Time) (38K to 75K per experience
) - This person is responsible for all athletic development programs for a High School (9th
grade) or Middle School (6th
grade), NOT BOTH. This role is strongly supported by the Athletic Director, Principals and Superintendent. It would be mandatory for all sport coaches to work and consult with the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach on all matters related to Strength and Conditioning (i.e. Strength, Conditioning, Speed/Power Development, Injury Prevention, and Recovery).
Director of Sport Performance (75K and Up) -
This person holds the same duties as the Head Strength Coach, but they are responsible for the district’s High School and Middle School (6th
grade). Essentially, they would handle the direction of sport performance for the entire district and would be consulted by the Physical Education Department on foundational strength and conditioning, as well as athletic development curriculum. This role would ideally be a school administrator.
- Bachelor’s Degree required
- Master’s Degree Preferred (Director Role: Masters Degree required and 5+ years’ experience)
- NSCA: Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Certification or equivalent is required
The question that really needs to be asked is, “Do high schools NEED a Strength and Conditioning Coach”? If so, how do we get more schools to see the urgency in this claim? This question reminds me of a story I once heard a News Station General Manager tell about the art of sales. He said, “Sales are really quite simple, you have to find the right guy, offer the right thing, at the right time.” Ok, simple enough, right guy, right thing, right time … No big deal. Shedding light on this issue is a sale.
So, who in this case is the “RIGHT GUY”? The “right guy” are schools without a certified Strength and Conditioning Coach running the weight room. It’s essentially any school that has not realized someone must be designated
to the strength and conditioning element of the school.
UNPACK THE SOLUTION
Moreover, what is the “RIGHT THING”? This is where the story gets confusing. The “right thing” is a solution to the problem stated in the beginning: Risk of weight room injury to student-athletes, and the legal ramifications that the school district would have to deal with. However, the “right time” unfortunately controls the desire for this “right thing” and that itself is another problem. Let’s unpack this. Most schools do not realize they have a problem, before the problem is already upon them, hence the need for a solution. In other words, it’s not until a student-athlete gets hurt, and they are being sued, that they realize, “Maybe we should have had a better process in place, we better act now.” This brings me to another issue. The majority of schools allow students to go into a weight room daily without a qualified person running the flow and safety of the room. They are playing chicken with serious physical injury or death, and that is negligence. So, what do we do? It seems that we must bridge the gap between the “right time” and “right thing”. To do so we must justify that the “right thing” is in fact the right solution.