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.
  • Preparedness
  • Mitigation
  • Response
  • Recovery
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 to 12th grade) or Middle School (6th to 8th 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 to 12th 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.

Minimum Qualifications:
  • 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. 


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.
Strength Coaches! Are you involved with your wellness program?

According to studies, two of the most profound problems in the world today are stress and poor sleep. Today, stress not only affects adults, but it has also trickled down to high school students and even younger children. As a high school educator, when I see the amount of stress the students are under, I’m reminded of how fortunate I was during my time in high school. When I played sports, there was no pressure to play year-round, and I had zero stress getting into college. Today, the pressure to get into college is much greater. Grades and test scores are not enough. Students need internships and volunteer work and must find creative ways to stand out among a crowded and competitive college applicant pool.
The stress in sports is higher as well. Burnout, overuse injuries, loss of interest, and increased pressure to perform have all increased in both high school and youth sports. A positive result of this increase in stress is that strength coaches are talking about recovery and wellness more. We have an opportunity to expand our role as Directors of Strength and Conditioning by getting involved with or starting a wellness program at your school.

The World Health Organization defines wellness as a state of wellbeing in the areas of exercise, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, and social connectedness. When teaching wellness, strength training should be the primary focus of all exercise. When students’ strength improves, their nutrition habits, sleep patterns, and social connectedness all improve. To put it in its simplest form: If you are getting stronger, you’re in an “anabolic” recovered state. If you are recovered most days of the week, you feel refreshed and energized. Strength training is a valid
measurement in overall wellness.

Wellness programs can provide an opportunity for students who are not involved with athletics to learn how to strength train. Educational institutions can no longer offer these valuable tools in strength training, nutrition, and wellness to only athletes. Everyone deserves to feel confident and strong. At Laurel School we provide access to strength training to all girls, who can earn PE credit by getting on their own personalized strength program. By the time they graduate, they know how to design their own strength program. They know how to progress with volume and intensity. They know how to peak at the end of a program. Most importantly, they are more in touch with themselves. They know when to back off and have a deload week. One student described her experience as, “strength training has not only given me more confidence and discipline, but it has also taken a burned-out / overtrained athlete and turned me into a strong powerlifting girl.”

When educating junior high and high school students it is important to remember that not all stress is bad. According to Dr. Lisa Damour, co-founder and executive director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls and New York Times bestselling author of Untangled, “Stress should not be feared. It is a normal and acceptable aspect of life.” She adds, “The correlation between daily life stress and stress through strength training are very similar. We stress our bodies with strength training, our muscles adapt through small progressions, and the muscles get stronger. The same goes for daily life stress. Our body is constantly learning this process of handling and adapting to daily stress. The more practice we get, the more our lives grow.”

Nutrition and Wellness

Nutrition plays an essential role with strength and wellness. We cannot assume that students and parents have a basic understanding of energy requirements for training. Information that might seem good from their favorite celebrities is usually not the best thing for teenage athletes.  Speaking with other colleagues and high school strength coaches throughout Ohio, there is growing concern with nutritional habits, especially with female athletes.

As a part of our wellness program, I speak to every class on basic nutrition. Talking about nutrition can be sensitive in a school environment, but that does not mean we should avoid it.  Discussing the common warning signs of overtraining and/or not consuming enough calories are the same in every school.

● Consistent soreness (being sore most days of the week from playing your sport, or 3 days after a workout). I have witnessed dozens of students get rid of their aches and pains simply by adding calories.

● Plateau with strength gains as Juniors and Seniors (the stronger you get, the more calories and protein you need).

● Identifying the 3 macronutrients and how to include them with most meals.

● Having a general idea of what the student’s energy requirements are. We don’t want them to count calories, but girls should know if their needs are around 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000. Most guidelines say that 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day should be the minimum for high school female athletes. Showing basic examples of what 2,000 calories per day looks like is a safer way for them to gauge if they are meeting energy requirements.

● The energy requirements for boys who are strength training 4x’s per week and trying to put on 15lbs of muscle may be 4,000 calories per day or higher. Absorption with vitamins, minerals and enzymes may be even more important for this heavier load of calories and protein. Taking in a variety of fruits and vegetables can make all the difference in getting protein absorbed and utilized better.

The pressures that girls face from society regarding physical appearances can result in a higher rate of eating disorders among female students. Therefore, it may be harder to convince girls to eat more as they get stronger. We all must work hard at changing the mindset of, “if you eat more, you will gain weight,” to “I am getting stronger; therefore, I need more fuel to recover.” If we are teaching strength, we must also teach nutrition.

Wellness in the Community

Wellness is not a new concept. Health and Physical Education classes have long taught the basics of health and wellness, but now the program may include school psychologists, counselors, athletic trainers, PE teachers, and strength coaches. In addition, wellness programs can be used to bring student athletes, parents, club coaches, and strength coaches together.  There are too many elementary school and junior high students playing year round, setting the groundwork for overuse injuries.

Over-competition and burnout is at an all-time high in our communities. The trending explanation that athletes peak too soon in their careers is sad when referring to 16-year-olds.  Through wellness programs, we can promote the value of long-term athletic development. With
the increase of full-time strength coaches, we are starting to see more high school students take 2-3 months off completely from their sport to strength train. This is a small victory for wellness!

Whether you think the youth sports model is broken or it’s just too competitive, wellness programs can help students and parents learn how to strike a balance between competition, training hard and recovery. The demand and value of strength coaches have never been higher.  Through education, we can help shift the narrative from “I am not an athlete; therefore, I don’t need to strength train” to “I am going to strength train to feel better.” After all, training for sports is temporary, but strength training for life is forever. Strength training participation in high school will continue to play a pivotal role in the movement towards lifelong mental health and wellness.

“Train Hard
Recover Harder”
Dan Dvorak c.s.c.s.