My Top Ten Hints for getting an S&C role in Professional Sport

While this subject seems pretty obvious, once I started thinking about it, it makes sense that the "Top Ten" are really impacted by the beliefs and structures that the person doing the hiring uses.  For example, does the position require specialist skills e.g. Speed coach, strength coach, rehab coach etc.

So that you can understand my perspective when I hire S&C staff, which subsequently influences my "Top Ten", here is a basic synopsis of how I run my physical performance environments.

I have used specialist coaches in the past during intensive training blocks with great success.  These jobs have been when cohesive training blocks with the athletes are intermittent in nature due to demands of competition (international rugby e.g. Wallabies)  These types of jobs are relatively rare in my experience.  In these roles the specialist coaches I use are assigned to particular athletes within the group, while managing the broader demands of the squad falls to myself.  On that basis I have used staff with specialised skills sets and because they are engaged to do only 1-2 specific tasks I have not been concerned with their broader knowledge or capabilities.  

The majority of jobs on the market however are permanent roles where staff are required to be present throughout all phases of the year and depending on the sport may be required to work with young or inexperienced athletes.  In these type of roles I target staff who are truly STRENGTH & CONDITIONING coaches.  They must be capable of working with and educating players of all levels of experience through all aspects of physical preparation.  Some coaches may have particular specialties or strengths but ultimately they must be capable in all areas.  I want my coaches to have an integrated understanding of the does that run effect the next strength session, how does a change in strength load impact injury risk during running etc etc etc.

NB: I have never held a role within an sporting institution e.g. AIS, so my views are quite biased toward professional team structures. 

My Top Ten hints for getting an S&C role in Professional Sport

1. Walk the Walk - you don't need to lift as much as the athletes, you don't need to run as fast as them (let's face it if we could we'd be athletes not coaches), but you do need to have an empathetic insight into what you are asking the athletes to do.  What does that set "feel" like?  What happens when these two lifts are compounded?  What does that supplement do?  What does it taste like?  I've seen coaches try to coach from a text book and I'm not a big fan.  I've known some very successful coaches who are about as athletic as my grand mother, but they are definitely in the minority.  From a learning perspective, the vast majority of athletes are kinaesthetic and visual learners.  Put simply they learn by seeing and doing.  Coaches who have trained themselves enough to be competent lifters, runners etc can demonstrate technique more effectively than those that have never experienced it themselves.  In my experience this leads to a more efficient learning phase for the athlete and makes for a better S&C coach.

2. Live the life - I get the equal opportunities thing, but I can't fathom hiring people who are clearly unfit, to work on my staff.   Similar to point 1, you must have an empathy with what the athlete is doing as you are "ground zero" for education.  What you portray is often the first thing the athlete will learn, particularly young athletes.  You can't be smashing soft drink and meat pies when they are trying to be disciplined eating grilled chicken and veggies.  Again as for point 1, you don't need to be "ripped" like an athlete, but you need to portray an appropriate degree of commitment to "practising what you preach".

3. Know Strengthening of Movement - strength training is an accepted training medium for everybody from marathon runners to basketballers.  Obviously depending on your sport the degree of time and knowledge committed to strength training will be determined by the nature of the sport.  Certainly in Australia the vast majority of Professional S&C jobs are within team based field/court sports or Olympic disciplines.  From that perspective, in all of these sports strength training knowledge and experience (see point 1.) is paramount.  Further a thorough appreciation of the relationship between strength and locomotor movement in all planes of motion is of significant importance.  A practical knowledge of historical philosophies, new thinking and academic research must all be combined with an intimate understanding of movement to contribute effectively to a high performance environment.

4. Know Conditioning of Movement - my professional experience has been working exclusively in team based field sports so I apologise again for the bias toward that area.  Understanding the biomechanical basis for the movements required in your sport is fundamental.  What posture is required?  At what speed is the movement exhibited?  What limits or allows an athlete to express that speed of movement?  Understanding how to coach fundamental movement in all planes of motion is a core skill (for those who missed it... you must know how to coach running and COD).  Further a clear grasp of the impact acceleration, deceleration and various velocities of work have on the body is core knowledge for an S&C coach.  Knowledge of things like isolated muscle testing, ROM assessments, functional systemic strength tests and their associated philosophies allows the S&C coach a capacity to identify or work with other professionals who have identified "road blocks" in a players movement specific physical preparation. 

5. Understand Rehabilitation - understand the impact common injuries and medical interventions have on an athlete's ability to move.  This extends to understanding the skill sets and methodologies used by doctors, physiotherapists and massage staff.  In my opinion rehabilitation is one of the most critical roles within a professional team.  As S&C coaches we are charged with ultimately having the athlete ready to return to competition, and it is in your best interests to understand clearly what doctors and physiotherapists are doing to the athlete so that you can make an informed judgement regarding the selection of training stimulus for the injured athlete.  Quite often this knowledge set increases rapidly the longer you have been in an environment, however as the market place continues to get more competitive this is an area of skill development that I see many young S&C coaches seriously lacking.

6. Understand Nutrition - most professional teams (mine included) have Sports Dieticians intricately involved with the club.  On my staff the Sports Dietician directs players food and fluid intake.  Principles for these directives are all cleared through me and it is my responsibility to ensure that my Sports Dietician has the required philosophical approach.  Therefore, for my S&C staff, as nutrition is of such huge importance to physical preparation it is paramount that they are capable of having an informed discussion with the Sports Dietician it terms of describing the training demands and individual goals of the player.  Personally I don't go in for the current trend of S&C coaches claiming to be "nutrition specialists".  There are a few guys about appropriately qualified in both fields, but they are few and far between.

7. Understand Anatomy, Biomechanics and Physiology - as it applies to points 3-6.  I don't need guys in lab-coats running around but equally I don't need guys whose only understanding of physical preparation is "bashing the daylights" out of athletes at every opportunity.  Don't get me wrong…the need to drive athletes is critical, but understanding what and why you are using a particular training modality and how it fits the overall development of the athlete is critical.  Similarly the characteristics of a given training modality and how they relate to a particular athlete are crucial to ongoing success of a program.  On a daily basis discussions will vary across many subjects and with different professionals involving terms such as lever arm lengths, moments of inertia, peak flow etc…you don't want to be standing there with a dumb look on your face when these subjects come up.

8. Communication - clear and concise!  When integrated with the knowledge base identified above and the personal qualities noted below communication should allow for a creative environment where all participants can contribute to and learn from the process being undertaken.

9. Personal Qualities: Honesty, Integrity, Loyalty, Humility.  Honesty - no bullshit…ever!  Integrity - do the right thing because its right…not because someone is looking.  Loyalty - stick by the people who have stuck by you.  Humility - have a clear perspective on who you are and respect your place within the community you find yourself in.

10. Attitude and Commitment - Bryce Courtney said it best…"first with the head, then with the heart!".  Points 1-9 is what you need to use your head for.  Dealing with the grind day in and day out (believe me it is a grind once you're in it…not all bells and whistles like some think) in a manner that inspires others to follow you and a resolve to see both good and bad situations through shows heart…and trust me, you'll need it to survive in this game.

This has become far bigger than I first intended to write.  Please understand that this is "MY" list of what I see as important for an S&C coach.  Clearly other professionals with similar experience to mine may have a different opinions.  

Take these points for what they are..."hints".  Use them as you see fit and discard the ones that you think don't fit you.

Good luck to all the budding S&C coaches out there!


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