Over the years I have had countless opportunities to talk to young athletes, especially young softball players, about their training regimens. I have heard numerous success stories about how strength and conditioning coaches have made an impact on a young athlete both in the weight room and on the field. On the other side, however, I have also heard stories of coaches that parents and athletes have put their trust in only to have the athlete be injury prone and not feel strong, fast, or explosive.
Now, just because you are hitting below .300, striking out too much, not pitching 70 mph, or struggling in any other facet, doesn't mean you should fire who you have now. A lot of injuries cannot be controlled for by strength coaches. However, if you have the RIGHT one, it can truly take your game to the next level. So, how do you know if you have the right one?
This entire post in a sentence: See someone that trains ATHLETES, that knows the demands of your sport, and is educated and qualified to coach you. Would you see a doctor that hasn't been to medical school? Or even passed an exam covering the human body? As an athlete, your body is your #1 tool. Take care of it, and make sure you are hiring someone that will do the same.
Here are my top 5 things to look for your strength and conditioning coach:
1.) Education. At least a bachelor's degree in something relating to human performance. This could be in Exercise Science, Exercise Physiology, Kinesiology, or Sport Science. A master's degree would be great, but at least make sure you coach has received some education in the field you are paying him/her for.
2.) Certifications. Even if your coach does not have a degree in Exercise Science, a certification will ensure background knowledge of Exercise Physiology. Here are some of the top certifications to look for:
CSCS: This is the National Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association's Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. This certification is considered a gold standard within strength and conditioning as it requires a Bachelor's degree and the passing of a written exam covering sports performance, nutrition, and video analysis.
USAW: This is a certified sports performance coach with USA Weightlifting. This certification is obtained by attending a weekend hands-on course in which the coach gains background knowledge in Olympic lifting movements (Clean and Jerk, Snatch, Squat Variations) and how to incorporate these movements in a training program.
SCCC: Strength and Conditioning Coach - Certified from the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Association. This is a great certification for both college and professional strength coaches to have, as it is perhaps the most rigorous certification attainable. The SCCC certification has a 3-pronged certification program, which includes a 640-hour practicum/internship program; a comprehensive science-based written certification exam; as well as a practical exam which is conducted before a panel of Master Strength & Conditioning Coaches.
FRCms: Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist. This is a relatively new certification option as mobility work has become increasingly important for athletes. Ideally, the FRCms certification would compliment a CSCS or SCCC. To obtain this certification, coaches attend a hands-on seminar to learn how to incorporate mobility exercises into their programs to improve the ability to move and control one's body.
CPT: Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. This certification is obtained by taking a written exam covering fitness assessment, program planning, exercise technique, and safety issues. Coaches need to have a high school diploma, be 18 years of age, and hold a current CPR/AED certification to be able to take the exam. This certification is primarily for those working in the general population as compared to athletes, but ultimately is a great test of knowledge when it comes to proper programming and exercise implementation.
3.) Experience. Looking at the top clientele of your strength coach can be very telling. Who have they trained, how long have they trained them, and how has it impacted those athletes? If your coach trains elite level athletes, chances are they are doing something right.
4.) Evaluation. Before a strength coach gives you a program, he/she should conduct some sort of evaluation. This can be a questionnaire, movement assessment, or baseline testing. Evaluations are crucial for not only tracking progress throughout the program, but preventing injury as well.
5.) Exercise Selection, Variety, and Individual Programming. Your program should cater to your specific needs and training goals, change monthly, and include relevant exercises designed to help you on the field. Programming should elicit the proper neural and muscular adaptations to enhance overall performance and keep the athlete safe.