Strength and Conditioning in the Private Sector

by | Apr 8, 2022 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Strength and conditioning coaches represent a specific discipline within sport and exercise science. The strength and conditioning coach will often have varied responsibilities, including: technical coaching instruction; overseeing advanced training methods and periodisation schemes; monitoring training workloads; and arranging the logistics and organisation of training sessions. The main goal of the UKSCA & NSCA was to ensure world class coaching is available to athletes at all levels across the world.

When applying for coaching roles with professional or national sports institutions there is a minimum standard of competency required in order to apply. Usually, this includes a bachelor’s degree (this is usually the minimum standard of education to work in these job roles) and either UKSCA ASCC or NSCA CSCS certification.

As a strength and conditioning coach, you can choose to work in the public sector, working for national institutions, professional sports teams or college sports teams) or the private sector. Both routes have their own unique trials, tribulations and politics, but for the sake of this article the focus will be on the private sector.

Many combat sports often fall under private sector coaching, in particular the sports of mixed martial arts (MMA) and Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). These are relatively new sports and currently lack the governing organisation of more established sports in the United Kingdom like Olympic boxing, judo or taekwondo. Professionalisation in MMA has only realistically been present in the last 10-15 years and the ability to earn a living in BJJ being the last 5 or so years, both largely centred in the US market.

Within sports in particular the aforementioned combat sports of BJJ and MMA, there are always outliers who are incredibly strong on the mats without an established strength and conditioning coach or program. This is due to the phenomenological nature of sports performance, due to the complex coordination required to complete movements efficiently it becomes difficult to scientifically quantify the affect strength and conditioning has on competition performance in these chaotic sports.

This creates a difficult situation for athletes to identify what good practice is and whether they even need an accredited strength and conditioning coach. Due to this, there is a lot of “whatboutry” where it is common to try and replicate the programming or coaching that they see from their favourite competitors or peers who may excel in sport in spite of their training methods. It is common to hear arguments such as “all roads lead to Rome” suggesting that all methods are equal in their ability to achieve a desired outcome. This is untrue and accreditation in strength and conditioning ensures that the coach is equipped to be able to differentiate between effective and ineffective training.

One of the fundamental issues with the private sector is the fact that ‘strength and conditioning coach’ is not a protected title, therefore anyone can proclaim that they are a strength and conditioning coach as long as they have the lowest level of qualification to be insured to facilitate training sessions, usually a level 3 personal training qualification. The barrier of competence to become a personal trainer is very low, with many achieving these in a few short weekends, therefore many athletes end up working with coaches who are underqualified. Accreditation often does very little for the coach, but it does at least protect the end user/clientele by guaranteeing an expected level of competency.

In strength and conditioning circles, a bachelor’s degree and accreditation are merely the start of your coaching journey. In the public sector these alone will be unlikely to get you employment without additional coaching experience and the skills this develops). However, in the private sector, these things can often sit you head and shoulders above the rest of the marketplace. The public sector is built with institutions, sports teams and athletes in mind, often at the expense of the coaches, while in the private sector anything goes so long as you have a handle of social media and profess yourself to be a strength and conditioning coach.

This is a critical issue for the end user because they may not understand how the profession is regulated. This isn’t just a problem for recreational athletes, who are rarely provided coaching, but also very common for the professional athlete seeking guidance and coaching in the private sector, this is particularly apparent in MMA and BJJ. This problem exists for all athletes but it is mitigated in the public sector by the minimum standards required by those employers.

The water becomes further muddied because separate educational business offer level 4 courses in strength and conditioning which in theory are regulated by governing bodies and enable coaches to call themselves a strength and conditioning trainer. Even worse is the current trend of self-proclaimed gurus offering their own certifications as an education and thus ‘certifying’ coaches under their system. This, again, is rightly not enough to meet the current minimums to work in the public sector, we should raise the expectations and educate the general public in the private sector.

Possible actions we can take in the private sector is to call out terrible advice from the totally unqualified. If the general public don’t know what is poor advice, it is very difficult to start a conversation about what might be good.

Similar issues occur in the fields of nutrition and sports therapy, both of which are also not protected titles. Anyone by law can profess to be a sports therapist, nutritionist or strength and conditioning coach with no formal education, qualification or expertise.

There isn’t a clear solution to the problem as all governing bodies have pros and cons, but this is another topic for another debate. However, there are some things to look for that can protect the end user in the private sector. The problem is in educating the athlete about what world class coaching means, in the UK this should mean your coach has either a UKSCA or NSCA accreditation and/or a master’s degree in strength and conditioning. Until the day where the profession is protected like physiotherapy/HCP then educating athletes on what makes a competent coach is the best we can do.


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