Three Tiers of Responsibility: Which Strength Coach Are You?

There are obviously various levels to being a strength & conditioning coach. Let’s break it down and discuss the importance at each level — and the implications thereof.

First up we have the amateur strength coach, someone who owns their own strength & conditioning business, maybe works in a rented space or has their own facility somewhere. Their business is focused on amateur clients, ones that have no connection to professional sports. Their clients aren’t athletes; they are purely focused on health and fitness. Health and fitness are two separate things; the former implies longevity and the ability to maintain normal functions, the later implies performance levels of physical activities.

Strength and Conditioning Coaching

So at the amateur level of strength & conditioning you already are in charge of someone’s health while trying to get them to new levels of fitness and/or performance. That’s a tough gig, and one that is getting even tougher with the general public’s idea of what they should be paying for. With media now gaining more and more access to professional athletes, Jo Blow back home on his lounger wants the same facility, attention, and resources as what Tom Brady gets. But there’s a big ‘but’ — they don’t want to pay for it. So as an amateur S&C with your own shop, what do you do? You go for the low hanging fruit (LHF).

LHF is diet; you educate your clients on simple changes that get the most results. Sugar is the simplest thing to educate your clients on. Don’t forget, you’re an amateur S&C, you don’t have hours to poor through research papers trying to find out the answers and best practices for nutrition — and you don’t have too. Defer to the experts on it. So research what sugar does to the body by referring to people that have already done the work for you, and learn enough to be able to hold a reasonable debate with someone (and win, of course).

The next step is looking after someone’s’ performance i.e., fitness. This is even easier than the health task, so do what works. Your client will have an idea of what they want to achieve, who they want to be like, etc. You then research what that person does or did and you go educate yourself on that. I want to make this next point very clear: Do not make shit up. There are resources, good and bad, everywhere. If you think you’re going to invent some new craze of training, you’re an idiot, full stop. There has been nothing new under the sun, as in major developments of physical practices, since the 1990s.

Reach out to coaches of those athletes identified by your clients and see if they can help you in the right direction. Shit, even hit them up for an internship or mentorship program. As far as the biggest amount of information available to an amateur S&C, you can’t go past Get on there, learn and question everything you can get your hands on; it’s a fantastic starting point.

The second stage of your S&C evolution is the semi-professional level. Building on from the first level, this S&C coach deals with people that play sport at a semi professional level. It could be rugby, where the S&C is virtually donating their time to the team for some sessions per week, or a tennis player, or even a CrossFitter trying to make a living off exercising and/or competing. This is a dangerous step for the S&C, for once money is involved to any degree, shit gets crazy, in that both crazy athlete demands and their own shortcomings will get exposed very quickly.

The demands of the athlete in terms of support for health increases. For the amateur coach it’s as easy is basic nutrition, but at this level the athlete wants everything, largely due to the fact they think they’re the next big star, when chances are they aren’t. But they want nutrition, feeding windows, recovery protocols, training metrics and protocols, sports psychology strategies, and best practices, the list really does go on. So what is the amateur to do? Go back to step one, defer to the experts, and under no circumstances are you to make shit up. Be humble and ask questions of your peers in your client’s field of sport or performance. Because bullshit really stands out.

Obviously the same advice is applicable to the fitness side of things: Ask questions. I will say this as a simple go to for better performances at this level: Get your client to do things slightly quicker, slightly better. I know when you read it, it’s a blatantly boring and simple statement, but it really is that simple. Just say Jo Blow plays rugby, “Jo this session I want you to hit 90/100 passes right to left, in previous sessions you’ve hit 75% so let’s up our game.” Now I know that’s a skill not in the specific domain of the S&C, but being physically prepared does influence Jo Blow’s ability to maintain form and posture to perform those passes. In the weight room, for performance, I look to decrease rest time between sets, reps, and parts of a session to stimulate an eventual increase in performance.

This step is the Professional Strength and Conditioning coach. This is someone with a proven track record of working with professional athletes and his or her support networks and teams. Explaining it further than that is a little redundant as the fitness, usually just weight room with some general field/sport statistics, are the only responsibility for them at this level. In forward thinking environments, the S&C will also handle rehab of injuries, but usually that handled by a physiotherapist. Personally I am not a fan of this based off previous experiences.

This is just a very brief overview of how we see things and how we evaluate applicants for our mentorship program and facility work. If anything, I hope it puts into perspective of where you are in the simple three level format of the S&C industry. Don’t forget where you fit, and don’t forget where you came from. Be humble, be wiling to learn, and don’t sell something you can’t provide.

And most importantly, Don’t Make Shit Up.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Darren Coughlan

Darren Coughlan

Darren Coughlan is the founder of Give'm Cold Steel, a training resource for coaches, athletes, and gyms. A former professional rugby player, Darren has worked with athletes at all levels of ability from beginner to elite. Learn more about his training programs and follow him on Instagram.

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