Since the founding of the NSCA just over 40 years ago strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches have gone from being a fringe group of professionals fighting for opportunities at all levels of sport to an integral part of a sport performance program. With increased recognition of the importance of S&C in the development of an athlete comes increased time demands and the potential for work/life balance to become skewed towards work. Massey and Vincent (4) in a survey of NCAA D1 female strength coaches found that during the fall the coaches reported working an average of 60 hours per week and 52 hours per week during the spring with the average workweek decreasing to 39 hours during the summer. This is less than the 75 hours per week during in season and 64 hours per week during the off season that NCAA D2 football S&C coaches have reported (3). DI football S&C coaches have reported similar numbers working 61-70 hours per week (5). High school strength coaches appear to have it a little better, working 45-60 hours per week (2).
Long work hours are not limited to NCAA and U.S. High school strength coaches. In a survey of the career experiences of Australian S&C coaches some subjects reported working 12 hours per day six days per week (1). In the UK sport science staff, including S&C coaches, worked between 40 and 80 days more than their contracted time (6). This is like my own experiences in the Canadian sport system where colleagues who are in full time positions with National Sport Organizations often report working more than 2500 hours per year when a full time position is typically around 1800 hours.
One of the reasons for the high number of hours that many strength and conditioning coaches report is the need to put in face time with coaches and athletes while still doing the unseen parts of the job (6). Many coaches may not be aware of work that goes into an S&C program outside the gym.
Planning for Time Outside the Gym/Practice
The time in the gym is only a small part of what an S&C coach does for a sport. As sports have become more sophisticated in their preparation, and technology has allowed for more advanced tracking and monitoring of player performance, wellness, and recovery the S&C coach is spending more time in analytical and educational roles. The time spent outside the gym or practice needs to be a planned part of the work week for an S&C coach to be effective. The nature of the S&C role is such that it can be difficult to predict and plan for all the individual tasks an S&C coach will perform in a week. One method I find effective when assigning sports to my S&C team and creating workplans is to use a use a ratio of Delivery to Non-Delivery time where delivery time is the time on the gym floor or at practice and Non-Delivery time is everything else.
My experience using these ratios is that sport coaches gain a better appreciation of the “other” parts of the S&C job and are more willing to accommodate time out of the gym requests of the S&C coaches, knowing that the time is used to enhance performance and understanding of the needs of the team. Additionally, the list of non-delivery items provided to the coaches and the S&C coach has increased the quality of service by clearly defining roles and responsibilities and creating a set of deliverables that the S&C coach must achieve.
Delivery to Non-Delivery Ratios
The ratios outlined below for various levels of sport ensure that there is enough time for the S&C coach to deliver a service consistent with the vision and goals of the sport and to help the S&C coach structure their work time so that sports are receiving a service level that fits their needs. The lists of activities included vary depending on the sport, level of play, team budget and goals of the program. The lists below are not intended to be comprehensive but are a starting point from which you can develop your own set of tasks that are specific to your context.
High School and Club Teams – 1:1 Delivery to non-Delivery Ratio
For High School or Provincial level programs there will ideally be at least a 1:1 delivery to non-delivery ratio this is to cover the time spent outside of the gym to create and maintain relationships with athletes, coaches, and other support team (ST) personnel, as well as provide the information, education, and resources to help move the program forward. This means that for every hour that an S&C coach is on the gym floor or at practice their workplan includes an hour outside of the gym or practice. This time is meant for the following:
- Annual program planning with the coach
- Design and writing of the training phases and programs for the group of athletes – programs are not individualized
- Adjustments to programs in case of injury or change of plans on the part of the coach
- Incidental meetings/emails/conversations with coaches that are not part of the normally planned ST meeting.
- Incidental meetings/email/conversations with other ST staff that are not part of the normally planned ST meeting.
- Incidental meetings/emails/conversations with athletes outside of the scheduled delivery session.
- 1-2 Formal meetings per year with each athlete for goal setting purposes.
- Prep time for ST meetings.
- Time to observe the athletes in their sport training environment.
- Creation of a year end report summarizing all the year’s activities, outcomes, achievements, and challenges, including recommendations for the upcoming year.
- Development of any educational materials – presentations, handouts, videos, etc. for either coaches or athletes to help them better understand the training process and move them forward as athletes.
If testing and monitoring programs are part of the sport additional time for these activities and follow up reports can push the ratio into the 1:1.25-1:1.5 range.
College, University and Provincial Teams- 1:2 Delivery to non-Delivery Ratio
For University, College programs and Provincial or National Sport Organizations where the S&C is not full time the desired ratio is at least 1:2. The goal is to start to move the programs forward and help them get to the point where they are ready to use S&C services at a full-time level. This includes education of the coaches and high performance staff and more detailed analysis and reporting of both test and monitoring data to try to find the interventions that will have an impact on performance. The non- delivery items include the items from the list of High School services plus:
- A degree of individualization of programs by person or position.
- Formal goal setting meetings with each athlete every quarter.
- Rudimentary R&I, mostly literature based, to determine the best tests, and other interventions that will impact performance and testing/implementation of the findings.
- Implementation of load and or recovery monitoring.
- More depth in the data analysis of test and regular monitoring data including training logs, recovery questionnaires, ongoing jump monitoring, training load monitoring etc.
- Reporting is of greater depth and detail and incorporates discussion of the relationships between testing, monitoring, the training program, and sport outcomes.
- Year end reports that would be suitable for a sport to submit to a funding partner or athletic director.
National Sport Organizations/Professional Sports – 1:3 Delivery to non-Delivery Ratio
Where there is National Sport Organization (NSO) or professional team with a full time dedicated S&C the ideal ratio is at least 1:3 delivery to non-delivery. In my discussions with colleagues, S&C coaches at this level typically report work years of 270-300 days, well beyond the 220—250 days that most professions would consider full time employment. The goal of the Non- Delivery time is to move the sport forward and deliver World Class or World Leading services, trying to find those areas of marginal gains that will positively impact performance. At this level the S&C is very heavily engaged with the coaches daily and is often closely linked into the technical development of the athletes. This includes all the items from the previous two lists plus:
- Extensive input and creating of the YTP with the coach.
- Daily meetings with coaches.
- Daily meetings with other ST personnel.
- Monthly (in some cases weekly) meetings with athletes to discuss progress and set goals
- Research and Innovation designed to determine the impact that S&C has on the outcome performance in the sport.
- Development of new tests and monitoring tools that fit the daily training environment and culture of the sport.
- Fully individualized programs for each athlete.
- Daily feedback to coaches on recovery and training load to allow changes to programs in a timely fashion.
- Full analysis of the relationships between the program, training load, recovery measures and performance.
- Very detailed quarterly reports and recommendations of testing, monitoring, and training relationships fully integrated with reports of other ST members.
- Year end reports fully integrated with the rest of the ST and form the basis of a planning document and review of the previous year.
The role of the strength and conditioning coach has changed over the past 40 years. Long work hours typical of many S&C coaches are part of the growing pains of an emerging profession. While they may be sustainable early in an S&C coach’s career it is very difficult to work 60+ hours per week over a 30-year career. Educating sport coaches and administrators on the time demands and value of the unseen parts of the job is a major step in the further professionalization of strength and conditioning.
Ed McNeely received his Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Ottawa in 1994 and has been involved in the strength and conditioning industry for 25 years. Ed is the author of five books and has published over 100 articles on training and athlete conditioning. Ed is a frequent speaker at both national and international sport and fitness conferences, having done over 75 presentations in the past 10 years.
- Dawson, AJ, Leonard, ZM, Wehner, KA, and Gastin, PB. Building without a plan: The career experiences of Australian strength and conditioning coaches. J Strength Cond Res 27 (5): 1423–1434, 2013
- Duehring, MD and Ebben, WP. Profile of high school strength and conditioning coaches. J Strength Cond Res 24(2): 538-547, 2010
- Massey, CD, Schwind, JJ, Andrews, DC, and Maneval, MW. An analysis of the job of strength and conditioning coach for football at the Division II level. J Strength Cond Res 23(9): 2493–2499, 2009
- Massey, CD and Vincent, J. A job analysis of major college female strength and conditioning coaches. J Strength Cond Res 27(7): 2000–2012, 2013
- Massey, CD, Vincent, J, and Maneval, M. Job analysis of college division I-A football strength and conditioning coaches. J Strength Conditioning Res 18: 19–25, 2004.
- Thompson, KG. Being and elite sport scientist: A balancing act? J. Sports Physiol. Perf. 5: 1-2, 2010.