Alternative Pathways to the Strength and Conditioning World: Four Ways the College System Creates Strong Coaches

Published On: January 30, 2020Categories: Career

Every September, as incoming students enter their first college semester, Fitness and Health Promotion (FHP) faculty often hear, “I’m more of a hands-on learner” and “I want to work with athletes.” These students are in the right place. Currently, 17 Ontario colleges offer FHP, a two-year diploma program widely considered as a shorter version of the coveted Kinesiology/Exercise Science bachelor’s degree. For some, the college system may be the best vaulting point for aspiring strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches. Here are four reasons to support the college route. 

1. Access to Kinesiology and Other Degree Bridges

          The typical path for an FHP graduate goes one of two ways: continuing education or direct entry into the fitness and health industry. Education bridges allow diploma graduates to enter year two or three of a degree program, like Guelph-Humber’s Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiology (B.A. Kin). Degrees result in access to the gold standard in the S&C world—the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification. 

           So why not by-pass the diploma and enroll directly in a degree program? Jordan Tam, 2017 FHP graduate from Centennial College, answers, “I really wanted hands-on learning first and I knew this diploma would provide the opportunity to get me into university.” Jordan attended Hartpury University in England, finishing an Honours Bachelor of Science in Sport-Science in just two ‘top-up’ semesters. He currently works as an S&C coach in Toronto. Jordan has also earned his National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) Level 1 Olympic Lifting certification and is currently studying for the NSCA’s CSCS exam. 

           For some FHP alumni, the continuing education pathway extends even further. Durham College grad Tracey Patrick used the Guelph-Humber B.A.Kin bridge and subsequently gained entry into a Master of Science from The University of Ontario, Institute of Technology. “Eight years ago, I would have laughed in your face if you told me I’d be earning a masters’ degree,” jokes Tracey. She is currently completing her PhD applications while researching Toronto’s University Health Network.

2. Job-Ready Graduates via Valuable Hands-On Learning Experiences 

           Canada’s college system was developed in the 1960s in response to the growing need for skilled workers (Conference Board of Canada, 2019). Diploma programs remain guided by vocational learning outcomes that prepare graduates for employment. In 2018, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) reported that 86.2% of diploma graduates in Ontario receive employment within six months (MTCU, 2019).

           Over 35% of curriculum hours in most FHP programs are devoted to practical and laboratory-based learning. Students learn about fitness assessment, movement and mobility screening, aerobic assessment, personal training, program design, agility and quickness, plyometrics, speed training, Olympic weightlifting and group exercise fundamentals. The practical learning experience is even more robust in programs that offer multiple placement/internship experiences. “The practical portions of the program gave me the skills I value most. I loved my lab classes and we were able to implement our learning on real clients in the campus gym,” says Michelle Murphy, an FHP graduate from Centennial College. Michelle also notes that “The practical learning goes deeper; we had months to observe our clients’ habits and learn to help people change their behavior. This is an imperative skill for a good coach, whether you’re working with athletes, gen pop, or older adults.” Michelle is currently employed as a Strength Coach and Muay Thai instructor in Scarborough. She also offers wellness coaching for all of her clients.         

           It’s also worth noting the certification options available to students in FHP programs beyond the CSCS. Most Ontario colleges partner with the Ontario Fitness Council (OFC) and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP). Students who meet course-specific grade minimums can earn both the OFC Personal Trainer and OFC Group Exercise certifications in-curriculum. After program commencement, graduates can opt to pursue the CSEP Certified Personal Trainer exam. Further, some FHP programs provide additional options.  

3. Industry Field Placement Experiences

          Humber College FHP graduate Dante Martella currently works as an S&C coach for Paragenix Systems, owned by Matt Nichol, the founder of Biosteel. Matt has long been considered among the S&C elite in the North American hockey world. Dante was fortunate enough to earn a part-time coaching contract after a 2013 field placement/internship at Paragenix. “I already had a university degree, but was looking for a shorter program that could get me into the working world.” He also notes that his experiences at Humber and Paragenix helped him grow as a coach because he was surrounded by amazing and experienced people who believed in him. 

           Joshua Delgado, a George Brown FHP graduate, also benefited from the placement-to-employment pathway. “I did my placement at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan, in the sports injury clinic. I was able to work with high performance athletes and observe clinical treatments. I was hired for a short while to work on a research program. It was a valuable learning experience.” Josh has certainly progressed in the S&C world. He is the Head Coach for Centennial College’s Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting team and the Fitness Services Coordinator at Centennial’s Progress campus.         

4. Personal Connection to Faculty

          Arguably, this is the essential core benefit of the college system. As a full-time faculty member, I can attest to the more intimate nature of diploma compared to degree programs. Academic performance is obviously important in post-secondary studies. However, FHP faculty are committed to student development beyond academic and professional practice. The best teachers invest more deeply by guiding students’ emotional growth and maturation. Some may argue that this does not fit the traditional scope of a post-secondary teacher. I disagree. Undergraduate students are young adults who require time, safe spaces and trusting relationships to grow. Smaller class sizes foster these types of relationships. Michelle notes, “My program coordinator was and remains the most valuable relationship I had. He was always willing to meet with me and helped me remain objective when making decisions. I knew he was genuinely invested in me as a person. All my classmates felt the same way. We still meet regularly!” These relationships also afford students access to the professional S&C networks of their faculty, advisors and/or placement supervisors. Add academic capacity, practical experience and confidence and you have a young professional ready to thrive in the fitness and health industry. Further, as Michelle notes, FHP graduates can continue to rely on these trusted faculty for advice and guidance as they navigate their careers.     

Adam Balan is the Program Coordinator for the Fitness and Health Promotion Program at Centennial College in Toronto, Ontario  


Conference Board of Canada (2019). Governing Post-Secondary Education and Skills in  Canada. Retrieved from

Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (2019). Key Performance Indicators, Colleges and Other Public Institutions. Retrieved from

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