Current State of Strength & Conditioning at the University & Collegiate Level in Canada

Published On: February 19, 2019Categories: Industry

The Past
The strength and conditioning profession at the university and collegiate levels in Canada has grown significantly over the past 10 to 15 years. I can remember being hired as the first full-time OUA strength and conditioning coach by York University in 2004 and wondering if I had any colleagues north of the border.  I was aware of previous coaches like Scott Livingston, hired at Concordia in 1990 within the RSEQ, however those positions were few and far between.  When I acquired the position at York, various universities were beginning to post positions for full-time strength and conditioning coaches. The following trail blazers were hired by their respective schools: Derek Hansen (SFU), Jeff Watson (Western), and Rodney Wilson (Queen’s).  Although it was a tremendous step forward and the strength and conditioning field was beginning to establish its roots at the CIAU/USport levels, we lagged behind the NCAA where coaches such as Boyd Epley at Nebraska were being hired as early as 1978.

The original university strength and conditioning programs had the following in common: a single lead strength and conditioning coach for 8 to 15+ teams equating to hundreds of athletes, shared facilities with non-varsity students, a handful of volunteers, minimal budget, and an average of 60 to 80 work hours per week.  Additionally, engagement with the Kinesiology faculty was often non-existent at each respective University, not due to a lack of interest, but rather a lack of time from the exhausting workload. Nevertheless, each of the pioneers listed above began to create sport specific needs analyses, testing batteries, normative data with standards, consistent yearly training plans, and sound strength and conditioning programming for their varsity athletes. Athletic departments across Canada quickly realized that strength and conditioning programs enhanced the varsity athlete experience, developed school pride in the athletes, and created a culture of physical development founded upon discipline.

The Present
Fast forward 10-15 years and the majority of USport and CCAA athletic departments are hiring strength and conditioning coaches as required assets for their coaching staffs and varsity teams.  Strength and conditioning staff have evolved to include Performance Directors/Managers, Coordinators, full-time lead strength and conditioning coaches, and part-time strength and conditioning coaches. Several strength and conditioning departments employ three or more full-time staff, additional part-time staff, and 10 or more student volunteers.  These current staffing models offer a more manageable workload as each lead coach trains and develops four to five teams, allowing for sport- and position-specific programming, load monitoring, tiered programming based on training age, and a higher-quality varsity athlete experience. Staffing structures vary based on budget, strategic plans, and sporting culture at each institution.  Select strength and conditioning programs are fully or partially funded through Athletic Departments, Kinesiology Departments, or a combination of the two. Some schools hire contractors from local private facilities to run varsity team training sessions due to budgetary restrictions. Many schools have now partnered with their kinesiology departments to offer structured experiential education opportunities for their undergraduate and graduate students. These opportunities provide hundreds of coaching hours for the students and contribute to the development of future health care practitioners, sport coaches, and strength and conditioning professionals. The experiential internships can now be considered an asset that may entice high school students to apply to kinesiology undergrad programs that are partnered with varsity sport performance teams.

A significant difference in strength and conditioning programs at the University and collegiate level are the separate varsity athlete facilities that are being designed and developed across the country. In the past five years the design and construction of facilities at U of T, UNB, Queen’s, Laval, McGill, Ryerson, Carleton, Ottawa, Guelph, Alberta, and the planned future development of state-of-the-art performance facilities at McMaster, Brock, UBC, SFU reinforce the support for development of the strength and conditioning programs at each respected institution. The recent financial investment into facilities and infrastructure is evidence that universities now recognize the value that a strength and conditioning program adds to a university. Most varsity athletes will be a part of the program for four critical years in their personal development from teenager to adult. The strength and conditioning coach is not only integral in the athlete’s physical development, but can often contribute to the development of life long habits (i.e. hard work, accountability, and leadership) that pay dividends when their athletic career is over.
The Future
Currently only a few universities employ Directors or Managers of Performance. This is a trend that will continue to evolve offering current strength and conditioning coaches the opportunity to progress into management roles that oversee budgets, Integrated Support Teams (coaches, therapists, dietitians, strength & conditioning), and the monitoring of academic and athletic development.  There will be an increase in number of strength and conditioning coaches teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in athletic development at their respective universities. Research driven initiatives at the collegiate level will continue to enhance collaboration between strength and conditioning and kinesiology departments. Training environments will continue to increase in the utilization of technology (force plates, velocity-based training, GPS and recovery aids). Many universities are developing revenue generation strategies utilizing their strength and conditioning departments to provide programming to “Next Gen” athletes in an effort to improve community engagement and develop the athleticism of future USport and CCAA athletes. Lastly, strength and conditioning positions at the USport and CCAA level will become fully saturated in the next 15 to 20 years. There is very little turnover at the university level with many full-time strength and conditioning coaches remaining in their positions for an average of eight or more years.  With an increase in facilities, budget and infrastructure, it is very reasonable to hypothesize that these positions will continue to evolve into extremely fulfilling, life-long careers.

Steve Lidstone is the Associate Director of Performance at Brock University. Steve has an impressive background in high performance training and has served as a strength and conditioning co-ordinator, athletic therapist and lecturer in the school of kinesiology at McMaster for nine years prior to working at Brock. In addition to working with multiple sports at the university level, he has also worked with many Canadian national team programs including hockey, basketball, trampoline and waterskiing.  Steve is a member of the CSCA’s Advisory Team. 

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