Doing an outstanding job in strength and conditioning for a small group is challenging enough but imagine managing over 200 athletes a year. This is what most professionals take on when employed by a Canadian university; although it was not that long ago when there was no strength and conditioning staff. Only in the past 10-12 years has there been a recognition and hiring of professional staff at this level. Previously it was volunteers, kinesiology interns, or left up to the head coach to write and manage the strength and conditioning programs for their athletes. The field has grown but still pales in comparison to our neighbors to the south. The individuals who take on this challenge must have outstanding leadership and organizational skills.
In 1997 I started and developed a sport science program including sport nutrition, sport psychology and integrated sport medicine consulting. It was 10 percent of my job at the start, but I loved it and gave much more time. In time I will share information related to my own learnings, failures and successes, however for this articles we will focus on six (6) questions asked of three passionate, dedicated, S&C coaches working in CIS sport, running strong programs.
thanks to Coaches Morrison, Richardson and Crouse.
CSCA: What caught your interest to go into the S&C profession?
KM: It was largely by chance. I was in a course that ended up getting dropped due to lack of enrollment. I was around the gym that day doing my own training, and someone brought up a practicum opportunity in program design and exercise prescription. Ken Seaman led this practicum and I loved it. After that I went on to do a few more practicums and directed studies in the area while continuing to build experience in S&C.
ER: Strength and conditioning was the driving force that allowed me to excel at the collegiate level and play professionally. It allowed me to bypass those who had more natural skills, talent, and athleticism. It tilted the field my way in a sense. This experience led me to want to be the driving force and difference for other athletes. What also had a greater impact was that although my S&C experience was positive, I didn’t have a tremendous amount of coaching. Once I finished my career as an athlete, I realized that there could have been better methods that might have benefited me and extended my career. My mission became giving my athletes the training opportunity I never got to have.
JC: As an athlete, I was always interested in injury prevention and rehab so once I learned how good training could prevent this from happening in the first place I was very intrigued. However, it wasn’t until my internship at Acadia that I truly believed I could make a career out of Strength & Conditioning. I was blessed to have been in a very competitive internship with some brilliant minds, many of whom are still in the field whether at the College level or in the private sector. They pushed me to continue to learn and be better and I believe I would not be where I am today without them. This opportunity would not have been possible without the guidance of Elliott Richardson and James Young. They taught us about the importance of selflessness and hard work, which I believe is what has helped me achieve what I have at such a young age.
CSCA: How do you track training?
KM: We are still currently using Dropbox and Excel to track training. I track loading with a simple calculation of Sets x Reps x Training Stress of the exercise.
ER: I prescribe all weights for the key exercises such as clean, bench, squat. I provide autonomy for my athletes to select loads for other exercises, which are traditionally supplementary or complementary. We would also collect loads for key exercises. We also collect S-RPE to help with training load.
JC: We use TeamBuildr here at StFX which has been a huge time saver for myself when programming and tracking data. TeamBuildr has built in features that allow me to easily track averages in intensity and volume over different periods of time.
CSCA: Do you track injury rates?
KM: Yes. Not optimally yet in my opinion but generally yes. We now use “players Health” which is a platform our ATs and Phyios use to log all our injuries. Typically, the student ATs are responsible for logging the daily injuries so there are some issues around timing of the entries but we are looking to improve.
ER: No, we don’t. We currently debrief with therapy and talk about reported trends. Unfortunately, I believe this leads to recency bias, or major injuries that stick out. I’d prefer to see a detailed number of games/practiced missed, since I am ‘sore/hurt’ can get misrepresented as ‘injured’.
JC: Between our Strength & Conditioning department and our Therapy department we track injury history via an online spreadsheet. However, I also like to track time missed due to injuries as I believe the ultimate goal of a Strength & Conditioning department is to help keep your athletes on their respected playing fields.
CSCA: What periodization scheme do you lean on most?
KM: Always a loaded question and a touchy one for me to answer. I would say mostly traditional progressive periodization but I largely adjust things based on gap analysis and monitoring. I would say I blend in some block periodization or in some cases maybe even my own periodization. But generally, a pretty traditional model.
ER: Linear periodization for most first year athletes. For the rest of the athletes we lean on an undulated linear (Phase 1 – 8’s, Phase 2 – 4’s, Phase 3 – 6’s, Phase 4 – 3’s) periodization that waves between accumulation and intensification popularized by Poliquin, and adopted by coaches like Baker, Boyle, etc. I may use a block periodization in short periods or for athletes with very specific peaking dates (combine athletes). Otherwise undulated linear is optimal for team sport athletes that are constantly training.
JC: Since I work with such a huge variety of athletes with different training backgrounds I don’t necessarily lean on one periodization scheme. I am a big fan of Jim Wendler’s Easy Strength program for some of my less trained athletes and I often will use a conjugate style of programming with my more experienced highly trained athletes depending on the time of year. One thing that I will often refer to when programming is Prilepin’s chart to make sure my volume and intensities make sense based on my goals for that phase.
CSCA: Where do you go for good information and what professional development have you done in the past couple of years?
KM: My link with the sports centre plays a huge role in this area. I have thought many times about where I would find my PD opportunities if I weren’t employed with the centre. To answer the question there is obviously a large amount of informal PD that goes on throughout our network. I think our network provides a great platform to access “good information”. As for more formal PD I typically go to a conference or so a year and sometimes will seek out opportunities to visit training centres or coaches that I feel I can learn from. At some point I am interested in potentially pursuing more formal education as well.
ER: My MSc. Strength and Conditioning at St. Mary’s University (London, UK) was the major PD investment the last 3 years. I’m looking to get back to conferences, courses, and my own choice of literature. I can’t recommend the MSc. S&C at St. Mary’s enough. You’re best to take it after a few years experience and do it while you’re working.
JC: I was always told that the older you get the more you realize that you don’t know anything. I now truly understand that statement as every time I read something I find myself questioning what I’m currently doing. For that reason, I try to continue to learn something every day. My go-to’s are podcasts and articles. I try to listen to a couple podcasts every week and I try to read at least one article every day. There are so many coaches out there pumping out valuable content however, I am a big fan of Jay Demayo’s CVASPS podcast, as well as articles on SimpliFaster. As a student I hated reading books however, luckily my mentor Elliott Richardson stressed to me the importance of reading a good book so for that reason I try to read at least one book every 1-2 months. This July I will begin my online Master’s program through StFX in which I hope to follow up with my PhD. At this time, my research interest lies in Coaching Behavior.
CSCA: What is your advice to young professionals interested in being in your position some day?
KM: Get involved, be engaged, and be patient. Gaining experience in the field is your largest asset. The more you can get involved early on whether it is volunteering, interning, or taking on part time employment opportunities nothing outweighs experience in the field.
Being engaged and personal is another major asset or even requirement in our field. When job opportunities arise, many positions are filled based on recommendations by other professionals in the field. If you have shown to be personable, engaged, passionate, and committed then you are likely to come highly recommended.
Patience and adaptability are two other qualities that will benefit those interested in pursuing this type of position. You need to be patient in working your way through the ranks and carving out your opportunities. Many times, is comes down to proving your worth and positions may even be created based on the work you do. But you need to perform at a high level and be patient while allowing these opportunities to develop. The other option is adaptability which basically means “be willing to travel wherever for whatever job possible” while working your way through the ranks.
ER: Take on every opportunity possible to earn coaching hours – say yes to everything until you’re too busy too. By then you should have more support to offload. Experience is almost everything after a base amount of knowledge. Higher level knowledge won’t do much good until you’ve put time in the weight room. Be a nice person, don’t think you’re smarter than you are, earn the respect of the athletes. The early part of your career is to earn career capital so that you can have better balance in your life. Read often, listen to podcasts, sit and talk to other coaches, go visit, be a line cook before you become a chef.
JC: The good thing about being a Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at 26 years old is that I can easily relate to my athletes and staff as I was in their situation not that long ago. I get asked the question of how I got to where I am at such young age almost daily and I say the same answer every time and that is “hard work”. There is no fast tracked process to becoming a successful Strength & Conditioning coach. You must put your time in and be willing to work insane hours for next to nothing. You need to stay very humble and understand that it is not about you and that you don’t know anything. In my opinion being present and available to your athletes is the best trait you can have as an intern or Strength & Conditioning coach. I am very lucky that my office is in the highest traffic area of our athletics complex, therefore I may have 30 or more athletes pop in my office daily whether it’s just to chat or ask a question. Some may look at this as a burden, however I believe taking the time to have a conversation with your athletes is better professional development than anything we may learn in a book or online.