This post was recently inspired by the ongoing discussion of strength and conditioning (S&C) job postings in relation to poorly paid positions. In which organizations look to take advantage of the poorly scaled value of S&C as a whole. Organizations are beginning to try their luck in terms of how much they can pay someone to carry out duties above and beyond that of what the position should be effectively valued at. This type of discussion is becoming more and more commonplace (I actually tweeted a thread concerning some of this stuff in 2019). There are arguments to be made (I will play a little bit of the devil’s advocate here a little bit too) as to why this type of thing happens and is frequently ongoing..
SUPPLY AND DEMAND:
A fairly simple economic concept, as more and more sport and exercise science and strength and conditioning programs/degrees surface, there are multiple graduates every year, bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to get into the S&C world. There is typically quite a large demand for job positions and very little supply (i.e. there are lots of applicants going for the same bunch of available jobs). This is further amplified by year on year having 100s of new graduates attaining their degrees and looking for work. Specifically, when looking at sports related S&C jobs, there aren’t that many new teams being created and in the case of new positions, not every team has the budget to just hire another position (and cover benefits) or potentially even the need to do so. Therefore, we are locked in an ecosystem in which demand will outweigh supply.
So do we really blame organizations given this reality. Whereby there is so much demand that someone will ultimately take a low paid position with the view of it being a career ladder stepping stone? I can say with some confidence that it is unlikely that any person is in a position for >1 year earning 10k per annum. It’s likely this person is still applying for new positions with that view to move into a new position as it arises, gaining experience from the current organization as it will look better on the resume in comparison to working a standard day job. Is this morally right to pay someone so little? No – but despite the morals, someone is accepting a position like this as I write this post and there is nothing I(we) can really do about it.
The flip to the organization taking advantage of the individual, is that in this stepping stone idea, the individual may be taking advantage of a situation with the organization. With the ongoing need for experience over qualifications, how else is someone expected to gain this experience? Let’s be real honest, the organizations aren’t solely to blame here (i.e. businesses are run to make money not lose it). How many unpaid internship programs exist across the country on the merits of experience, which in of itself is the same problem argument. I just recently had a discussion with a sports coach who mentioned “how many interns actually get offered a job at the organization they intern at?” I don’t happen to know this answer but I’d say the statistics are probably less than an athlete getting drafted. So at least with a 10k paid assistant role you get the title on your resume for the pleasure of being taken advantage of financially. Now I know someone will say interns don’t carry the same responsibilities, but if internships are valued at $0 (and they typically do the dirty work), what do you expect the next level to be? Is it then unsurprising that given demand, organizations can get the cheapest available work. After all, these organizations are run by business minded people, trained with the mindset of maximizing their organizations output while minimizing their underlying.
ENTITLEMENT & VALUE:
I wrote back in 2019 – no one is entitled to anything and this still remains true. You can have 200 letters after your name and that doesn’t mean you’re going to be the top dog in an organization paid thousands upon thousands. The same should be said for those getting into the industry, you may have an idea of what you wish to be paid, but the unfortunate reality is organizations aren’t going to print money for a position that they know is driven by a number of desperate candidates. Additionally to those accepting these low salaries, they either believe this is the best they can get given the circumstances (in light of excess demand) or this is equivalent to what they consider their individual value (i.e. the experience gained outweighs the monetary value). The morality behind all of this really becomes a discussion of value, which reminded me of this story that I recently posted:
I honestly didn’t expect this tweet to gain the traction that it did. However, the message contained is probably the most important one that I can think of when it comes to this discussion of pay. The reason why I believe this story is important is twofold. The first is that you must understand your own value and secondly you must have a way to present that value to the right people. In doing so this will allow you to find a place in which your value will be seen and you will be compensated accordingly (or at least should be in a perfect world). To the people accepting these undervalued positions, there is obvious inherent value (or they wouldn’t accept the position). To the organizations posting these positions there is a determination of value (which is seen as undervalued by the S&C community).
Herein is the problem. How does an organization determine value? I see arguments that “organizations are willing to pay $$$ millions to Y athletes, why don’t they pay an S&C 5% of that”. The answer is pretty logical. The key stakeholders in an organization can easily describe the role of the athlete and have a way to define impact (through their performance metrics and contribution to success, amongst other things). Therefore they determine a return on their investment and place strict value in individual(s) knowing the role they can perform. Sadly, unlike the athlete, I’m not sure that organizations have this same knowledge in regard to S&C.
More oftentimes than not these job postings are at organizations with embedded strength and conditioning staffs. What are these people doing internally to justify (and potentially sign off on) these low salaried positions? I don’t profess to have all the right answers here, but for me it comes down to how we define success in S&C. Perhaps it should be the S&C coaches responsibility to drive this conversation and demonstrate success if there is ever hope of changing the value placed on this sector.
DEFINING SUCCESS IN S&C:
Too often I see success determined through wins and losses. They must be high performers because they won the championship. While S&C played its part, it doesn’t necessarily mean that organization had a successful campaign in terms of S&C delivery. Perhaps other areas of the performance paradigm outweighed those of other areas? Simply put wins are nice, championships and rings are nice, but they shouldn’t be the underlying definition to S&C success. Additionally, let’s be honest no owner, GM or head coach is really going to be thinking that was largely due to S&C. So our expectation of impact likely also needs to reflect that too. Wins are nice – but ultimately we are losing as a profession by allowing these undervalued positions to exist and letting these losses define value.
I have talked to a number of fellow S&C colleagues and other coaches regarding this topic and have attempted to amalgamate these discussions and my own thoughts into the following means of defining success in S&C.
START WITH THE KEY STAKEHOLDERS
Start first by understanding what the organization’s key stakeholders value as contributors to success for S&C. Ask, what they define as success, and what roles/duties they envisage that would lead to that successful outcome. This may seem a little backwards at first but it’s a good starting point. For those going for S&C jobs, this is a question you should be asking within the interview setting to gauge how much this organization knows and values about your position. For those already in a job, you should be walking up to your superiors and setting up this meeting. One can only think of value if they are asked to reflect on what value means to them. Once defined a route to success is then delineated as this means either the organization has a clear understanding of what they want for the position to be successful, or they have no idea in which you then can define it for them.
This is the first test of the water in my opinion. It may be likely that you will get some superficial answers. Get athletes fit enough to compete, make guys more robust, train them effectively etc etc… This is purely speculative but perhaps those organizations with more specific definitions of success are those that value the role more and in turn offer more compensation. However, that aside it’s important to determine how the organization defines success for the S&C role. Do not be surprised when people with little to no existing knowledge of S&C can’t really define success in the role or even properly describe duties. As such it falls on you (the S&C) to bring definable successes to the table. How many of us are guilty for accepting a position and not having this conversation of how to be successful within your role. If we really think about value, being set up for success rather than failure is going to create positive value long term.
PERFORM YOUR NEEDS ANALYSIS
The needs analysis is a means to identify gaps / areas of improvement in which an S&C coach can lend themselves to. This also is a way for the S&C coach to demonstrate their subject matter knowledge and also document identifiable areas in which they aim to target, with associated goals that can be revisited at various stages within the season/year. This creates a means of discussion with key stakeholders in terms of what you plan on doing within your role and how you plan to do it. The needs analysis can serve as a bridge for educating those who may have less clarity on what a strength and conditioning coach actually does, as it can be a road map of all the things related to the duties of the S&C. This also provides a number of actionable targets that are predetermined, upon review these targets can be discussed and highlighting when met. I have provided in a means of a framework to conduct the needs analysis in a separate post:
Given one of the examples above; “get athletes fit enough to compete” the S&C coach can approach this as a headline question and begin to break it down into more questions with the potential of measurable components. Firstly, what does it mean to be “fit enough”?. This could be incorporating a physical test(s) that looks to examine a physical capacity related to the sport (for physiological derived outcome sports this could be the competition itself). This could then be compared to existing information in the sport that may be readily available online or within the scientific literature (i.e. a comparison to normative values within this test in the same or similar populations vs non-athletic populations). The S&C coach can then implement a training program and retest these qualities and provide feedback to the key stakeholders in an attempt to show an outcome in relation to their definition of success. Though the above example is acceptable in an attempt to answer the organization’s definition of success. It is a little simplistic and does not demonstrate the true skills of the S&C who designed, implemented, coached and adjusted a program in an attempt to improve the athlete(s) involved. However, my point being from this is, how many coaches have a program that “just works” without any objective information to demonstrate it actually works?
Again per the example above the S&C coach is primarily responsible for the physical qualities of the athlete(s) they are coaching and therefore should be measuring those qualities that are related to the sport. In some cases these measures may be obtained from tests that act as physical surrogate measures of performance with the sport. Performance may also be measured directly in the sport – though this may be more complex (especially in the team sports setting). However, on the road to defining success, the S&C coach should likely have a system in place that looks to demonstrate improvements in physical qualities and as such should be testing them. But this actually means going beyond just testing, implementing a training program, retesting and showing someone some results. But demonstrating some important knowledge around the process of testing itself (think: define your success + increase your value).
In this above example we create a simplified framework in which an S&C coach can go beyond just that of implementing a performance test and a training program. This is to provide a means to think deeper about the S&C role and embrace “the science in sport”. Per the framework a number of projects can be designed and implemented, which both improve the organization’s delivery and the ability to measure and evaluate training processes related to the S&C role itself. The considerations are important here as there are numerous questions, projects and definiables that can be demonstrated in this area alone. For example, if an organization recently acquired a new timing system for their speed based testing. The S&C coach could coordinate a project in which the old system (for sake of this example let’s go with hand timing) can be compared to the new laser timing system. The S&C coach could then set up a test-retest project (say 1 week apart) to then determine the measurement error associated between the old and new devices and with testing an athlete within a period of 7-days between (in which likely changes in true speed shouldnt occur). This error can then form a means of assessing whether this system is more reliable than the old system and what change is needed to identify a real change in performance during this test. The S&C coach could then create another project in which they look to assess the most effective warm up strategy to increase sprint times for this example. This would not only begin to assess the sensitivity of the test but also may inform best practice when it comes to warming up for speed based conditioning or competitive elements in practice. This is a simple example, but one that is highly effective in demonstrating success beyond that of sets and reps.
This not only demonstrates the ability to coordinate a project, but also shows that the new timing system (an investment from the organization) has a valid utility and a means to assess whether the S&C coach is making improvements in relation to their training programs. Additionally this approach helps with process based decision making (due to the nature of evaluation) and can further expand beyond the realms of just S&C (for example this data may then be used in relation to competitive performance based data and better impact decision making processes).
Other considerations for measurables are those collected during the training process itself. This means having a system to which your programs are saved, presentable and accessible. It also means documenting simple stuff like sets, reps, loads lifted, times, distances etc.. (those things should be S&C 101). But also attempting to identify what the next layer of response is. Whether that’s creating a research justification for VBT measurement device as a next purchase order. Or attempting to implement subjective monitoring within your programs (e.g. RPE and RIR). Documenting and communicating specific important conversations with athletes in the weightroom that pertain to performance related outcomes (e.g. an athlete reports their knee hurts, or are feeling more tired than usual – make a note and date it for reference). These notes can then be sent in addition to the modifications you may have made to your program to specific individuals (i.e. head of sports medicine or a coach) to create further feedback loops.
Another thought towards this (especially in the professional sports environment) is documenting training compliance and frequency. There are likely cases of those athlete(s) who perhaps shy away from the S&C side of things within the organization. The S&C coach tasked with improving this athlete’s compliance, may form a great relationship with the athlete and get the athlete engaged in the training process. A simple log of attendance can be used to demonstrate success within this process. The relationship would remain unmeasurable in the eyes of the organization however, showing an increase in training compliance not only demonstrates that the athlete is completing workout, but attest to the ability of the S&C coach to engage with a “difficult situation” and create a successful outcome. This feedback also works conversely were an athlete may not engage in the process, this would also be good knowledge for key stakeholders to know, as they make personal decisions (i.e. this athlete may not have good character for the group.
ANALYSIS, FEEDBACK AND REPORTING
Another place the S&C can begin to define success is how they analyze and feedback what they are doing. It’s no surprise that organizations have no idea how to value S&C when they don’t see anything or very little related to the S&C process.
In relation to the previously discussed testing example. The S&C coach should use statistical methods when presenting data so that tests and the outcomes of programming can be evaluated and feedback created. There are numerous examples of how to create these reports. But a starting point again would be going to the key stakeholders and asking them in relation to the information how would they like to see the data. Some may be satisfied with a table of results. Others may need engaging visuals with interactive data. Others may not give a damn. The point is find this out first then create the report. Report for the individuals wants and needs not what you think they want and need.
Another important consideration in feedback is how often does a S&C coach send a program to a key stakeholder? (the answer is probably not often – after all they have bigger and better things to do). But why shy away from this? Potentially this is a missed opportunity to create more feedback to demonstrate subject domain expertise within S&C. Simply this comes back to optimizing the needs analysis process. I have identified an area and here is what I am going to do to improve it (my program). Here is how I am going to measure it (my performance test outline). Which eventually leads to the sending of the performance test report (the outcomes).
Accessible and presentable information is another step to creating and demonstrating value (think how marketing works). It may sound cliche, but if you demonstrate pride in your visuals it will speak volumes about yourself and likely lead to a more successful perception. There is a reason huge businesses have marketing and public engagement teams. As a S&C coach every program and report is a representation of you. So make sure everything is formatted immaculately and the information is clear. Remember the key stakeholders likely lack knowledge in the area of S&C therefore the reports should reflect that (and verbal clarity provided).
COLLABORATION / GETTING OUT OF YOUR SILO
Collaboration is an organizational way of determining success. Not just the “soft skills” of being a good teammate and communicator. But also helping others in their line of work.
A question to ask is what have you done to enhance the abilities of someone else? (the answer is another measurable way to define success to a key stakeholder).
On that note a low hanging fruit area in which an S&C coach can demonstrate success is that of engagement within the return to play injury process. The S&C can assist in the development of criterias that help guide progressions through the injury return process. The S&C will also eventually take a lead role in the return to training and competition process as the athlete progresses. Again a simple yet underutilized area whereby constant evaluation can be provided on how processes are attempted to be enhanced. This in turn can be used with re-injury rate statistics and monitoring measures that look to ensure the athlete is kept on track as they continue to perform.
In addition to this an indirect measure of the S&C coaches success can be that of player availability in training and competition. A historical overview of the availability for the team and each individual athlete can be compared in relation to the current work done. Additionally the team’s injury rate can be compared to league norms in an attempt to evaluate whether the team is above or below what is expected. This is a crude measure (not one that should be an ultimatum of success) however it identifies whether processes are effective or not. It is also something that is of the ultimate importance for key stakeholders as time loss due to injury can be a financial burden. Therefore this again attempts to bridge the gap of how success can be demonstrated and importance given to S&C processes.
Other considerations are helping with the physical elements of drill designs with player development and practice drills. Too often S&C coaches refine themselves to the weightroom, not engaging in conversations beyond this domain (don’t forget “conditioning” coach). Given the rise in technology to monitor training in sport the objective nature of this data collected could be used to evaluate the “tweaks” in drills that an S&C coach can suggest to enhance the physical nature of the drill. Again this engages in collaboration likely with a sport scientist and/or coach while also having information to demonstrate change. Such information could also be combined with coach subjective feedback of performance of an individual athlete(s) within the training session and competition to provide further means of establishing performance impact.
In this post I have attempted to discuss the issue of value in S&C and tried to highlight some concepts that can be used to define success in the role. I would be interested to see comments on this article or broader discussion to expand these out further.
Unfortunately we are in a time where demand outweighs supply in sport and as such organizations will take a punt on the cheapest (and potentially younger and eager talent) that they can get. The other thing to consider is that it is unlikely that this person taking the 10k job is an all star in the field. They might become one and potentially this is a brief stepping stone to get there. The organization itself gains a body. To which there could be a ton of developmental opportunities or they could be being used as a body. That is not for us to say and it’s for the individual to decide if they are valued or not. There will always be a place that values you.
What we can do as a S&C community is better define our success, measure it and make it well known to the key stakeholders of organizations. Only then can things change and even then they may not.
DEFINE YOUR SUCCESS:
- Understand the organizations definition of success in S&C (plug identifiable gaps with the ways below)
- Perform your needs analysis, identify your targets, perform and reflect
- Create measurables for identified targets and provide means to evaluate your programming and duties
- Demonstrate domain expertise and project knowledge that improves the organization
- Demonstrate collaboration and enhance the abilities of others to conduct their role
PLEASE ADD COMMENTS BELOW TO CONTRIBUTE TO THIS DISCUSSION – OR REPLY TO THE TWITTER THREAD