Athletic Development – Defining the Field


What is strength and conditioning? What is strength and conditioning coach? As far as I can tell there is not much consensus. I have seen many strength coaches who never leave the weight room because they view themselves as just that, strength coaches. If that is all that is expected I guess that is fine. Is it personal training? Is that what the profession is? To achieve consensus we must define the field; currently it is all over the map. There is much confusion, there needs to be consistent direction and purpose. Coaching is definitely not personal training; there is a clear distinction between personal training and coaching. Personal attention is certainly part of coaching, but coaching implies a long term commitment on the part of the coach and the athlete. At present the field is called Strength and Conditioning. It is a field that evolved out of American football in the 1970’s, although there were some notable strength coaches in the fifties and sixties. They were just that, strength coaches. Unfortunately many people have found out the hard way that what is appropriate for football does often transfer well to other sports. It is very easy to see that influence even today, because the term strength and conditioning evokes an image of training two separate qualities. It sends the wrong message. Strength and conditioning are part of a much bigger picture. That big picture is developing the complete athlete to be at their physical best and stay injury free in their chosen sport. A broader more descriptive term that evokes the goal is athletic development. The goal is to train all the components of athleticism to the degree required by the sport that the athlete participates in. The athletic development coach is part of a performance team. A well qualified athletic development coach usually makes a good leader of a performance team because they a good perspective on the big picture. The very nature of their job demands that they be the consummate generalist.
The Athletic Development coach is a coach and they should be accorded the same professional courtesy and respect as the actual sport coaches, but that respect must be earned. The only way it can be earned is if everyone works to more clearly define their roles. It demands getting out of the weight room, broadening your horizons to incorporate training all athletic qualities. The evolution of the role of the Athletic Trainer (ATC) in the US should serve a good model. The certified athletic trainer has certainly evolved into much more valued and prestigious position than it was 40 years ago. They have done that by professionalizing and defining their field. The athletic development coach must do the same. The athletic development coach must develop a skill set that offers a precise blend of what to coach and how to coach skills. All the technical knowledge in the world is for naught if the information cannot be imparted to the athlete in a format and style that they can use. In essence it is what you do with what you know.
Athletic Development is defined as the process of evaluating and training all the components of athleticism according to the demands of the sports and the qualities of the individual athlete. It is based on the understanding that athleticism is the ability to perform athletic movements (run, jump, and throw) at optimum speed with precision style and grace. This is clearly more than strength and conditioning. It is not necessary to make it complicated to define a profession, in fact the simpler the better. Simplicity yields complexity. Give the body credit, it is smart. Good training takes advantage of the wisdom of the body.
The Athletic Development coach is part of a much bigger picture. They are a cog in the wheel of the whole development and training process. They are support staff and should remember that. Keep things in balance. Do not claim credit for wins unless you will to accept blame for losses. Stay in the background; focus on the job of making the athletes better. The best self promotion is a job well done.
How should Athletic Development coaches be evaluated? Athletic development coaches should be evaluated based on their ability to train the qualities of athleticism. Unfortunately because the strength & conditioning has been so closely tied to football, the strength coaches’ evaluation is often tied to wins and loses. This is unfortunate and another reason that there needs to be a paradigm shift toward athletic development. The Athletic Development coach should be judged on the improvement and refinement of the physical qualities of the athletes they are working with. There are standards of professional behavior that must be upheld regardless of the field of coaching, that is a given. Evaluation will become much more objective when the field is clearly defined.

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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Vern Gambetta

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