When you are looking to hire a performance specialist what do you look for? Where should you look? The most logical first step is to define what the performance specialist is. Usually the performance specialist is known as a strength coach or a strength and conditioning specialist. I am not sure that these two terms are accurate descriptions of what a performance specialist needs to do is in today’s changing job market. The name is important because words create images and images create action. Therefore the name should describe the job as accurately and succinctly as possible. The job title “Strength Coach” limits the scope of the job. It conjures up an image of someone who never leaves the weight room, when in fact this individual is in all probability is going to be asked to be many places and wear many hats, sometimes all at the same time! To call this person a strength and conditioning coach also creates an inaccurate image. It artificially separates strength and conditioning when in fact strength is a facet of conditioning. In order to advance this new profession(A profession crying out for definition) we need to have a more accurate term for this position. The athlete requires a total conditioning program with strength training as an integral part of the conditioning program. As a step toward this I propose that we call this individual a Sport Performance Professional (SPP). Sports performance specifically describes the individual’s goal and professional denotes that this is the person’s profession. That is how they make their living. That is what they are trained to do.
With this in mind and the consideration that this is a relatively new field, approximately twenty-five to thirty years old, lets look at a step-by-step process to go about hiring a Sports Performance Professional. The first step is to clearly define the job the person will be expected to perform. Will this person be expected to work with all sports or will this be a position that only works with selected sports? Who is this person accountable to? Is this chain of command and organizational structure clearly defined? Is this an existing position or a new position? This can be a significant factor in the hiring process. If it is a new program whomever the person that is hired will define the job. If it is an existing position the new person will in all probability need to have a degree of flexibility to fit into an existing situation with established guidelines and procedures. As far as I am concerned this is more than a job description. If it is a new position look more at what you want the job to be and find an individual that will define their roles and responsibilities in that position. Remember that this person is much more important that than facilities or equipment so it necessary to allocate finances accordingly in order to hire the best individual possible. A good coach will have a system that is adaptable to the athletes they work with not the other way around. If this person is being hired by the trainer (ATC) how much will the SPP be involved with rehab and reconditioning the injured athletes? Will this person have a staff to help or will they be by themselves? Also consider the bottom line- how much can you pay? These are all questions that must be answered in detail before the hiring process is begun.
The biggest question is determining qualifications because the most important and overriding consideration is experience. Does the person have experience in a coaching environment, much less as a SPP. Personal training is not coaching. Coaching involves long term planning and commitment. It demands the ability to work with groups and to organize in a time constrained setting. It involves motivation and communication with a variety of people, some of whom may not be particularly interested in being there. It also involves working closely with sport coaches. Some of these coaches may have very different ideas about conditioning their athletes. In short experience in a coaching environment is the experience that is most needed.
One of the big problems that I have found in the hiring process is how do you assess experience? What constitutes experience? If the person has been coaching for ten years has that person had one experience ten times or ten different experiences. I personally would prefer the latter. In talking to several of my colleagues who are Division I head S&C coaches this is also the biggest consideration they weigh in hiring people. They would rather have someone who has coached Little League than someone who has no coaching experience or was a weight room supervisor or a personal trainer. Their reasoning is that this person has been on the firing line in an actual coaching situation and has a better command of the whole picture.
I get calls all the time from young people just starting out who want advice about how to get Division I or professional jobs in this field. Without exception I advise them to gain experience at the high school level, as this is a true test of their coaching abilities as well as a great foundation. This is where the premium is on teaching and where you will see a great difference of abilities. At this level you will have to innovate and motivate to get the job done. This will provide the experiences necessary at higher levels of sport.
What about internships? How do you weigh them in the experience context? Where was the internship – there are certain internships that I definitely weigh higher than others. You must ask what exactly did the internship entail? Was there program planning and actual supervision and training of athletes involved? Also from the point of view of the job seeker is an internship a valuable time spent as a step toward getting a fulltime position or are you just free labor?