The strength and conditioning of athletes in collegiate football began in 1960s at the University of Nebraska. From this beginning, the profession has come to be seen as a universally accepted practice at the Division I-A level, with virtually every program employing someone in the capacity of strength and conditioning coach (SCC). The contributions of the strength and conditioning professional are believed by many to be the most significant factor in the improvement in the overall quality of athletic performance in collegiate football witnessed over the past 40 years (1,5).
Because of the proliferation of SCC at Division I, the research has focused primarily on this population, particularly emphasizing the sport of football (6,7,8,9,11). As pointed out by Layden (5), although strength coaches may be responsible for the fitness of a school's athletes in all sports, it is football that consumes their time and measures their worth. Most of this research has been descriptive and antidotal in nature, concentrating on the SCCs' educational level, certifications, experience, qualifications, job requirements, salary, and demographic characteristics. (3,4,6,9-13,15,16). These investigations have also had a tendency to concentrate on program factors such as quality and quantity of facilities, staffing issues, budget, and administrative policies.
Other research has focused on the more nuanced and subtle aspects of the SCC job duties. Brooks et al. (2) investigated leadership behavior, roles, and job responsibilities of both head and assistant SCCs at the Division I-A level. For the leadership variables identified, no differences were found between the 2 groups. These variables consisted of training and education, democratic behavior, reward behavior and positive feedback, and social support. Head SCC were found to spend more time on administrative functions than assistants. The typical SCC was reported to be white, approximately 31 years of age, and to have been a collegiate athlete, most predominantly participating in the sports of football or track.
Massey et al. (7) analyzed the teaching and coaching behaviors of 6 elite Division I-A football SCC. The coaches were observed using systematic observation techniques. The data analysis from this investigation was reported as percentages of the observed coaching behaviors. The behaviors observed most frequently were silent monitoring (21.99%) management (14.62%), and hustles (11.12%). These results indicated that this population of SCC predominantly engaged in observation of their athletes (silent monitoring), organization of the weight training activity (management), and verbal statements to intensify effort (hustles). The results were similar to studies conducted previously with coaches in individual rather than team sports.
Massey et al. (8), in another investigation, conducted a job analysis with 6 Division I-A football SCC. Three questionnaires were used for data gathering purposes. The questionnaires were supplemented by a semistructured interview to more thoroughly explore the issues raised by the questionnaires. The research focused on these coaches' perceptions concerning their profession, job responsibilities, work environment, relationships with supervisors, fellow coaches and athletes, and how their chosen profession affected their relationships with spouses and family members.
Although research has been conducted at the Division I level for SCC, no relevant research has been conducted on SCC at the Division II level. Because of this circumstance and the prior research emphasis on Division I football SCC, a study was conceived to focus on this population. Consequently, this study concentrated on ascertaining the demographic characteristics, job satisfaction, major job duties and responsibilities, work environment, relationships with fellow coaches and administrators, and relationships with family members of Division II football SCC.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
Because of the nature of this inquiry, the survey method was chosen for the collection of data. A questionnaire, based on the work of Massey et al. (8), was modified to meet the parameters and specifications of this investigation. Because the questionnaire was a modified version of one used in a pervious investigation, a pilot study and the Delphi method were used to ensure the content validity of the instrument (8,17).
The population of this study consisted of Division II football SCC at NCAA member institutions. These institutions were identified through the official NCAA website, which lists member schools that participate at the various classifications of the organization. From the website, it was determined there were 155 institutions that participate at the Division II level. Mailings were then initiated to the prospective strength and conditioning professionals at these institutions. Permission for the use of human subjects was obtained before the investigation.
The initial mailing consisted of the questionnaire with instructions for its completion and submission and an introductory cover letter. A self-addressed, stamped envelope was also included in the mailing so the strength and conditioning professional could return the questionnaire to the researchers upon completion. An additional option was available in which the SCC could submit the questionnaire online. A website, www.strengthcoachsurvey.com, was established for this purpose. Eight subjects decided to use this method. Ten days after the initial mailing, a second mailing consisting of a postcard stressing the importance of the subject's participation and respectfully requesting they return the questionnaire at their earliest convenience was sent to potential participants who had not responded to the initial mailing.
Approximately 3 weeks later, a third mailing was sent that included a follow-up letter, a second questionnaire, and an additional self-addressed, stamped envelope. This was sent to the remaining participants who had not responded to the 2 pervious mailings. At 7 weeks, phone calls were initiated to the remaining institutions on the list. If a strength and conditioning professional could not be identified, phone calls were made to either the athlete director or the head football coach to determine who, if anyone, occupied this position. Upon contact, if the SCC agreed to participate, an additional cover letter, questionnaire, and self-addressed, stamped envelope was mailed to them. From these efforts, a total of 63 questionnaires were received.
Through the questionnaires and phone contacts, it was determined that 13 institutions had no designated SCC and used various configurations to fulfill this function. These included having the strength and conditioning role carried out by committee, having these duties assumed on a rotating basis, and having each position coach assume responsibility for the training of the respective athletes under their supervision. Six programs used graduate assistants in the role of SCC. These subjects were eliminated from the study because of the ambiguity of their status and expertise. In addition, the phone contacts ascertained that 3 of the schools contacted had moved up to Division I, 1 school had moved down to Division III, and 1 school had dropped football altogether. Of course, these schools were excluded from the investigation as well. These efforts yielded information from 87 institutions, making the overall response rate for the investigation approximately 56%.
Results and Discussion
Complete demographic data gleaned from these participants can be found in Table 1. All 63 SCC who submitted questionnaires in this investigation were male. Forty-one or almost two thirds were married (65.08%), whereas 21 were single (33.33%). One coach was divorced (1.59%). The old adage that coaching is a young man's profession appears to be very appropriate to this population. The mean age of this congregate was 34.1 years. When breaking down these coaches' ages by decade, 19 coaches were found to be in their 20s, with an additional 25 being in their 30s. However, as this aggregation moves into their fifth decade of life, the number of SCC remaining in the profession drops dramatically. Just 7 subjects were between the ages of 40 and 50, and only 4 were older than 50. No SCC in this investigation was older than 55.
Not only was this group comparatively young, correspondingly, their years in the coaching profession were also limited. Forty, or almost two thirds, of the subjects responding to this survey had 10 years or less of coaching experience (63.49%). Of these, 13 had less than 5 years experience (20.63%). At the other end of the spectrum, only 4 of these individuals had greater than 20 years of coaching experience (6.35%).
Low job stability, low salary, and the high physical and psychological demands of the job could explain this population's relative youth and inexperience. A major goal identified by some of these participants was to move to a more prestigious job. Coaching at the Division II level for many of these coaches is probably not an end in itself but a stepping stone to a higher level within the coaching profession. Inevitably, some of these individuals will have this opportunity.
Others who do not have this contingency or who do not want to follow this career path may at some point desire to lessen their job demands and work responsibilities. Some wishing to remain in the coaching ranks may seek a high school teaching or coaching position. Others seeking a less hectic pace may leave the occupation altogether. Although not specifically stated by these SCC, the possibility of job burnout was suggested by many of this group's comments. Certainly, those conditions that have been identified as contributing to this phenomenon among coaching populations were evident in this study (14). Of course, as with any vocation, the reasons people drop out are always many and varied.
Another well-accepted premise when it comes to coaching is that, if you want to be in the profession, you have to be prepared to move frequently. The maxim that coaches are hired to be fired suggests this line of thinking. The next 2 variables appear to bear this out. Even taking into consideration these coaches' limited years of service, their years at their present positions were surprisingly low. Twenty-nine, or almost half, of those surveyed had held their present position for 2 years or less (46.03%), whereas 18 had been in their positions between 3 and 5 years (28.57%). When combined, these 2 categories accounted for 74.60% of the SCC surveyed.
Notwithstanding their brief time in the profession and tenure in their current jobs, these coaches as a group moved at a high rate. Although 11.11% of these coaches had never moved, 77.77% had moved between 1 and 5 times during their career, with 44.44% having moved between 3 and 5 times. A third, or 33.33%, had moved 1 to 2 times. Approximately 11% had moved as many as 6 to 10 times.
Fifty-six of the coaches reported their salary ranged from between $20,000 to $50,000 a year (88.89%). Only 7 of the coaches disclosed making more than $50,000 a year (11.11%). The most frequently cited category was in the $30,000 to $40,000 a year range. Subjects selected this response 27 times (42.86%). One coach indicated a salary between $10,000 and $20,000 a year (1.59%), and 2 claimed making less than $10,000 a year (3.17%). In a recent study involving Division I-A SCC, the average salary was found to be between $50,000 to $60,000 a year. When comparing these 2 data sets, it would appear that division I-A SCC made on average $10,000 to $30,000 more than their Division II counterparts (7). Salary ranges for all groups can be found in Table 2.
As for education level, 27 SCC had obtained their bachelors degree (42.85%), and 33 had attained a masters (52.38%). The highest degree obtained by the SCC in this investigation was a doctorate, with 3 coaches achieving this distinction (4.76%). As for acquiring a certification in the strength and conditioning field, 24 SCC had obtained some type of certification, whereas 39 had not. The most common certifications were the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified distinction through the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, and certification through the USA Weightlifting Association. Nine of these coaches indicated having dual certifications, and 3 reported having obtained multiple certifications. The certifications identified by these SCC are listed in Table 3.
Job Duties and Responsibilities
The day for these SCC typically begins at 6:00 am during both the in-season and off-season. During the in-season, these SCC worked an average of 75 hours a week as opposed to 64 hours a week in the off-season. In most cases, these subjects did not function solely as SCCs but usually wore multiple hats, having varied and multiple job responsibilities. Only 9 SCC served solely as an SCC. The rest of this population had some combination of job duties and roles they were required to assume. The most frequently identified primary work responsibility in addition to being a SCC was that of assistant football coach, with 46 subjects serving in this capacity.
In addition to the assistant football coach role, 6 SCC had the affiliated position of assistant/associate head coach. Seven were designated as defensive coordinators on their football teams, whereas 2 served as offensive coordinators. Two of the SCC even served as a head coach for another sport within the athletic department. In addition to his SCC duties, 1 coach was also an assistant/associate athletic director. Another SCC served in the capacity of athletic trainer. Three fulfilled the role of recruiting coordinator. Twenty-six participants performed strength and conditioning services for multiple sports. Major job duties and responsibilities for this population are highlighted in Table 4.
Related to these primary work responsibilities, the major job activities associated with these responsibilities were identified for both the in-season and off-season portions of the year. In-season, the most frequently participated in activities were football practice and weight training for football. Forty coaches each indicated engaging in these activities. Thirty-four coaches were involved in daily staff meetings to discuss issues relevant to game preparations. Thirty-two engaged in film study of upcoming opponents and evaluation of practice tapes of their own personnel. Twenty-nine conducted daily player meetings. Twenty spent a portion of their time developing practice plans and schedules.
Nineteen SCC conducted training for sports other than football during the in-season portion of their year. Twelve listed office work not related to other football or strength and conditioning responsibilities. Ten were involved in game plan preparation. Nine taught an academic class, and 9 were involved in some type of preparation in regard to their strength and conditioning duties. Other less-frequently performed in-season work activities mentioned included recruiting, weight room maintenance, class preparation, overseeing study hall, administrative duties, athletic training duties, and supervision of the campus recreation center.
As one might expect, the priority and emphasis on work activities during the off-season was different than for the in-season. Weight training for football was by far the most prevalent activity for these SCC during this time of year, with 53 subjects indicating their participation. This activity occurred almost twice as frequently as the next most frequently occurring work activity, which was the performance of administrative duties. Administrative duties were cited by 28 of the SCC in the investigation. Twenty-three SCC participated in daily staff meetings during the off-season. Nineteen reported that recruiting activities consumed a larger segment of their time during the off-season then was the case in-season.
Eighteen coaches maintained involvement in organizational tasks related to their strength and conditioning duties. Fourteen SCC provided training for other sports. Eleven SCC taught an academic class during the off-season. Ten specifically asserted conducting and overseeing the running and conditioning program for the football team. Other lower-tallied activities mentioned by this group included film study, cleaning and maintaining the weight room, class preparation, other football-related activities not previously categorized, conducting meetings with players, supervision of study hall, and oversight of athletes' academic progress.
Job Satisfaction Data
Although the coaches in this investigation reported some job frustration, the overall level of job satisfaction was substantial. Fifty-three SCC indicated they were satisfied with their current position (84.13%), with 35 having high job satisfaction (55.56%) and 18 indicating very high satisfaction (28.57%). The job frustrations centered around the issues of low pay, high stress, and a desire to move to a more prestigious job. The majority of the coaches believed their chosen career made a positive contribution to their lives, with 48 selecting high or very high on this item (77.42%). Some of these coaches' comments included, “This is the job for me;” “The job is my life;” and “The job gives me purpose.”
Forty-seven coaches perceived high or very high levels of autonomy and control in their current positions (75.80%). They overwhelmingly believed they made a positive contribution to their team's overall success, with 56 selecting either the high or very high category (88.89%). Thirty-two, or approximately 50%, provided a very high response to the item. One coach stated, “If I want it done, it gets done.” Another proclaimed, “It's my room. I control who goes in and out and what they do.” A third shared, “I have a lot of control as long as I show results.”
These coaches also derived meaningful satisfaction from their contributions. When the top 2 categories were combined, this accounted for 56 of the coaches in the survey (88.89%). Comments on this variable included, “To see the development both physically and mentally of the student athlete is irreplaceable;” and “It feels good knowing you played even a small part in helping someone win.” Forty-four coaches reported they found their jobs stressful (70.97%). Fourteen indicated very high levels of stress (22.58%), whereas 30 stated their stress level was high (48.39%). Fourteen regarded their stress on the job as average (22.58%).
Forty-five coaches reported experiencing significant time pressures in their job and often believed they had more than they could do (71.42%). Twenty-eight had very high levels of perceived time pressure (44.44%), whereas 17 recorded a high response to this item (26.98%). Several expressed sentiments that captured their perspective. One coach responded, “In Division II we wear too many different hats.” A second coach carried this contention a step further saying, “There are additional things I want to implement but wearing different hats throughout the day makes it very difficult to do.” A third coach summed up his perception of the time pressure he experienced by asserting, “I work 75 hours a week and still have things to do.”
These SCC surprisingly believed they had at least some measure of security in their current position despite, as a group, experiencing frequent moves and job changes. Sixty-one coaches rated this item either very high, high, or average (96.83%). Very high was the most frequent response, at 29 (46.03%) SCC. However, these SCC recognized that, even in the best of situations their positions might be tenuous. One SCC put it very succinctly responding, “You never know.” Another stated, “In the field of coaching there really is no security at all.” In replying directly to the SCC dilemma, one SCC declared, “If they believe you are part of the problem the SCC is in jeopardy too.”
When asked how often they thought about coaching at another school, 21 considered this possibility high or very high (33.87%), 25 considered it at an average rate (40.32%), and 16 considered the possibility low or very low (25.80%). When queried about leaving the profession, 35 of the coaches pondered this eventuality at low or very low levels (56.45%), and 13 gave it an average response (20.97%). Only 14 coaches considered leaving the profession at high or very high frequencies (22.58%).
When questioned on how often they considered leaving the strength and conditioning field for another specific profession, 26 SCC considered this a very low possibility (41.94%). Eight coaches were low on their contemplation of this option (12.90%), and 18 were average on the item (29.03%). Seven subjects chose the high category (11.29%), and only 3 thought about this possibility at a very high frequency (4.84%). Most of the coaches' comments centered on their love of the profession and not being interested in doing anything else. Of those SCC who did contemplate a career move, the most common alternatives were athletic administration, teaching at the high school level, or finding a full-time college teaching position.
The highest-rated item in the survey had to do with the satisfaction these SCC derived from their relationships with their players. All the coaches revealed they received either very high, high, or average satisfaction from these relationships. Sixty coaches, or 95.24%, were in the high or very high categories, with 40 coaches choosing the very high (63.49%) response. The low or very low categories received no responses. This finding corresponded to similar data on Division I-A football SCC (9).
Reflections made by these SCC were very illustrative as to the significance they placed on these relationships. Some of these were, “The kids here are great;” “Getting to work with all of the players is what I enjoy most about the job;” and “It‘s the best part of my job and what I look most forward too.” Two observations particularly encapsulated the sensibilities of this group. These were, “I may be hard on these kids but they know they can come to me for anything;” and “There is a strong bond because I treat them like adults and not kids. I actually care about how they perform.” Another SCC clarified his relationship with his athletes by saying, “I love all of them unless they don't work hard.”
These subjects expressed a similar attitude about their level of satisfaction in relationships with their fellow coaches, with all choosing the very high, high, or average categories (100%). Again, no SCC opted for the low or very low responses to this question. A nearly identical result was found for their relationships with immediate supervisors, with 61 being in the very high, high, or average category (96.82%). One SCC each chose low and very low in conjunction with this item. Fifty-four SCC asserted high or very high confidence in approaching their immediate supervisor with problems or concerns (87.09%).
When responding to their level of satisfaction with administrators, 15 had very high satisfaction (23.81%), 22 reported high satisfaction (34.92%), 12 average satisfaction (19.05%), 9 low satisfaction (14.29%), and 5 received very low satisfaction from these relationships (7.94%). No other item in the survey elicited such a strong response from these coaches. Remarks included, “They are not educated on how to run a weight room;” “They don't understand what it takes to have a winning football program;” and “Most were never involved in athletics or strength and conditioning and have no real understanding of what is happening.” Another SCC crisply stated, “Sometimes they get in the way.”
Thirty-four SCC maintained that their job interfered with family life at high or very high levels (60.72%). Fifteen indicated average interference (26.79%), and 7 indicated low interference (12.50). No SCC selected very low for this item. When asked whether their spouse believed their job ever interfered with family life, 25 SCC rated it high or very high (60.98%), and 13 rated their spouse's perception of work interference as average (31.70%). Nonetheless, 38 SCC determined their spouse's support of their work to be high or very high (92.68%), and 2 reported it as average (4.88%). Once again, no SCC chose the low response; however, 1 perceived spousal support to be very low (2.44%).
Related to the spouse's expressed satisfaction with her husband's career choice, 4 estimated this satisfaction at very high (9.76%), 15 considered it high (36.59%), 14 believed it to be average (34.15%), and 8 considered their spouses' satisfaction with their career choice as low or very low (19.52%). One coach, in describing his perception of his wife's level of satisfaction, appeared to reflect the opinions of those who scored this item in the affirmative. He stated, “She's great. It takes a special woman to understand the demands and time investment in this job.”
Other SCCs did not perceive their spouses as being quite as positive. Some of these comments were, “She would prefer I do something else but she supports what I do;” “She would be happy with just one role;” and “She doesn't care for the hours or lack of security.” A third segment of these SCC perceived their spouses' satisfaction in a much more negative light. These comments included, “She hates my job;” “That's why I'm single;” and “That's why I'm divorced.”
The typical Division II SCC in this investigation was characterized by low job stability as evidenced by brief tenure in their present job and frequent moves despite their nominal time serving in the coaching ranks. They typically work for low pay as compared with Division I-A, and, unlike their counterparts who have the luxury of focusing primarily on their duties as SCCs, these SCC must wear many different hats and assume numerous job functions and responsibilities.
Despite these apparent drawbacks, by and large, these SCC appear content with their career choices and circumstances. The overall findings related to the variables pertaining to job satisfaction appeared to correspond favorably to those indicated by Division I-A football SCC (9). As a group, these SCC also showed a low rate professional certification. A particularly interesting finding was that, of the programs for which information was obtained, approximately 16% had no specific professional designated as the SCC. This is in direct contradiction with Division I-A, in which the position is a fixture and almost universally established.
This investigation attempts to describe a previously unexamined strength and conditioning population that exists at the NCAA Division II level of collegiate football. By working on the assumption that knowledge is power, a whole host of sport professionals will now have a better understanding of strength and conditioning services provided at Division II and have a better understanding of the individuals attempting to fulfill the role of SCC at this level. This snapshot will allow authorities and leaders in the field of strength and conditioning a baseline from which to make recommendations to improve strength and conditioning services to athletes competing at this level. Also, these data will allow athletic directors and other athletic administrators the opportunity to make more educated and enlightened decisions related to this very important aspect of their football programs. In addition, perspective football Division II SCC will now have a more through understanding of the nuisances associated with this job as they relate to responsibilities, demands, and challenges faced by the individual assuming this position.
The authors thank Austin Lee for the technological expertise he provided to this project.