The strength and conditioning practices and job responsibilities of professional and college strength and conditioning coaches have been studied and described in the literature. Numerous anecdotal sources describe the importance and potential role of certified strength and conditioning coaches at the high school level, as well. Nonetheless, information is limited with respect to the roles and responsibilities of high school strength and conditioning coaches, despite the fact that high school sports programs are more numerous than college or professional. Although the potential role of strength and conditioning at this level is immense, the nature of these positions is not well understood.
Previous research has examined the practices of strength and conditioning coaches in the National Football League (4), National Hockey League (5), Major League Baseball (6), and National Basketball Association (12). These studies examined a variety of strength and conditioning practices but sought limited information about the background and job responsibilities of these coaches. A variety of studies have been conducted with NCAA Division-I (Division-I) strength and conditioning coaches as well. Some of these studies evaluated specific strength and conditioning practices (1,3). Other studies describe information about specific job responsibilities of Division-I strength and conditioning coaches in an attempt to profile the nature of these positions, assessing variables such as salary, tenure in their present position, staffing levels, size of facilities, and leadership behaviors (9,13).
The qualifications, importance, and potential role of the certified strength and conditioning coach and programs at the high school level have been described in anecdotal articles (2,8,14). Surveys of the practices of high school strength and conditioning coaches are limited to a study evaluating a small number of high school football strength and conditioning practices in the state of Massachusetts (7). Despite the fact that there are many more high school strength and conditioning programs than college or professional programs, little is known about the coaches and programs at the high school level and how these positions compare with those of college and professional strength and conditioning coaches. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to survey high school strength and conditioning coaches to comprehensively describe the coaches' background, average compensation, job responsibilities, schools, facilities, the advantages and disadvantages of their positions, things they would like to change, and unique aspects of their program.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
This study was designed to provide comprehensive descriptive information about the profile and background of high school strength and conditioning coaches.
Inclusion criteria was defined as a coach's membership in the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), identifying a high school as their primary employer, working as a high school strength and conditioning coach, and having an e-mail address. One hundred eighty-three high school strength and conditioning coaches (coach or coaches) met those criteria and were surveyed. Of those surveyed, 55 surveys were returned as undeliverable, presumably as a result of problems with the e-mail delivery system or an address change. Thus, 128 coaches received a survey, and 39 of those coaches responded. No coach or team name was associated with any responses to protect the confidentiality of the strength and conditioning coaches. This study was approved by the institutions' human subjects review board.
The survey, “High School Strength and Conditioning Coach Position/Background Profile,” was created for this study and pilot tested with an advisory group of approximately 25 strength and conditioning coaches and exercise scientists to insure its validity. As a result of the pilot testing, the survey was slightly modified and administered to the sample to be studied.
The survey was divided into 5 sections, including a profile of the coaches' school, facility, position, personal background information, as well as unique aspects of each coach's program.
An introductory letter describing the project and survey were sent by way of e-mail to all of the coaches in the sample. The purpose of the introductory letter was to explain the survey, the expected time commitment, and the confidentiality of information. A second e-mail and copy of the survey were sent to the coaches who did not respond to the first mailing. Data for the survey were collected in 2007. After completion of data collection, a report of survey findings was mailed to all coaches participating in the survey.
The survey contained fixed response and open-ended questions. Answers to open-ended questions were content analyzed according to methods described by Patton (10) and previous surveys of strength and conditioning practices (4-6,12). During data analysis, each researcher generated raw data and higher order themes by way of independent, inductive content analysis and compared independently generated themes until consensus was reached at each level of analysis. At the point of development of higher order themes, deductive analysis was used to confirm that all raw data were represented. Researchers were trained and experienced with qualitative methods sports science research and content analysis.
Thirty-nine of 128 coaches responded to the e-mail survey, resulting in a response rate of 30.5%. Coaches reported the length of time in their present position, resulting in an average of 6.74 ± 7.09 years and an average of 14.89 ± 10.93 years in the profession. All but one coach reported being certified, with coaches possessing a variety of strength and conditioning and fitness certifications, which are described in Table 1. Coaches were also asked if they were required to have a teaching certification or license for their position. Twenty-six said they did, whereas 13 said they did not. One coach responded both “yes” and “no,” whereas another did not respond. The education level of the coaches included at least a bachelor's degree, with 21 of 38 coaches possessing a master's degree. A summary of the coaches' academic degrees and disciplines of study are listed in Tables 2 and 3, respectively.
Job Position Information
Coaches were asked how long the school has had a strength and conditioning coach position, reporting an average of 7.49 ± 6.69 years. Thirteen coaches indicated they had 1 or more assistant coaches, with a mean average of 1.81 ± 0.6 assistants. These positions were defined as either full time or part time, with those working part time described as also coaching a sport or serving as an intern. Of these coaches who had assistants, 10 reported the assistants were paid, whereas the other 3 reported they were not.
Of the coaches who responded to the survey, 36 were employees of the school they worked for whereas 2 were employed by another organization that contracted with the school. One coach reported being both an employee of the school and contracted through another organization. Twenty-three coaches reported their position was full time. However, there was significant variability in how this was defined and included coaches who worked full time year round, 10 months, 9 months, during the “school year,” and those who simply reported “full time.” Another 16 coaches indicated they worked part time, reporting a variety of answers such as year round part time, part time for part of the year, part time during the school year, and part time in addition to a variety of other teaching, coaching, or administrative duties. Coaches were asked about the number of hours they worked each day and the time they started and ended work. Results from these questions are described in Table 4. Coaches were also asked about salary and benefits. Thirty-six coaches reported that they were paid a salary, and 4 answered that they were paid hourly. However, 2 responded that they were paid hourly and a salary, with one further clarifying that they were paid a salary during the school year and hourly during the summer. One coach did not respond to this question. Twenty-three of these coaches indicated that their pay was tied into the pay scale of the teachers in the school district, whereas 14 said it was not. Two coaches did not respond to this question. The average salaries were prorated based on a year pay period to allow comparison of contracts of varying lengths. Table 5 describes the income information including salary or hourly wage for coaches who provided enough information in response to this question. Twenty-seven of the coaches reported that they also receive full benefits, whereas 11 did not. One coach did not respond to this question. The coaches were asked if they were able to supplement their incomes by conducting strength and conditioning camps. Thirty-one said they did have such opportunities, whereas 6 did not. Two did not respond.
Twenty-six coaches report that they are allowed to coach a team sport at their schools, 11 did not, and 2 did not respond. Coaches were asked if they worked in the schools' physical education or health department. Twenty-seven said they did, whereas 11 said they did not. One coach did not respond. Of the 27 who did serve in a role in the schools' physical education or health department, 22 said it was a part of their position description. Coaches were also asked about their role with the athletic teams during practice and competition. Answers to this question are summarized in Table 6. Coaches were also asked about other roles they function in within their school. Answers to this question are described in Table 7.
Coaches from 24 states in the United States responded to the survey. The most common state that coaches were employed in was Texas, with 4 responses. Three surveys were returned from coaches working in each of the following states: California, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Two surveys were returned from coaches in each of the following states: Florida, Oklahoma, and Delaware. One survey was returned from coaches in a variety of other states. Questions were also asked about the schools' enrollments and number of student athletes, and ratios of student athlete to students were calculated from this data (Table 8).
Coaches were asked about the size and number of students using their strength and conditioning facility and the types of facilities that are available. Table 9 describes the size of the strength and conditioning facility, the number of students using it daily, and the facility size normalized to the number of students in the school and the number of athletes in the school, expressed as square feet per student and square feet per athlete, respectively. Coaches were asked to identify the type of equipment they had available to them. All 39 coaches reported using free weights. Eighteen coaches reported they had machines, 9 specifically reported using platforms, and another 5 indicated they had cable machines. A variety of other types of equipment were identified, including medicine balls, stability balls, stability devices, and slide boards. The survey also elicited information about the coaches' preferred brand of strength training machines and free weights, as well as cardiovascular training equipment, with these results listed in Tables 10 and 11. Finally, this section of the survey asked coaches about other facilities that were available to them for training athletes, with responses listed in Table 12.
The first question in this section sought additional information from the coaches about their strength and conditioning careers. Thirty-three coaches said they desired to continue to work in a high school position long term, whereas 4 did not. Two coaches did not respond to this question. Coaches were asked about the advantages and disadvantages of working as a strength and conditioning coach at the high school level. Answers to this question are summarized in Tables 13 and 14, respectively. Coaches were asked what they would change if they could change one thing about working in strength and conditioning at the high school level. Responses to this question are described in Table 15.
Unique Aspects of Coaches' Program/Future Trends
Questions in this section sought information from the coaches about what may be unique about their strength and conditioning program, what they would like to do differently with their program in the future, and whether or not they have any predictions regarding future trends in high school strength and conditioning. Responses to these questions are described in Tables 16 to 18.
This is the first comprehensive survey of high school strength and conditioning coaches' positions and programs. Previous reports recommended a variety of qualifications of the strength and conditioning coach, including a combination of education, certifications, and experiences (2). The high school coaches who responded to this survey compared favorably in these areas with studies of college and professional strength and conditioning coaches. The coaches who responded to this survey averaged 6.74 years in their present position and 14.89 years in the profession, compared with coaches from professional sports, whose experience in their present position averaged in a ranged from 5.14 to 9.55 years (4-6,12). Two studies of Division-I coaches demonstrated that the average tenure in their current positions ranged from 5 to 7 years, whereas total experience as a strength and conditioning coach ranged from 8.1 to 10.0 years (9,13). Previous survey data from another study of Division-I strength and conditioning coaches did not calculate years of experience, but the majority held their present positions 2 to 5 years, whereas 48% were in the profession over 10 years, and 52% had less than 10 years experience (3). Thus, the high school coaches responding to this survey were similarly and in some cases more experienced than their Division-I and professional counterparts. The percentage of the high school coaches in the present survey with the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification (83%) exceeds the percentage of similarly certified coaches at Division-I universities (3,9). In addition, 32% of the high school coaches were certified by USA Weightlifting (USAW), whereas only 23% of the Division-I coaches held that certification (3). This level of certification compares favorably with a dated, small-scale survey that demonstrated only approximately 14% of high schools had coaches with their CSCS (8). All of the high school coaches responding to the present survey had college degrees, whereas 21 of 39 (54%) had master's degrees as well. Data from Division-I strength and conditioning coaches indicated those coaches all had a college degree, with 69% having a master's degree. Approximately 84% of the high school coaches had degrees in physical education or an exercise science related field, compared with 69% of Division-I coaches (3). These results indicate that the average level of education was slightly higher at the Division-I level, whereas the average level of certification was higher for coaches at the high school level.
Compensation, normalized to a 12 month contract, for the coaches who responded to the present survey ranged from approximately $57,866 to $55,214 for those who were and were not on a teacher's contract, respectively. Previous reports of Division-I coaches' salaries indicate they were compensated in an average range of $41,024 to $47,416, according to studies that were published in 1998 (13) and 2004 (9), respectively. High school coaches appear to be compensated at a higher level than their college counterparts, even if salaries were adjusted for inflation. Calculating high school coaches' compensation was complicated by the fact that some worked full time while others worked part time. Furthermore, some coaches were paid by the hour, whereas others were paid a salary. In some cases, strength and conditioning coaches had other teaching, coaching, and administrative responsibilities, and salary was not partitioned out. Salaries ranged from $4500 for a part time hourly strength and conditioning coach to nearly $100,000 for those with administrative and head football coaching responsibilities. Furthermore, it appears that geographic regions with a high cost of living, the size of the school, and the significance of athletics within the school or geographic region influences salary.
High school coaches report working an average of 9.13 hours a day, with some coaches reporting working as much as 12 hours a day. In fact, the third highest advantage of working at the high school level was defined by these coaches as their work hours, which were believed to be reasonable for the profession. A study of Division-I did not specifically assess the hours worked per day but did indicate that coaches worked approximately 60 to 71 hours a week depending on the sport season, with some reporting they felt time pressure and had more to do than they could (9).
The high school coach's role during team practices and competition was variable, with the majority having no role, whereas others had a strength and conditioning role somewhat similar to Division-I coaches (9) or a sport coaching role during practice or competition. Presumably, unlike professional and Division-I coaches, high school coaches also functioned in other roles, most commonly described as teaching and coaching football.
In the present survey, schools with enrollments ranging from 195 to 4200 students had strength and conditioning coaches, indicating that these positions are not limited to large schools. Great variability exists in the number of student athletes in these schools as well as the size of the strength and conditioning facility. Facilities ranged from 759 to 10,000 ft2, with an average of 3631 ft2, resulting in 4.28 ft2 and 9.92 ft2 per student and per athlete in the school, respectively. The size of the facility, normalized to the number of students and athletes, can serve as a point of comparison for normative facility size. Previous surveys have demonstrated that Division-I strength and conditioning facilities average 6230 to 6667 ft2 (13). All high school coaches reported using free weights in their facilities, which are the preferred mode of resistance in all studies previously assessing this variable (1,3-7,12).
The high school coaches responding to this survey indicated they used a variety of other venues to train athletes, with athletic fields, gyms, hallways, and tracks among the most common answers. Less typical answers included the use of the cafeteria, commons, parking lot, and outdoor trails.
A variety of advantages of working as a high school strength and conditioning coach were identified. The most commonly cited advantages included the pay and benefits, job security, hours/schedule, and working with kids. Salary does not appear to be related to job satisfaction for Division-I coaches, who also considered time pressures as a source of stress (9). However, the high school coaches in the present survey and Division-I coaches both appear to enjoy the opportunity to work with young people and helping them develop as athletes and people (9).
The most common disadvantages of working as a high school strength and conditioning coach included the lack of commitment from the athletes, lack of time with athletes, facility limitations, and difficulty with coaches. Division-I coaches reported disliking the long hours, having concerns about limited facilities, as well as the unstable nature of their position and a variety of concerns about relationships with head coaches and administrators (9). As stated above, high school coaches saw job security as an advantage of their position, although both groups of coaches identified concerns with sport coaches and administrators and a perceived lack of respect in some cases. Concerns that appear unique to the high school coach include limited opportunity for advancement, the role of parents, working with less-skilled athletes, limited qualified assistants, working with nonathletes, working with multisport athletes, and juggling multiple job responsibilities. Thus, working as a strength and conditioning coach at the high school and Division-I level has its unique set of difficulties.
The coaches in the present survey were asked about things they would change in their programs. The largest response centered around having more knowledgeable coaches and administrators. They also expressed concerns about having enough time and better facilities and equipment, which were also issues identified in previous strength and conditioning surveys (4,5,12). Coaches also identified a variety of things they believed were unique about their program. These answers, like previous surveys addressing this question (4-6,12), most commonly focused on the use of new types of exercises and training strategies as well as the role of strength and conditioning in the curriculum. In fact, the one change the majority of coaches wished to make was incorporating strength and conditioning into the high school curriculum, as previously recommended in the literature (14).
Coaches were asked what predictions they had for the future of strength and conditioning at the high school level. Respondents from this and previous surveys all identified answers that were organized into higher order themes, with the most common answer in each case being the growth and evolution of the strength and conditioning profession and coaches' role (5,6,12).
The coaches who responded to this survey have education, experience, certifications, and income that are comparable with and in some cases exceed that of college and professional strength and conditioning coaches, according to the variables assessed in these surveys. Membership in the NSCA may explain this finding to some degree. Some previous studies of other sports used coaches' contact information that came from sources other than a NSCA list, and thus some respondents to those surveys may not have been NSCA members.
Finally, the survey response of 39 of 128 (30.5%) is lower than the response rates of previous mailed surveys of high school, college, and professional strength and conditioning coaches, which ranged between 42.7% and 87.0% (3-6,9,12,13). The lower response rate of the present survey was likely a result of the use of an e-mail versus conventional mail surveys, which have been previously used with college and professional sports (3-6,12,13), and the fact that some survey results were well in excess of the norm (4-6,12), partly as a result of repeated follow-up contact with those who did not participate initially. Although this strategy is useful, it is less tenable when larger populations are surveyed, as was the case in the present study. Evidence indicates that e-mail survey response rates range between 3% and 30% (11,15), caused in part by e-mail systems delivery failures and invalid or changed e-mail addresses (11). Thus, the present survey results exceed the typical response rate of e-mail surveys, potentially indicating the value the coaches placed on sharing this type of information. In qualitative research, the validity of the data is largely related to the magnitude of the response, including the response rate and the magnitude of data and the degree to which the data is redundant. The survey produced a large amount of data (240 full pages) from coaches from a variety of states, and the present study is the most comprehensive analysis of high school strength and conditioning coaches to date.
This article serves as a comprehensive source of data describing high school strength and conditioning coaches' positions and programs. Data can also be potentially useful to develop standards within the profession with respect to a variety of variables, including compensation, roles, hours worked, as well as facility size and rates of use. Specifics of the varied roles the coaches play in their schools and the incorporation of strength and conditioning practices into the curriculum may be useful guides. Factors the coaches like most and least about their job will assist others in making career decisions about work at this level and can serve as a source of information for improving the nature of these positions. High school strength and conditioning coaches can use this data as a review of strength and conditioning practices and as a potential source of new ideas. Comparisons can also be made between the practices of high school strength and conditioning coaches and the practices of coaches from Division-I and professional sports.
The authors thank each of the high school strength and conditioning coaches who participated in this study.
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