Program for Effective Teaching: A Model to Guide Educational Programs in Strength and Conditioning : Strength & Conditioning Journal

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Program for Effective Teaching: A Model to Guide Educational Programs in Strength and Conditioning

Massey, Dwayne EdD

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Strength and Conditioning Journal 32(5):p 79-85, October 2010. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181f3ee49
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The strength and conditioning of athletes as we know it today began in the 1960s through the hard work and perseverance of Epley at the University of Nebraska (2). From the pioneering efforts of Epley and others, the profession has progressed from its humble beginnings to be seen as an accepted practice at many different and varied levels of sport. The contributions of the strength and conditioning professional cannot be argued and is believed by many to be a significant factor in the improvement in the overall quality of athletic performance witnessed over the past 40 years. In the infancy of our profession, as the benefits of having a person in the position of strength and conditioning coach (SCC) was recognized, the individual chosen to occupy this position more often than not had no formal training. This generally was someone who had a competitive weightlifting background or a member of the coaching staff with limited formal training who assumed the strength and conditioning role as part of his or her overall duties as an assistant coach (24).

As time went on, it became increasingly clear that the person who served in the capacity of SCC needed to have a set of specialized knowledge and expertise. Over the years, great strides have been made in identifying the educational prerequisites needed by prospective strength and conditioning professionals before entering the profession. As our profession moves forward, we need to continue to refine and standardize the knowledge base of the field. Copious research (9-12,17,28,31,37) has been aimed at determining current practices of SCC; however, limited data (4,27,29,30) is available regarding SCC instructional behavior. Therefore, questions in this area needing to be addressed include the following:

  1. What are the job duties of the SCC and what is it they actually do?
  2. What basic knowledge and expertise should the SCC possess?
  3. What are the core skills necessary to be successful as an SCC?
  4. What should be the fundamental subjects included in an educational curriculum in strength and conditioning?
  5. What knowledge and expertise should be emphasized in continuing education and certification efforts?

To assist in the standardization of educational experiences in the strength and conditioning profession, it may prove advantageous to develop a model to guide these efforts. The model being put forth for consideration in this forum is known as the “Program for Effective Teaching” (PET). Based on the work of numerous researchers including Hunter (20), Bloom (5), Brophy (7), Edmunds (13), Gagne (16), Rosenshine (35) and others, the model was an effort to incorporate those behaviors and skills identified as contributing to effective teaching. PET has been used in numerous educational settings including the elementary, secondary, and university levels, and at one time, it was used by the Arkansas State Department of Education to guide instructional practices in that state (32).

One reason proponents of PET recommend the model is that its components are touted to virtually address the fundamental job characteristics of any profession or discipline. These being related to (a) the ability to communicate; (b) the ability to organize our time, materials, and those under our supervision; (c) a thorough understanding of the applicable subject matter; (d) the ability to develop and implement an action plan; and (e) the proper application of resources to bring about a desired result (33). How PET can be specifically applied to strength and conditioning will be illuminated as the model is explained in detail over the course of this article.

Another reason that PET is being put forth in this capacity is that it addresses what some perceive as an oversight in the current skill set provided to strength coaches. Educational programs in the area of strength and conditioning have done a good job of transmitting the techniques of training and how the body functions and responds to exercise (14,40). It can be argued that these educational offerings have not done as a good job in giving the SCC those pedagogical skills useful in communicating their knowledge to their athletes. In addition to focusing on the foundations of exercise physiology, biomechanics, and kinesiology, it is being recognized by some knowledgeable people in our field that increasing emphasis needs to be placed on assisting strength coaches to develop effective teaching practices that will better allow them to share their areas of expertise and influence their athletes' behavior (27,29,30,40).

The elements of PET include an overall rationale, an identification of the broad competencies needed in an educational environment to increase the probability that learning will take place (Total Teaching Act [TTA]), specific instructional skills implemented to impact and change learner behavior, and the final outcome to which all efforts are directed. The rationale behind PET defines teaching as a process involving a conscious stream of decisions made before, during, and after instruction, the implementation of which will increase the probability that learning will take place. According to this perspective, the essence of teaching is decision making (20,32).

Hence, the objective of the PET model is to provide the practitioner with a framework to better assist them to navigate this process and improve the likelihood that they will make better decisions. Teaching cannot be broken down to a recipe, or some cookie cutter approach for an educator to follow, that will insure success in all situations. As it relates to strength and conditioning, PET does not dictate modes of training to be used whether they include plyometrics, weightlifting, speed development, or any host of exercise techniques that could be applied in a given situation. PET does not replace the SCC training rationale or philosophy. PET does not replace the SCC style and judgment. Style and judgment is arguably what separates the highly successful practitioner in almost any field from their less successful counterparts (32).

What PET does do is distinguish those broad categories that have been identified through research to improve the quality of teaching and increase the probability that learning will take place. The key to success in any educational milieu is how these principles are applied in a given situation and this has to be left to the person in the situation at that given point in time. Related to this concept, Brophy (7) stated, “Even so, there is no support for the notion of generic teaching skills, if these are defined as the types of very specific behaviors typically included in performance based teacher education programs. Few, if any, specific teaching behaviors are appropriate in all contexts. On the other hand, when data are integrated at a higher level of generality, several clusters or patterns are consistently related to learning gains.”

The core of the PET model is the TTA. The TTA was an attempt, based on research (33), to identify key behaviors used by those identified as effective teachers. Those behaviors found held in common by constituents of this elite group formed what came to be known as the TTA. The term TTA was chosen to represent the perceived indispensable nature of this skill set in facilitating the transfer of information. The components of the TTA include knowledge of content; planning skills; use, after selection of appropriate materials; management skills; human relation skills; and instructional skills (33). The first and most basic element of the TTA and any professional endeavor is knowledge. A person has to know what they are doing and be competent in the undertaking. The public demands that an individual should have this prerequisite knowledge and not be a danger to those he/she is purported to serve. This is the driving force in the push for certification occurring in the past several decades in virtually all professions dealing with the public and has necessitated the need to reassure the public that those who engage in an avowed vocation meet a certain level of expertise. The strength and conditioning profession has certainly not been immune from this phenomenon (1,15,23,25,26,40).

The ideas about what the knowledge base for the strength and conditioning field should consist of are varied and certainly open to debate and speculation (18,19,22,28-30,38,39). Although not inclusive by any means, a general consensus would likely include themes such as how the body responds to exercise, how the body works and functions, psychological principles associated with sport and exercise, age and gender responses to exercise, nutritional factors influencing health and performance, a wide variety of exercise techniques and their application, principles associated with test selection and administration, how to structure individual workouts to reach a variety of outcomes and goals, and the injury process and rehabilitation from injury (3). Because of the profession's strong foundations in the sport sciences, educational entities and meritorious certification organizations have done excellent work in imparting this information to its constituents (14,26,40).

Planning skills are a vital aspect of what strength coaches do. The SCC must engage in both short- and long-range planning. Not only must they plan and coordinate daily and weekly training plans with corresponding short-term objectives but also they must develop longer term plans ranging from several weeks to an entire year, or in some cases even longer. They must plan their schedule to insure meeting the work demands required and necessary for them to be successful. This becomes increasingly paramount as the number of sport teams the SCC trains increases or if the SCC has to schedule use of the training facility to accommodate numerous sport teams.

The SCC must also arrange each training activity so that all athletes have adequate time to train productively, and movement from station to station is accomplished in the most efficient manner possible. Fundamental questions all strength coaches have to ask themselves are what am I going to train, how am I going to train, and when am I going to train? It could be hypothesized that enough emphasis is not placed on this variable in educational programs related to strength and conditioning and this indispensable skill is again expected to be learned through practical experience opportunities such as practicums and internships or during the strength coach's initial work experience. Indeed, if a deficiency is identified in this area, it certainly needs to be rectified in our educational offerings. This will go a long way to reduce trial and error learning and the accompanying pain, time investment, and loss of productivity that often accompany this process by new practitioners to the field (19). The importance of good planning skills cannot be overstated and is virtually the key to success or failure in all human endeavors.

A third component of the TTA is use, after selection of appropriate materials. In any profession, the practitioner must decide what materials and methods they are going to use to accomplish their aims, and then, these practices have to be used in the correct manner to get the intended results. In the case of the SCC, they have to make decisions concerning modes of training to be used, specific exercise selection within training sessions, what order exercises and training methods will be conducted, what the load and repetition scheme will be, what will be the volume of training, what rest periods will be incorporated into the exercise sessions, and the overall frequency of training. After these decisions have been made, the training techniques have to be correctly applied to achieve the intended outcome and minimize the likelihood of injury.

For a field coach, in many sports, developing a game plan on paper and then seeing that plan come to life before their eyes in competition is deeply satisfying and a primary reason they do what they do. So too, for the strength professional developing a training plan and seeing it begin to improve the capabilities of athletes are perhaps the most exhilarating aspects of their job. For many, it is what intrigues them, it is their passion, and it is the aspects of the job they most enjoy. It is a natural consequence that this would be a focus of educational programs in the field and rightly so. The very essence of what the SCC does is the application of training techniques to bring about a desired result.

Another essential aspect of what strength coaches do is management. Management related to the strength and conditioning environment has much in common with the traditional classroom setting. Essentially, the weight room and training that occurs on the athletic field serve as the strength coach's classroom, and many of the same principles that apply to the traditional classroom apply to the strength and conditioning situation. As the teacher must manage the learning activity, so too must the SCC engage in this process. They must manage time effectively making sure that important information is dispensed and learning objectives are met. This includes setting aside sufficient time for the practice of requisite skills necessary to insure that mastery occurs.

The SCC must manage the individuals under their supervision, making sure they are on task and completing activities in a correct and proper manner. They must maintain discipline within the learning environment dealing with inappropriate or problematic behaviors. The SCC must manage their materials and resources, making sure these are used efficiently and in the most productive manner possible. The SCC must attend to all additional job responsibilities not directly related to the strength and conditioning of athletes, thereby freeing them up to concentrate more fully on their primary mission. Most importantly, the SCC must always discipline himself/herself, making sure their responses are professional, in proportion to the situation, and contributing to a positive learning environment.

Massey et al. (27) in studying the teaching behaviors of strength coaches found that management (14.62%) was the second most frequently engaged activity by the coaches in the investigation. When combined with silent monitoring (21.99%), which was the highest rated behavioral category, these strength coaches spent more than a third of their total time monitoring and managing the athletes under their supervision (36.61%). A teaching adage that can be applied to strength and conditioning is “Good teaching is good management, and good management is good teaching.” Just as good teachers must be good managers to be effective, so too must the SCC be a good manager to be effective at what they do (34).

In any undertaking that involves multiple people, human relation skills are indispensable. Being able to get along with others, communicate effectively, and convince others to join our cause and work together for a common purpose is invaluable to the success of our efforts. Most of our human activities require the assistance of other people. The famous quote “No man is an island” is very true (8). It is virtually impossible in life to reach our goals or achieve great things without the assistance of others. Pat Riley captured this very well when he stated, “Teamwork is the essence of life. If there's one thing on which I'm an authority, it's how to blend the talents and strengths of individuals into a force that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. My driving belief is this: great teamwork is the only way to reach our ultimate moments, to create the breakthroughs that define our career, to fulfill our lives with a sense of lasting significance (41).”

In no discipline is this more evident than in the strength and conditioning of athletes. If we are going to have influence on our athletes, we must first have those skills necessary to build relationships with them. We must convince them we are competent and know what we are talking about. If we are going to motivate an athlete to put forth the prerequisite effort to excel in the competitive world of sport, it behooves us to build trust and convey we care about them as a person and have their best interest at heart. Many experts believe that this is a critical requirement that must be met before learning can take place (36). Our athletes must implicitly know that we will not ask them to do anything that will be harmful to them and that we are invested in the attainment of their goals. We must be able to effectively communicate our vision to athletes and get them to buy into that vision and commit to its success.

Strength coaches must be able to deal with communication problems and conflicts that inevitably arise in any human interaction, which can potentially derail our efforts. As articulated by Layden (24), the SCC often serves as counselor or surrogate parent to the athletes they work with being the one person they are most likely to turn to when they need help and support. Paraphrasing a comment by an SCC in the course of my research, “You must be a mother, father, parent, and grandparent to these kids. Whatever they need to be successful you have to provide it.”

The last component of the TTA, and as previously mentioned, the most neglected as it applies to the SCC, is instructional skills (6,14,18,21,29,30,40). Vescovi et al. (40) made this observation, “It appears that course work, while detailed in exercise physiology and biomechanics, may need to extend beyond to other domains such as understanding budgets, developing computer and oral communication skills, comprehending sports psychology, and acquiring appropriate teaching methodologies”. Plisk (30) made a stronger assertion when he stated, “Teaching is arguably the most important aspect of a strength and conditioning practitioner's job. Indeed, the role of educator is fundamental to successful coaching but is often taken for granted”. Plisk (30) further postulated, “The strength and conditioning practitioner is first and foremost a teacher with the role of educator being fundamental to our training efforts.” As an SCC, if you cannot share and get across your expertise to others, nothing else you bring to the table matters. In fact, creating an effective learning environment and teaching for mastery are the circumstances we strive for through the utilization of all the skills incorporated in the TTA.

Those instructional skills identified as being critical in PET can be listed as follows: (a) Selecting an objective at or near the correct level of difficulty and level of complexity. (b) Teaching to the objective. This refers to keeping the focus on the terminal objective or what you want the learner to know or be able to do at the end of the learning activity. (c) Maintain the focus of the learner on the learning. Highlights the importance of involving the learner in the learning and making sure they understand the purpose of the lesson. (d) Using the principles of learning such as increasing motivation, developing interest, providing opportunities for success, and promotion of a climate within the training context conducive to learning. Specific competencies needed by the strength and conditioning professional as identified using the TTA can be found in Table 1. Using the TTA as a guide, we can begin to make curriculum decisions related to our educational programs in strength and conditioning. Although the components of such a curriculum is another one of those topics open to debate, the TTA could go a long way in assisting in making judgments concerning course content and offerings. Keeping in mind the TTA and the recommendations of others (18,22), the curricular elements a majority of those knowledgeable in the field would probably agree and their relationship to the TTA include

Table 1:
Delineation of strength and conditioning competencies using the Program for Effective Teaching model
Table 1:
  • human anatomy and physiology (knowledge)
  • exercise or sport physiology (knowledge)
  • kinesiology/biomechanics (knowledge)
  • sport psychology (knowledge, human relation skills, and instructional skills)
  • sports nutrition (knowledge)
  • scientific principles of strength and conditioning (knowledge)
  • resistance training and conditioning-laboratory or activity class (human relation skills and planning)
  • exercise techniques/exercise prescription with an emphasis on anaerobic exercise (knowledge and use, after selection of appropriate materials)
  • program design as related to strength and conditioning. This should include not only the makeup of the overall training program but also the structuring and organization of individual exercise sessions to achieve specific goals (planning)
  • sports pedagogy (human relation skills, management, and instructional skills)
  • motor learning (knowledge)
  • Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid (knowledge)
  • care and prevention of athletic injuries (knowledge)
  • practicum experiences (planning and use, after selection of appropriate materials)

The National Strength Conditioning Association's (NSCA's) Educational Recognition Program (21,22,40) from which these aforementioned curricular elements were largely derived was an attempt by the NSCA to address the subject matter provided in strength and conditioning programs at institutions of higher learning. Although it must be considered an excellent step in insuring that necessary educational prerequisites are met, one could make the case that it does not go far enough due the elective nature of many of its offerings. Because certain skills are emphasized at the expense of others, depending on institutional requirements and the configuration of classes, the situation exists in which the SCC could conceivably be deficient in some of these important identified skill sets. The utility of the TTA resides in its ability to further frame and clarify these important decisions by those at all levels of the profession responsible for making them.

The TTA can also play a significant role in determining the focus of continuing education efforts in the field. By focusing on what it is strength coaches actually do, which is another major virtue of the model, we can go a long way to make these continuing educational opportunities more relevant and meaningful to those providing their specialized knowledge to the populations we serve (Table 1). By building on the base of knowledge and expertise gained through our initial educational efforts, we can better assist the SCC to stay current in the profession, abreast of the most up-to-date information related to training techniques and modalities, and on the cutting edge of the most recent research available.

The desired outcome from the utilization of the PET model is to provide the strength and conditioning professional with the tools necessary to make the best possible decisions for the purpose of enhancing the learning and retention potential of athletes (Table 2). Because of the fundamental nature of the TTA and its relationship to the teaching process, the SCC can continually refer back to these concepts to scrutinize the quality of their instruction and whether they are taking the appropriate steps to transmit essential information necessary to achieve identified training goals. This should occur before, during, and after the learning activity to facilitate this outcome.

Table 2:
Program for effective teaching model

The purpose of any model is to provide direction to our efforts and act as a road map to guide decision making. It serves as a clear detailed pattern worthy of imitation. A model assists us to marshal our efforts and focuses our resources on reaching our objectives. It provides a method for analyzing decisions, and making determinations concerning future allocation of resources (32). So, it is with PET as it relates to the strength and conditioning of athletes. Although there are most assuredly other rationales that can and will be put forth and other models recommended, the evidence appears to suggest that PET meets the criteria for consideration as the standard on which we can base our educational programs in the field.


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knowledge; planning; management; strength coaches

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