Over the past few decades, the field of strength and conditioning has grown. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) started in 1978 with 76 members now has approximately 33,000 members (15). Additionally, many university academic programs now offer courses and concentrations in strength and conditioning; employment of strength and conditioning coaches among university and professional sports teams is common; and strength and conditioning conferences and clinics are now held at state and national levels. As the strength and conditioning field continues to grow and evolve, discussions within the field should start to encompass topics outside of the realm of human movement sciences, such as business.
This article proposes that the field of strength and conditioning now consists of 2 generally different types of business practices: commercial and noncommercial. This article offers definitions of commercial and noncommercial practices, explore reasons for consumer demand for these practices, examine their organizational structures, summarize relevant research findings, and discuss areas in need of further research. The goal of recognizing and researching these 2 types of practices should be to understand their unique benefits and limitations, and ultimately, provide consumers with the best possible strength and conditioning services.
DEFINITIONS OF COMMERCIAL AND NONCOMMERCIAL PRACTICES
A service is an intangible commodity. Coaching is a service. Like a hair stylist, a car mechanic, and a taxi driver, a coach offers a set of skills (often involving specialized equipment) that are demanded by the public. The core difference between the 2 types of practices is whether or not the practice seeks to generate a profit from the strength and conditioning services offered by its coaches.
The field of strength and conditioning in the United States now consists of 2 generally different types of practices: commercial and noncommercial. Commercial practices seek to directly generate profit from the strength and conditioning services they offer. Typically, commercial practices involve a direct payment of money from the athlete (i.e., consumer) to the practice in exchange for the strength and conditioning services. Commercial practices typically have an owner(s). Some commercial practices are nationwide with multiple facilities, whereas others are local with only a single facility. The number of athletes serviced by a single commercial practice fluctuates depending on consumer demand.
Noncommercial practices do not directly seek to generate profit from the strength and conditioning services they offer. Noncommercial practices do not involve a direct payment of money from the athlete to the practice in exchange for the strength and conditioning services. Noncommercial practices are components of larger organizational structures, such as: high schools, universities, and various amateur, semi-professional, and professional sports organizations. Therefore, noncommercial strength and conditioning practices are sustained by the sources of funding that sustain the larger organizational structures. Example sources of funding may include consumer payments for the other services provided by the larger organization (e.g., education), government funding, or private donations. Noncommercial practices do not have owners. The number of athletes serviced by a single noncommercial practice is generally fixed. Summarized definitions of commercial and noncommercial practices are provided in Table 1.
Some noncommercial practices, at universities for example, may generate revenue by conducting instructional strength and conditioning clinics for local youth athletes. However, because such clinics are likely to comprise only a very small portion of the overall typical daily services provided by such practices, the term “noncommercial” is still appropriate. Also, any revenue generated from these occasional clinics is likely to be controlled by the athletic director and may not necessarily be invested back into the strength and conditioning program.
There is also the possibility that noncommercial practices could indirectly influence whether revenue is generated by their larger organizational structures. For example, the strength and conditioning services may help to induce positive physiological adaptations in the school's athletes and help to improve on-field performance. Improved on-field performance may lead to greater ticket sales or potential donors being more likely to give to the school's athletic department. Such revenue and donations may be invested back into the strength and conditioning practice. However, because the practice is not directly profiting and receiving payment for its strength and conditioning services in these examples, the term “noncommercial” is still appropriate.
Also, the definitions proposed for commercial and noncommercial practices are specific to the behavior of the business practice, not necessarily the coach. A coach, regardless of whether they are employed at a commercial or noncommercial practice, will receive payment for the strength and conditioning services they provide. This payment comes from the employer, not directly from the consumer. Therefore, it is the practice that does or does not seek to directly generate profit, not the coach (unless the coach is the owner of the practice).
Expenses are another potential point of difference between commercial and noncommercial practices. Commercial practices have the ability to generate unlimited profits. However, commercial practices are also likely to have greater expenses because they do not reside within larger organizational structures that cover some expenses. For example, some commercial practices will need to lease a facility, whereas noncommercial practices are likely to have their facilities built by the larger organizational structures they reside within. Many noncommercial practices will have free access to grass fields, running tracks, and swimming pools, whereas commercial practices will need to pay to build or lease such facilities. Commercial practices will also have expenses, such as facility and liability insurance, customer management computer systems (hardware, software), utility bills, facility decorating costs, etc.
Noncommercial practices are commonly associated with high schools and universities. However, not all high schools and universities employ strength and conditioning coaches (5,7). This deficiency in strength and conditioning services from noncommercial practices creates some of the consumer demand for commercial practices. Other sources of consumer demand for commercial practices may include athletes in transition periods between 2 noncommercial practices (e.g., summertime transition of a recent high school graduate who plans on participating in university athletics); athletes participating in club or recreational sports leagues outside of a high school or university setting; and athletes seeking additional or replacement services for the noncommercial practice they have access to.
Typically, noncommercial practices do not provide services to athletes that are outside of the larger organizational structures in which the practices reside. Therefore, with noncommercial practices, there is no direct consumer demand for the strength and conditioning services. However, noncommercial practices reside within larger organizational structures. These structures, in addition to being prominent sources of athletic competition, are stable features of society because of the other services they provide (e.g., education services from high schools and universities; entertainment services from professional sports organizations). Thus, the strength and conditioning services are indirectly demanded by consumers. In addition, because the other services provided by the larger organizational structures are consistently demanded by consumers, a stable “client base” of athletes exists for noncommercial strength and conditioning practices.
Commercial practices, however, must market their services to obtain customers, and ultimately, stay in business. Because of fluctuations in consumer demand, commercial practices are less stable than noncommercial practices and have a less stable client base of athletes. However, commercial practices have the advantage of being potentially capable of generating large profits, which then have the potential to be used for expanding the business and further improving services. Figure 1 summarizes the financing and consumer demand for commercial and noncommercial practices.
Commercial and noncommercial practices are likely to have different organizational structures. Only limited data are available on organizational structures of strength and conditioning practices, and these data have been collected from noncommercial university practices (8,13). In 1992, Pullo (13) reported that 82.4% of NCAA Division I-A and 33.3% of I-AA strength and conditioning coaches were directly supervised by either the head, associate, or assistant athletic director. Also, 56.6% of I-AA strength and conditioning coaches reported to the head football coach. In 2004, a survey of various Division I university practices found the most frequent direct supervisor to be the head or assistant athletic director (8), indicating a shift away from the head football coach as direct supervisor at lower division schools. Also, many university practices employ graduate assistants, student assistants, and volunteer assistants (6,8,12), who are typically supervised by the head or assistant strength and conditioning coaches.
For a commercial practice, the organizational structure is likely to be more diverse. Commercial practices are likely to have an owner, various managers (e.g., facility manager, strength and conditioning services manager), various levels of coaches, and interns. In addition, depending on the size and budget of the commercial practice, marketing and accounting specialists may need to be hired. At small commercial practices, the strength and conditioning coaches may be required to complete such noncoaching responsibilities. Examples of management structures for commercial and noncommercial practices are provided in Figure 2.
Overall, limited research has been conducted on the business and economic aspects of strength and conditioning practices. Commercial practices have yet to be described in the literature; consequently, direct comparisons between commercial and noncommercial practices have not been made. Noncommercial practices, however, have been described independently (1–13,16–19). This research has consisted of surveying high school, university, and professional level strength and conditioning coaches (or their associated schools or organizations) on a variety of variables. The first study of this kind was published by McClellan and Stone in 1986 (12). In the study, 47 D1 strength and conditioning coaches were surveyed on items such as operating budgets, facility size, facility hours, etc. Similar studies were then conducted in the 1990s (5,13,18,19), including the first study of strength and conditioning coaches employed by professional sports teams (17). Then, early in the 2000s, a series of studies were conducted by Ebben and colleagues (2–4,16) and other groups (1,7–11).
The majority of research on noncommercial practices has focused on university strength and conditioning coaches (1,6–13,19), with less focus on strength and conditioning coaches of professional sports teams (2–4,16,17), and surprisingly, only 1 study on high school strength and conditioning coaches (5). Overall, the findings from these studies indicate that noncommercial strength and conditioning coaches tend to be men, who have attained Bachelor's or Master's degrees in physical education or exercise science and the NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification. Yearly salaries of noncommercial strength and conditioning coaches are approximately $30,000–$40,000, and the vast majority of noncommercial coaches implement periodized training programs that include Olympic-style lifts or plyometric exercises (Table 2).
Commercial strength and conditioning practices have not been described in the literature. The most relevant information to commercial strength and conditioning practices comes from a study on private personal training practices. In 2006, Robinson et al. (14) reported that 10% of private personal training practices require their trainers to have a bachelor's degree, and 20% do not conduct health and fitness assessments on new clients. Regarding wages, private personal trainers were reported to earn anywhere between $8.00 and $75.00 per hour, with a mean of $50.00 per hour. The majority (60%) of private personal trainers were reported to be paid hourly and earn an additional percentage for each private training session. Smaller percentages of personal trainers were reported to be paid only hourly (7%), on commission (8%), or on salary (5%). No data were obtained regarding employment benefit packages (e.g., health insurance coverage, retirement contributions); thus, it is unclear if coaches at commercial practices receive similar employment benefits. It is quite likely that coaches at noncommercial practices receive more desirable employment benefit packages because such packages are common across larger organizational structures such as universities.
Currently, it is also unknown if coaches at commercial and noncommercial practices have the same educational and work experiences before being hired. In addition, it is unknown whether coaches at these 2 types of practices implement similar training programs and whether they share the same level of freedom in developing training programs. For example, some practices may implement specific training paradigms (developed by the owner or head coach) and require all subordinate staff to implement the paradigm prescriptions, rather than to develop their own programs.
The business aspects of strength and conditioning practices in the United States require additional investigation. The goal of such research should be to answer questions that will progress our current understanding of the strength and conditioning field, and ultimately, optimize the strength and conditioning services provided to athletes. In the remainder of this section, specific areas are highlighted, and various questions are posed, which may need to be investigated.
What is the history of commercial and noncommercial practices in the United States? When were the first commercial and noncommercial practices established? Which high schools, universities, and professional sports teams were the first to employ full-time strength and conditioning coaches? What was the first commercial practice to go “national,” with facilities located in multiple states?
Approximately how many commercial and noncommercial practices exist within the United States? What types of organizations (e.g., private businesses, universities) and practices (i.e., commercial, noncommercial) most frequently employ strength and conditioning coaches? How often do high schools and universities contract-out services to commercial practices? What is the average cost of a single training session at a commercial practice? What types of service agreements are offered by commercial practices?
Do commercial practices hire marketing specialists or do strength and conditioning coaches perform the marketing tasks? What marketing techniques are used by commercial practices? What aspects of the strength and conditioning service (e.g., coaching credentials, available exercise equipment, athlete testimonials) are used in the marketing messages? What demographics are targeted by marketers of commercial practices?
Why do athletes seek out strength and conditioning services from commercial practices? What are the demographic characteristics (e.g., sport, level of play) of the athletes who consume commercial strength and conditioning services? Why do athletes terminate strength and conditioning services with commercial practices?
Why do coaches choose employment at one type of practice versus the other? What are the average salaries of coaches at commercial practices? Do commercial and noncommercial coaches have similar levels of education, certification, and years of coaching experience? Are the job duties of commercial and noncommercial coaches the same? What are the coach:athlete ratios of commercial practices?
Are the training programs designed by coaches at commercial practices different from the training programs designed by coaches at noncommercial practices? Do weekly training frequencies, session durations, session volumes, session intensities, or exercise modes differ between commercial and noncommercial practices? What are the differences in equipment and technology used by commercial and noncommercial practices?
Does the need to make a profit affect, if at all, the exercise prescriptions provided by commercial strength and conditioning coaches? Are coaches at commercial practices more concerned with short-term results to ensure that their customers return? How long (e.g., 10 sessions, 6 months, 1 year) do athletes attend commercial practices? Are coaches at commercial practices continually working with an unpredictable “moving target” (i.e., not sure how long the consumer will choose to continue to pay for services) when trying to design long-term periodized training programs?
FUTURE OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING PRACTICES
What is the future outlook for the strength and conditioning field in the United States? What are the trends in employment of strength and conditioning coaches? Are strength and conditioning coaches more likely to be employed at commercial or noncommercial practices in the future?
CONCLUSION AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
The field of strength and conditioning may consists of 2 generally different types of practices: commercial and noncommercial. Commercial practices seek to directly generate profit from the strength and conditioning services offered, whereas noncommercial practices do not. Coaches at noncommercial practices tend to be men, who (a) have attained bachelor's or master's degrees in physical education or exercise science, (b) have attained the CSCS certification, (c) earn yearly salaries of approximately $30,000–$40,000, and (d) implement periodized training programs that include Olympic-style lifts or plyometric exercises. No studies have been conducted on commercial strength and conditioning practices and an overall lack of research into the business aspects of strength and conditioning leaves many questions. The goal of recognizing and researching these 2 types of practices should be to understand their unique benefits and limitations, and ultimately, provide consumers with the best possible strength and conditioning services.
University educators should introduce their students to these 2 different types of practices. More specifically, exercise science students should understand that they will have the option of applying for employment with either commercial or noncommercial practices. Students will need to be aware of the minimal education, certification, and coaching experience requirements for attaining employment at the different types of practices. Also, students should be aware of the potentially different job responsibilities at commercial and noncommercial practices. Furthermore, exercise science academic programs may want to consider offering students educational experiences related to the business aspects of the profession.
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