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Monday, 21 November 2011

The effectiveness of the strength and conditioning coach

From time to time I tune in to the popular strength coach post casts (via iTunes and While catching up on an older one, from September of this year, I heard talk of a discussion forum thread focusing on how to gauge the effectiveness of strength and conditioning coaches. Should it be based on wins and losses, number of olympians coached, championships won? Etc. etc.

Checking out the thread first hand, I saw that there were a number of good posts commenting that changes of physical abilities and reduction of injury may be the best indicators of success in our role. Even with these well thought out thoughts, it became apparent to me there really is little attention being paid to analyzing good evidence on the topic. Are we actually doing a good job?

If we are doing a good job, then we need good evidence to back this up. This will help us at stressful times with coaches and administrators. Especially at those times of the year when staff changes are common (coming up in American Football!!!).

If we are not doing a good job then we need to change what we are doing or move on. Simple as that.

So how might we go about analyzing our success in preparing our athletes for the demands in which they are faced?

Performance & Readiness
  • Physical attributes: Are your athletes getting better physically at appropriate times? This should be measured with valid and reliable tests that can track changes over time. How do the numbers compare to the same time the previous year? Do these measures relate to overall success? This, especially in a team sport is difficult to measure but may be estimated by a combination of coaches rank, player game ratings, stats and minutes played.
  • Performance at demanding times: Does your team perform well (physically and overall) at key times of the season? They should be as near to their best as possible for the playoffs or when competing against rivals or strong opposition (as identified by the coaching staff). This is a key goal of periodization.
  • Does your team tend to win or lose games in overtime? Do they outscore teams in the second half or do they roll over and give it up late on? Generally, the bigger the stakes, the closer the games will become. We can have an impact on the outcome.
  • Are athletes ready when it comes to game day? What are their ratings of fatigue or readiness? How confident are they in their preparation?
  • Are you meeting the goals of the athletes, coaches, and teams? Why or why not?
  • What you see with your eyes and hear with your ears can be indicators also. Are your defenders being bullied physically by opposing forwards? Do you tend to be the team initiating things in tight games, or are they just trying to hang on? Subjective opinions are fine, as long as you have real data that also seems to follow the trends you see.
  • Wins and losses, championships, and awards. Probably the least accurate measures of the strength coach's performance, but important nonetheless. If all of the above points show positive things, then winning percentages and performance are likely to improve.

  • What are your injury stats showing? As a strength and conditioning coach, you should be analyzing these numbers as closely as the sports medicine staff does. At ETSU our ATs use SportsWare online ( to track a number of important numbers and factors:
    • Number of injuries - important although other stats may be more indicative of success in limiting the impact of injuries
    • Number of training days lost
    • Number of games lost
    • Mechanism of injury - contact or non-contact. High numbers of non-contact injury indicates that things may well be going wrong somewhere. That said, even non-contact injuries may be able to be limited if fatigue is managed.
    • Type of injury - muscle strains are possibly the most preventable injuries from a S&C standpoint. If you have a lot of these, then again, something is probably going wrong. Illness also can come when fatigue is not being managed.
  • Injuries can never be completely eliminated, but if you have a high number of the "more preventable" types and/or never seem to be able to field a full-strength team for big games, then performance will suffer. For every injury, there should be an analysis into what may or may not have gone wrong. What could have been done differently? 
This may not be effective strength and conditioning

The majority of the above can be quantified and measured. This is important. It shouldn't come down purely to "I think", "I believe", "I feel". These are wishy-washy words that lack evidence and substance. Have a reliable and valid testing and monitoring system and keep meticulous records of what each of your athletes have done and you have the data to analyze your performance. This can then be computed into graphs, charts, and stats that can help either justify what you do, or show you where you need to improve (or both).

There are lots of other things that contribute to the above factors that may or may not be outside our control. It is often down to the whole performance team (coach, strength and conditioning coach, sports medicine staff). However we should not hide behind these possibilities. We can and should have an impact on overall performance and success of our athletes and teams. If not, why are we doing what we do?

I need to be careful with current data as it is sensitive and confidential, but will find a way of coming up with examples of an analysis that does not sacrifice this in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't be said much better. I am a strength and conditioning coach myself and I find it hard to gather evidence that support what we do in the weight room to compared on the athletic field. The #1 I look for are injuries. Are there "trends" in the injuries? How can I prevent these problems from occurring? And Yes, what happens late in games? Are they ready for overtime?