Growing role for strength and training coaches

College athletes have recently become more physically and mentally prepared to step onto the playing field when their season comes to a start. While knowledge of overall injury prevention, proper nutrition and sport technology has increased; we fail to give credit to the most important aspect of today’s collegiate careers: strength and conditioning programs.

Strength and conditioning consists of enhancing athletes’ coordination, strength, power, speed and mental fortitude all while incorporating injury prevention strategies. The role of a collegiate strength and conditioning coach is to provide the most structured and fully prepared program founded upon scientific principles and sound training methodologies. These programs have become the most essential component in the development of a college athlete.

The required certifications may vary depending on the college or university, however most collegiate strength coaches obtain a CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) certification and a CSCCA (Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association) certification. Emily Esselman, Assistant Strength Coach at Hofstra University said, “It obviously works better in your favor to have both. It gives you more credibility as a coach, not only to the coaches you work with, but to administration and your kids.”

While designing programs for their teams, coaches must keep a number of things in mind. They must base lifts on whether the team is currently in or out of season. Previous or current injuries must be accounted for and any special modifications must be made. Coaches should also examine the sport and its specific positions. For example, soccer is predominantly a lower body sport whereas baseball or softball uses more upper body extremities. These factors will impact how they go about designing programs.

Coach Emily Esselman watches over her athletes during their lift at Hofstra University.

Coach Emily Esselman watches over her athletes during their lift at Hofstra University.

“You have to create a needs analysis,” said Esselman. “You have to look at what kind of playing surface the kids play on, what type of injuries are typical in that sport, what kind of muscles and actions they’re using out on their field or court.”

Jonathan Larson, Director of Sports Performance at Manhattan College, considers similar aspects when programming. “I’m not going to train a soccer player the same way I would a softball player or baseball player,” said Larson.

Because strength and conditioning is a field of constant change, it’s important for coaches to stay up to date with the latest training trends and methods. Keith Ferrara, Adelphi University’s Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, said, “It doesn’t help anybody if you’re saying, “my system is the only thing that works.” We constantly have to read out on the current research… You have to learn from the people who are at the top. There’s always something new to learn and as long as you’re not close minded, you’ll continue to adapt your program in the right way.”

Ferrara joined the Panthers after graduating from Hofstra with his Master’s in Sports Science where he was a member of the Pride’s football team. He is the first strength and conditioning coach in school history and has also worked as a strength and conditioning specialist for the United States Tennis Association Player Development in Flushing, NY.

Esselman makes it a point to visit strength coaches at other schools on away trips with her women’s basketball team to see what she could bring back to Hofstra. She also reads related books and articles, visits conferences around the country, and teaches graduate and undergraduate courses. The entire coaching staff at Hofstra is continually looking to better themselves throughout the year.

While all strength and conditioning coaches have a main focus of increasing their athletes’ performance, they share one other similar goal: Making their athletes the best possible people they can be before entering the real world.

“We work to bring everyone together towards a common goal,” said Ferrara. “At the end of the day if we could just constantly evolve ourselves… and just learn about overall work ethic, then I’ll be happy by the time they get out of here.”

Accountability, leadership, work ethic, teamwork, mental toughness and relentlessness are just a few of the characteristics that strength coaches hope to instill in their athletes throughout the course of their four years.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.48.57 PMLarson, who has previously worked with the University of Alabama and the St. Louis Cardinals, believes that it’s not all about the bells and whistles when it comes to training facilities, but the relationships built inside the weight room. “It’s the energy that the coaches and athletes bring to the weight room that’s going to benefit them the most,” said Larson.

Some strength and conditioning coaches harp only on improving an athlete’s strength and athletic ability without ever developing a relationship throughout their college career. However coaches such as those at Adelphi, Hofstra and Manhattan are giving their athletes the tools needed to be successful in life after school.

“When I came here, I just started with a blank canvas,” said Ferrara. “We really just elevated the program to where we can just develop ourselves as athletes and as people and I just continually hope that the success continues as the years go on.”