Developing a Career in TSAC: Profiles of Practitioners
  • Developing a Career in TSAC: Profiles of Practitioners
    Profiles of six TSAC professionals, with description of each coach’s career path and recommendations.
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    Practitioners, coaches, and researchers have consistently emphasized the importance of ongoing professional development and education for strength and conditioning coaches to promote application of appropriate information to optimize development of their athletes (1). For those new to the field, gaining pertinent degrees, certifications, and professional memberships; attending workshops and conferences; and networking and working with other professionals are highly recommended to get the professional development ball rolling (1). The same recommendations may also be appropriate for strength and conditioning professionals working with tactical populations.

    Over recent years, the phrase “tactical athlete” has emerged when referring to military, law enforcement, and fire/rescue personnel and their physical training needs, given the high physical demands and comprehensive fitness requirements inherent in their job tasks. A tactical strength and conditioning coach (also known as a tactical facilitator), similar to a collegiate strength and conditioning coach working with a new team, needs to know their population. They should know the metabolic, biomechanical, and injury risk reduction needs of the population, and also the psychological and emotional demands of a tactical athlete that will influence training capacity, commitment, and physiological adaptation (or maintenance).

    Given the variability of tactical populations (i.e., fire service, law enforcement, or military) the career path may necessitate more varied and creative professional development and marketing endeavors than the strength and conditioning coach positions discussed by Kraemer (1). To illustrate the dedication and commitment to professional growth that is imperative for working with tactical populations, I have interviewed several colleagues who were already operating with the fire service, law enforcement, or military before becoming a tactical facilitator, as well as several practitioners that evolved into their positions from the outside (e.g., civilians in the case of the military). Each of these individuals kindly agreed to share their career path toward their current position and what attributes and professional development facilitated their movement along this path.

    Strength and Conditioning with Fire and Rescue Personnel

    Name: John Hofman, Fitness Coordinator – Sacramento Fire Department, CA

    Passion: John’s interest in the field of kinesiology, sport psychology, and physical training evolved during his time as an elite level athlete training for the Olympics. His personal experiences facilitated his desire to understand how an athlete thinks and learn how to communicate and apply effective programs. This has translated into working with the fire service—they are a unique population with whom he must integrate high levels of professionalism in all aspects of the training program application from the choice of exercise, type of training, and communication with firefighters at all levels.

    Career Path:
    • Master of Science degree in Kinesiology
    • Elite-level athlete
    • Personal trainer
    • Sports performance coaching – Velocity Sports (obtained Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) and United States of America Weightlifting (USAW) to get position; building on National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certification)
    • Also holds certifications as a United States of America Track and Field (USATF) Level 1 Coach, Functional Movement Screen (FMS) specialist, and American College of Exercise (ACE) Peer Fitness Trainer (PFT)
    • Trained with the Australian Institute of Sport
    • Fitness Coordinator at the Sacramento Fire Department, CA
    • Strength and Conditioning Coach for the California Regional Fire Academy, Sierra Fire Technology Program, as well as numerous other fire departments in Northern California
    • Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Firefighter Cancer Foundation

    John Recommends: A fitness trainer working with firefighters “should be seen not heard,” and always be respectful of the firefighting profession. The overall goal is to gain their trust and respect above everything else. Despite the need, without the “buy-in” from the firefighters, a training program will have little chance of succeeding, no matter how well-designed it may be.

    Name: Bequi Livingston, U.S. Forest Service – Southwestern Region – Fire and Aviation Management Staff, Regional Fire Operations Health and Safety Specialist, NM

    Passion: Bequi fell in love with wildland firefighting due to the outdoors and the adrenaline rush from helping save lives. She has been a lifelong firefighter (25+ years), but was equally passionate about personal fitness, health, and overall wellness. Bequi recognized the importance of fitness and wellness for wildland firefighters early on—those firefighters that did participate in physical training were getting injured often due to overuse, muscle imbalance, and not doing fitness the right way, but so were those that did not train because they were getting injured on the job. Wildland firefighters were actually “fighting fire to get fit rather than getting fit to fight fire.” Throughout her career, Bequi has been a fierce advocate of fitness for wildland firefighters and a pioneer in promoting application of optimal training strategies for this population.

    Career Path:
    • Seasonal wildland firefighter for 10 years (e.g., hotshot, helitack, engine, fire lookout, fire prevention, fire communicator, and law enforcement) beginning in 1979
    • Permanent firefighter/management for 13 years (e.g., fire engine operator, fire management, prescribed fire operations, and fire operations health and safety)
    • Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science (with a Minor in Athletic Training) with additional training including all the required wildland firefighting classes (e.g., I-100, L-180, S-130, S-190) and professional qualifications
    • Elite-level collegiate athlete
    • Certifications: Personal Fitness Trainer (PFT) through the American Council on Exercise (ACE), Group Exercise Instructor through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), Corporate Athlete through the Human Performance Institute (HPI), Integrative Health Coach Professional through Duke Integrative Medicine
    • Developed Fireline Fitness program (1984)
    • Developed interdisciplinary FireFit program as leader of task group established by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, Federal Fire and Aviation Safety Team (FFAST)
    • Developed curriculum and currently serves as instructor at Central New Mexico Community College, NM, based on Fireline Fitness model

    Bequi Recommends: If I were looking for a prospect, I would look at their ability to do the job, their experience having participated in the field, their passion and education, and their ability to be a strong leader, especially in the face of adversity.

    Strength and Conditioning with Law Enforcement Personnel

    Name: Kevin Chimento, Health and Fitness Instructor, Physical Training Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Academy in Quantico, VA

    Passion: Since Kevin began working at the FBI Academy in 1996, his role has changed many times through his ability to take the initiative and create opportunities for expansion, increased responsibility, and professional growth to improve the quality of instruction provided at the FBI Academy. For Kevin and the people he trains, this initiative has paid off.

    Career Path:
    • Bachelor of Science degree in Fitness and Cardiac Rehabilitation/Exercise Science; Master of Science degree in Education
    • Exercise Physiologist – St. Francis Hospital, NY
    • Physical Training Assistant, FBI Academy in Quantico, VA (physical training test, swim test, and panel interview)
    • Health and Fitness Instructor, FBI Academy
    • Evolving responsibilities at FBI Academy: instructing group exercise classes for the New Agent population and the National Academy program; train New Agent trainees; classroom instruction on topics of health, fitness, nutrition, stress management, behavioral change, and worksite health promotion for law enforcement; create fitness advisor newsletter for the FBI Academy; create quarterly exercise events such as a best bench press event, 5k run, and fitness adventure course; and restructure hiring process for future Health and Fitness Instructors
    • Adjunct Professor at the University of Virginia

    Kevin Recommends: Kevin is a strong believer in continuing education and feels that his yearly attendance at national conferences, strength and conditioning clinics, and seminars has helped him develop a sound, research-based practice that in turn helped him achieve his current position.

    Name: Kelly Kennedy, Wellness Program Facility Manager – Miami-Dade Police Department, FL

    Passion: Over the past decade, Kelly has physically trained and tested over 1,500 police recruits and officers while working for the largest police department in the Southeast United States. Kelly was in the right place at the right time to apply the expertise she had gathered in numerous fields pertinent to both the design and administration of physical fitness training programs in specialized populations such as law enforcement.

    Career Path:
    • PhD in Educational Leadership, Master of Science degree in Health Education with a specialization in Exercise Physiology, and Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications
    • Adjunct Instructor at Florida International University
    • Certifications: Health Fitness Instructor through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Certified Sport Nutritionist through the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), United States of America Weightlifting (USAW) Level 1 Sport Performance Coach, CrossFit Instructor, Defensive Tactics Instructor, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
    • Director of Fitness Program, Recruit Academy Program, FL
    • Subject Matter Expert for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement
    • Lecturer on physical fitness: basic law enforcement for police, corrections and specialized units such as the Special Response Team, Rapid Deployment Force, and Defensive Tactics Instructor
    • Lead design of a large obstacle course that was constructed for law enforcement training and was a part of a committee to create a pretest physical fitness screening for the members of the Rapid Deployment Force
    • Assisted in training camps as an assistant coach at the East Coast Alliance (ECA) and NSCA National Conference
    • Owner of a consulting business called and an iPhone app called iEatnburn

    Kelly Recommends: Know your population; they know when you are not one of them. Learn from those in all subject areas pertinent to fitness in the law enforcement field, including strength and conditioning professionals and law enforcement personnel, to better understand the psychological and physiological job demands and optimize the manner in which the program is administered.

    Strength and Conditioning with Military Personnel

    Name: Captain Tony Soika, Company Commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Army Training Center, SC

    Passion: “I wanted to make a difference. Today at 43, I’ve done tens of thousands of sit-ups in my career and in 2013 I’ve missed at least 5 days of work in my career due to back trouble that the doctor blames directly on excessively tight hip flexors. Roughly $1,100 of your taxes have been wasted paying me while I was too hurt to go to work. The army needs someone who understands the science behind human performance as well as he understands soldiering. A lot of people know one or the other. A lot of people are in the army and ‘really into working out.’ It’s not the same. The army needs strength and conditioning professionals. Period. No excuses. I wanted to help bring about that change,” (2).

    Career Path:
    • Elite-level athlete
    • Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science and Master of Science degree in Exercise Science
    • Certifications: Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) and Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator™ (TSAC-F™) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), United States of America Track and Field Coach Level 1 (USATF), and Master Fitness Trainer (United States Army)
    • Division I Strength and Conditioning Coach
    • Owner: Sports Performance Advancement, Appleton, WI
    • Trained athletes at every level from high school to the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA)
    • Military assignments (two tours and three combat deployments): US Army Company Commander, Executive Officer, Battalion Logistics Officer, and Maintenance Control Officer
    • Selected by name to serve at the U.S. Army Physical Fitness School where he worked on redesigning the Army Physical Fitness Test and Manual
    • Serves on the Editorial Review Panel for the TSAC Report

    Tony Recommends: When pursuing experience as an aspiring coach or tactical facilitator, you have multiple avenues. Not every practicum or internship is advertised. Those of us who have been at this awhile want to see go-getters. Do not be afraid to cold call an organization asking to volunteer. Everyone can use free help, so aim high and find a good mentor and learn all you can. Make every effort to get to know the more experienced coaches who speak at conferences. The moral of the story: learn, learn, and do not ever stop learning.

    Name: Erica Realmuto, Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) Deployed Forces Support, Fleet Fitness and Recreation, Washington, D.C.

    Passion: This is how Erica summarized how she feels about her job: “Serving those who serve makes my job awesome. The programs we put forth are there to positively impact the sailors’ experience and being there to see this unfold makes every workday worthwhile.”

    Career Path:
    • Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science
    • Internship: Navy Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) in San Diego, CA and then Sasebo, Japan (three months)
    • During the internship participated in ten day underway with the USS Essex assisting their Fit Boss (Civilian Afloat Fitness Specialist) in his daily duties
    • Hired as Fit Boss on the USS Peleliu (Singapore – beginning of their deployment): teaching classes, conducting seminars, and programming fitness events. Networked with shore staff upon return, especially base fitness specialists (assisted with their program and daily operations from a shore standpoint)
    • Hired as Fitness Coordinator, Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain (18 months)
    • Offered position of Waterfront Fitness Specialist (delivery of programs to the fleet), San Diego, CA
    • Research coordinator on project that has established the core program “NOFFS” (Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System) as go-to effective and safe physical fitness program that eliminates the guesswork for our sailors who are deployed and on shore
    • Fleet Fitness and Recreation Program Manager, Washington, D.C. – one of Erica’s jobs is to oversee the hiring of new personnel in the very job that started her career with fitness in the Navy

    Erica Recommends: Getting your foot in the door for fitness with the Navy may mean starting from the ground up. However, starting from the bottom and working your way to the top will give you more insight to the Navy experience. Take a chance on something new, it will add diversity to your career and the “unknown” may surprise you with the most rewarding experiences of your life.


    Each of the professionals highlighted in this article have demonstrated a high level of enthusiasm and dedication to their own continued professional growth to help provide the best possible practice for the populations they serve. Working as a tactical facilitator requires a well-rounded level of experience working with tactical populations (individuals and groups), as well as perseverance since there is not always a direct career path to these positions (especially within law enforcement and fire service); but it is an extremely rewarding job and worth all the effort.

    References and Suggested Reading

    1. Kraemer, WJ. Using science to improve professional practice, part 2. Strength and Conditioning Journal 29(1): 69-73, 2007.
    2. Soika, T. So you want to train tactical athletes: Becoming a TSAC-Facilitator. NSCA Career Development Guide, 2013.

  • Katie Sell

    About the Author:

    Katie Sell, PhD, CSCS,*D, TSAC-F

    Katie Sell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Professions and Kinesiology at Hofstra University. She currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in exercise physiology, physical fitness assessment, and research methods. Her primary research interests lie in the areas of physical fitness assessment and exercise programming for wildland firefighters. She is currently on the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Tactical Strength and Conditioning Special Interest Group (SIG) Executive Council and a member of the Editorial Review Panel for the TSAC Report.

  • Disclaimer: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) encourages the exchange of diverse opinions. The ideas, comments, and materials presented herein do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion, or otherwise. 
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