Case Study: Should your high school have a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist® on staff?

High school administrator discusses the considerations for athletes, non-athletes, faculty and the school budget.

There's no question that more high schools across the country are opting to hire an NSCA-Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS®) to enhance their athletic programs. These professionals play a pivotal role in reducing injuries and improving long-term athletic development as well as improving performance and confidence. What's behind this trend and is it a good move for all high schools?

Educator and former high school football coach Gary McChalicher has a unique perspective on this topic. The Southeastern School District assistant principal and director of athletics is also a certified CSCS. "The NSCA’s strength and conditioning model for scholastic athletics focuses on students’ physical and mental preparation. It benefits athletes and non-athletes. As an administrator, I'm fortunate to be able to build the CSCS role into our physical education program."

In addition to his administrative duties, McChalicher is currently responsible for all components of an athletic program serving 900 athletes in grades 7 through 12, as well as a staff of 80. This includes managing the operations associated with 25 athletic programs. Under his leadership, the district offers traditional sports performance training and general physical education.

A CSCS Helps Create Well-Rounded Students

A CSCS applies scientific knowledge to train athletes for the primary goal of improving athletic performance. But a CSCS is much more than that, especially at the high school level. "One hallmark of the CSCS model is a strong focus on creating well-rounded students. Unlike the older physical education models, we're increasing their measurables and embedding them into our entire physical education program. We're teaching students to move better and to avoid injuries. We're also improving their metabolic conditioning and increasing their knowledge of nutrition."

The data, he says, are very powerful. "We know how well these kids are performing. We're seeing better body mass indexes and healthier practices. They are learning how to take care of their bodies. We're giving them lifetime skills they'll use even after high school. There's so much information on the internet, in social media. We're teaching students how to discern what's good and bad. When they're done with our program, they know what they should do and how to do it right."

He emphasizes, "As an assistant principal, I'm looking for data not just to maintain a program but to build a program. I want to measure value not just in the number of squats a student can do and lack of sports-related injuries among student-athletes, but also I want to see improvements among all students in their psycho-social skills. We see a lot of improvements with our students, especially the non-athletes. Initially, many don't believe in themselves and all they could achieve. But they become so confident! They are proud and excited to talk about what they are accomplishing. That confidence extends to other areas of their lives."

McChalicher's Advice for Bringing the CSCS Role into your School

There is no one-size-fits all way of incorporating a CSCS into a school's physical education department. To advocate for a CSCS program, McChalicher says you've got to show need and value. "Consider what data you can collect quickly to validate your program. Data help to galvanize all stakeholders, including administrators, parents, teachers and kids. You'll need to put some hard numbers to this, showing that the benefits are for all students, not just student-athletes. But if you consider the average cost of an athletic program – about 2.2 percent of the school district's total budget – the most important consideration is that a CSCS is impacting the long-term future of a lot of kids for very little investment."

Having been a teacher, sport coach, and strength and conditioning coach, McChalicher offers these additional insights:

  • Have a conversation with your existing physical education department staff including the sport coaches. "Discuss what you want to get out of bringing a CSCS on board. Conduct a needs analysis of where you are. Is there leeway in the curriculum? Will the CSCS model fit into existing places?"
  • Consider what your athletes need. "And consider what your non-athletes need. The second is more difficult. The goal with our program was to create a model that teaches health and wellness for all students, not just athletes."
  • What types of numbers are you looking at for your classes? "If you have a 60-student class and the facility only handles 30, you may need to expand the facility or staff. Do you have the means to do that? Or, will you need to have an after-school schedule? If so, do you have the necessary budget and staffing?" McChalicher points out that often budgets can be realigned to make room for a CSCS investment. "Some schools spend money on expensive fitness machines that aren't necessarily a good investment. We use inexpensive options such as bands and kettle bells. The NSCA website has many great publications to help guide you on such things as gym layout and equipment selection."
  • Create a professional development plan for your current staff. "You can't just make wholesale changes. Everyone has a say, from the coaches and department heads to administrators and associations. There are a lot of variables."
  • Make sure everyone is in alignment. "Most schools have an athletic program and a separate physical education program. You'll want to make sure the CSCS model is drilled down vertically, and that everyone is in alignment. We wrote a flow chart development plan, starting with what we wanted students to be able to accomplish in second grade up to what we wanted to see them do in 12th grade. Then it's a matter of getting everyone on the same page."

Additional information on high school strength and conditioning can be found at

Biography: Gary McChalicher, EdD, CSCS

Gary McChalicher is Director of Athletics and Assistant Principal for Southeastern School District in Fawn Grove, PA. He is responsible for all components of the program serving 900 athletes and 80 staff for an athletic department serving grades 7-12. This includes hiring and evaluation of all staff, leadership and mentoring of all staff, and all scheduling and operations associated with each of the 25 athletic programs. This also encompasses compliance with PIAA and SESD student-athlete policies, evaluation and compliance with all legal and risk management concerns regarding facilities and student-athlete participation, development of relationships with community and business stakeholder groups, and complete control of a $1.2 million operating budget.

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