Strength and conditioning coaches at the high school level contribute to the performance of most athletic teams. They may also teach strength and conditioning classes that are open to students who are not athletes. They have the three major goals of improving athletic performance, reducing athletic injuries, and teaching lifelong fitness and movement skills. This role allows them to have a significant, lifelong impact on a large number of young people and can be very rewarding in this way. The coach most often reports to an Athletic Director or Principal.
A strength and conditioning coach at the high school level will devise training plans according to sound scientific principles, supervise training sessions, evaluate athletes, maintain athlete records, and teach strength and conditioning classes as needed.
Strength and conditioning coaches meet regularly with sport coaches to determine what the athletes need to work on. If working with an injured athlete engaged in rehabilitation, strength and conditioning coaches also will consult with the sports medicine or athletic training staff to be sure they do not ask the injured athlete to do anything inappropriate during the rehabilitation process. (1)
The strength and conditioning coach will also most likely be responsible for maintaining the strength and conditioning facility, and for establishing policies, plans, and procedures for the safe and professional operation of the strength and conditioning facility. As part of this area of responsibility, the coach will recommend purchase of equipment and supplies and oversee the maintenance of equipment.
The strength and conditioning coach may also be responsible for supervising volunteers as well as hiring and supervising assistants.
The strength and conditioning profession involves combined competencies for the application of sport/exercise science, administration, management, teaching, and coaching. Its professionals must also comply with various laws and regulations while responding to instances of potential injury, and related claims and suits. This creates remarkable challenges, and requires substantial experience, expertise, and other resources to effectively address them, especially in multi-sport (e.g., collegiate and scholastic) settings.
1. Certification: A qualified strength and conditioning professional should achieve and maintain a relevant professional certification credentialed by an independent accreditation agency—for example, the NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification—as well as standard first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and automated external defibrillation (AED).
For strength and conditioning coaches at the high school level, a teaching certificate or license will often be required.
About 1/3 of high school strength and conditioning coaches are certified by USA Weightlifting (USAW) in addition to their NSCA certification. (2)
2. Education: A qualified strength and conditioning professional should acquire expertise, and have a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree from a regionally accredited college/ university in one or more of the “scientific foundations” for strength and conditioning (i.e. exercise/anatomy, biomechanics, pediatric exercise physiology, nutrition), or in a relevant subject (e.g., exercise/sport pedagogy, psychology, motor learning, training methodology, kinesiology). Approximately 84% of high school strength and conditioning coaches have degrees in physical education or an exercise science–related field. (2) As many as 50% of high school strength and conditioning coaches have Master’s Degrees. (2)
3. Experience: Experience as an assistant, intern, or volunteer, preferably working with a high school population in a high school setting, is important as preparation for a career. Firsthand experience in a strength and conditioning environment should be acquired while still in college.
4. Physical Requirements: Strength and conditioning coach is a physically demanding job. The coach needs to be able to demonstrate the appropriate skills and techniques to be used by the athletes. A coach needs to be able to visually monitor athletes. Sitting, standing, lifting and carrying (up to 50 pounds), reaching, squatting, climbing stairs, kneeling, and moving equipment/boxes up to 50 lbs. are typical physical requirements as well.
5. Other: Some high schools will require that an applicant undergo a background check, a physical, a psychological test, and a drug screen.
Strength and conditioning coaches at the high school level are paid comparable to collegiate strength and conditioning coaches. In public schools, coaches with a teaching certificate/license are typically paid a teacher's salary plus a coaching stipend plus a summer program stipend. Pay increases for an advanced degree and years of experience. Pay in private schools is similar to public schools but salary and compensation are more negotiable. (3)
According to the 2018 NSCA Coaches Salary Survey, the average high school strength and conditioning coach salary was $49,000. The same 2018 study found that salaries ranged from an average of $41,000 per year with a Bachelor's Degree to $84,000 per year with a Doctoral Degree. Coaches on a teacher's contract made almost 70% more than coaches not on a teacher's contract. This emphasizes the importance of having a teaching certificate.
A high school strength and conditioning coach will have more job stability than a coach at the college or professional levels. He or she will have a significant, lifelong impact on a large number of young people, which can be very rewarding. High school strength and conditioning coaches report enjoying the opportunity to work with young people and help them develop as athletes and people. (2) The strength and conditioning coach will teach a skill set that most athletes will use longer than any sport they play in high school, and will have the chance to work with more athletes than any other coach.
Strength and conditioning coaches need to work in cooperation with sport coaches who may not be well-educated about strength and conditioning and may have different ideas about how to best train student-athletes. Navigating this relationship requires very good communication skills as well as tact on the part of the strength and conditioning coach.
Strength and conditioning coaches often work long hours—up to 12 hours per day according to a 2010 survey—as strength and conditioning sessions frequently take place outside of the normal school hours. (2) The coach may also have game-day responsibilities for athletic events.
Strength and conditioning coaches at the high school level may have to interact with parents. Athletes may also train with outside strength and conditioning coaches/performance facilities that the high school strength and conditioning coach will have to take into consideration when designing a program. Student-athletes may be difficult to motivate. The use of social media by the coach and/or athletes presents constantly-evolving challenges.
1. American Kinesiology Association. .Careers in Sport, Fitness, and Exercise. s.l. : Human Kinetics, 2011.
2. Profile of High School Strength and Conditioning Coaches. Duehring, Michael D and Ebben, William P. 2, February 2010, The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Vol. 24, pp. 538-547.