NSCA Advocates to Raise the Certification Standards with NCAA

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Advocates to Raise the Certification Standards with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)

The NSCA is developing awareness efforts on the importance of certification standards for strength and conditioning coaches at the NCAA colleges and universities to contribute to a safer training environment for student athletes. The NSCA is working with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), and other organizations to provide education and clinically practical information in hopes of decreasing the occurrence of catastrophic events.

A consensus statement titled, “Preventing Sudden Death in Collegiate Conditioning Sessions: Best Practices Recommendations” was released by an inter-association task force and published in the Journal of Athletic Training (JAT). These recommendations provided college officials including the NSCA and medical personnel with best practices for establishing emergency action plans and other educational information to help prevent sudden death in sports. Under the section “(4) Ensure Proper Education, Experience, and Credentialing of Strength and Conditioning Coaches” the recommendation reads:

“By far, an athlete is most at risk for sudden death in the training environment and not in competition. And, that’s why it’s so important to raise the standards within the NCAA for certifying strength and conditioning professions through a national accredited agency.”

“(C) Credentials. All S&CCs should be required to pass a certification examination credentialed by an independent accreditation agency. Competency standards, ongoing assessment, and continuing education requirements should be clearly documented.”

“Most deaths are preventable through proper recognition and emergency protocols,” said Task Force Chair Douglas J. Casa, PhD, Director of Athletic Training, University of Connecticut. “With continued education, research and advocacy, we can continue to reduce the number of fatalities and keep young athletes safe while playing the sports they love.”

Coach Boyd Epley, the NSCA Founder, states, “These deaths do not occur during the sport or game time. Instead, they occur during training and conditioning sessions, which is why it is so important that we better train coaches and raise the standards of their qualifications.”

On August 06, 2013, the Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) committee recommended an association-wide legislative package known as the Sports Safety Package. The CSMAS’ role is to research, educate and advise NCAA member institutions on the best practices and safeguards that provide student-athletes 

with a safe and healthy competitive experience. Based on the number of sudden deaths that have occurred during conditioning sessions, the CSMAS current Proposal 2013-18 specifies that “any individual who designs, conducts or monitors strength and conditioning activities is required to maintain strength and conditioning coach certification through a nationally recognized certification program.”

The 2013-14 NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook suggests that, “Strength and Conditioning Coaches should be certified by a nationally accredited organization.” This would be a first step in applying scientific knowledge to safely train athletes for the primary goal of improving athletic performance. Additionally, it reads:

When considering components for appropriate strength and conditioning certifications, institutions should note whether the certifying agency:

  1. Is accredited by an oversight organization (e.g., National Commission for Certifying Agencies accredited); 
  2. Requires an undergraduate college degree; 
  3. Requires a continuing education component; and 
  4. Requires current first aid, CPR and AED use certification. 
Some NSCA members believe the CSMAS legislation and NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook references are a major achievement showing significant progress in raising strength and conditioning certification standards in college athletics. This is a result of the Inter-Association Task Force’s efforts. However, others believe there may not be ample endorsement from the NCAA and argue that the wording is too vague and could pose complications beyond the intention of the current legislation.

Currently, the Proposal No. 2013-18 reads: “The NCAA Principle of Student-Athlete Well-Being states it is the responsibility of each member institution to protect the health of, and provide a safe environment for, each of its student-athletes. Based on the number of sudden deaths that have occurred during conditioning sessions, it is appropriate to establish a certification requirement that would institute a minimum standard for staff who design and conduct one of the highest risk athletics activities.”

Key NSCA leaders strongly believe that the proposed legislation should emulate the Inter-Association Task Force’s original recommendation which is to require certification through an independent accreditation agency, because it requires competency standards, ongoing assessment and continuing education. Furthermore, accreditation protects the interests of potential employers, by ensuring that the educational programs offered have attained a level that meets or exceeds standards that have already been developed by experts in the field. 

“Having a certification that is accredited guarantees that the strength and conditioning professional has demonstrated a certain set of skills and abilities to meet the real-life needs of their sports teams or clients,” says, Boyd Epley, NSCA Founder, “Accreditation serves as a necessary condition in our profession.”

The Importance of Accreditation

The science is always changing affecting the way athletes are trained. Having an accredited certification would require continuing education to stay on top of these continuous findings so that student athletes are trained according to the most effective and safest standards at all times.

“Passing a certification examination credentialed by an independent accreditation agency is imperative, because not all certifications are created equal,” says Carwyn Sharp, PhD, the NSCA’s Education Director, “The certification a strength and conditioning professional obtains impacts not only the quality of the athletes coaching but also the training environment and risk mitigation knowledge and standards.”

According to the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), the value of accreditation is that, “Accreditation provides third party oversight of a conformity assessment system. It provides a mechanism for the organization to demonstrate to the profession it represents and the general public it serves that its credentialing program has been reviewed by a panel of impartial experts that have determined that their program has met the stringent standards set by the credentialing community.” ICE oversees the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the industry accepted accreditation organization. 

Colleges, Universities and other institutions that hire strength and conditioning coaches who have an accredited certification are providing their athletes with the highest quality trainers on the market. “Continuing education is another important aspect for the NCAA to consider when hiring strength and conditioning coaches,” says Steven J. Fleck, PhD, the NSCA President, “Institutions who offer accredited certifications also have a specified path of continuing education that assists in the professional development of their coaches.” 

The sports training industry is an ever evolving field and the only true way for coaches to keep up on the required knowledge, skills, and abilities is to ensure that they are certified by an accredited organization that offers education to continue to develop them as professionals.

Division II and III Presidents Councils met in Indianapolis to finalize the legislative agenda for the 2014 NCAA Convention. Supporting the entire legislation would impact student-athlete health and safety, address penalties for drug testing, and support student-athletes’ path to graduation. Some division memberships are scheduled to vote in January 2014.
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