If you want to manage the performance of assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, you better know what you’re doing. At the elite and professional levels of sport, strength and conditioning coaches are responsible for managing the performance of teams’ most valuable assets – The Athletes. And to make sure they are hiring the most qualified strength and conditioning professionals, teams in Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Football League (NFL) trust the Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach® (RSCC) distinction from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
“The RSCC designation tells me a coach is committed to the profession of strength and conditioning,” commented Tom Myslinski, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. “It tells me they not only have the educational base to work with our athletes, but even more important they have at least two years’ experience working in a team environment.”
Whether in the NFL, NBA, or MLB, when star players with multi-million dollar contracts underperform due to lack of conditioning or sit idle due to preventable injuries the whole team and the whole franchise suffer. Teams don’t make the playoffs, ticket revenue and game attendance drop, team morale nosedives, and players start looking for new opportunities. It’s not just the fan-favorites who need to perform; those stars can only compete at their highest levels when their teammates are in condition to contribute their best performances. Above all, the most tragic costs of underserving athletes are the missed opportunities for those injured and underperforming athletes to compete at their peak potential during the relatively short period of a professional career.
From Recommended to Required
With so much at stake, teams and players needed a verifiable means of evaluating a Strength and Conditioning Coach’s experience, professionalism, and subject mastery. The NSCA RSCC designation provides that, which is why the current MLB collective bargaining agreement contains a clause requiring an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) certification with RSCC distinction for employment as a Strength and Conditioning Coach (S&C Coach) with a professional team. In the MLB, the CSCS certification requirement extends to coaches working with Double-A Minor League teams and up. For the first time ever, the 2017 NBA collective bargaining agreement requires an NSCA CSCS certification for S&C Coaches working in the league, and National Basketball Strength and Conditioning Association (NBSCA) President, Bill Burgos, has strong support from S&C Coaches within the NBA to make the RSCC distinction a standard throughout the league.
The NFL collective bargaining agreement does not yet include the NSCA or RSCC distinction requirement for S&C Coaches working in the league, but in the long run Myslinski wants to go even farther. He sees the NSCA RSCC distinction requirement as a way for requiring even higher standards for the profession. He is not alone. Burgos, who is also Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Orlando Magic, echoes Myslinski’s viewpoints, that higher standards will define the limits on what a professional is qualified and allowed to do and not do. “The CSCS and RSCC will help ensure strength and conditioning roles for the team are run by an experienced, professional coach,” Burgos commented.
“The idea of the RSCC is a distinction for coaches who are actively working in the profession. To get to the elite level I encourage coaches to earn their RSCC distinction while working under a knowledgeable coach who can teach them program design and how to connect with athletes as a coach, not just sports science,” continued Burgos. “The CSCS requirement and RSCC distinction improve the quality of service provided to athletes and enhances the level of professionalism throughout the league.”
The RSCC and the Evolution of Strength and Conditioning
Major professional sports in the United States have changed significantly in the past 30 years, including the level of athleticism required for success, the competition for a place on a professional team, and increased athlete salaries. As pressures to perform increased, athletes started working with trainers, dietitians, and medical professionals outside the team during the offseason – and even during the season. The increased athlete salaries contributed to this trend by relieving many professional athletes in MLB, NBA, and the NFL of the need to work non-sport jobs in the offseason to supplement their income.
Along a similar timeline, the strength and conditioning profession was changing as well, with heritage-based methods being replaced by science-based methods and the accelerated development of new technologies.
While these changes were predominantly positive for athletes, coaches, and owners of professional sports teams, there were some notable problems. The most visible issue was detailed in 2007 in the Mitchell Report (formally known as “Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball”). The pressure to succeed and culture of unfettered access to players manifested as a performance-enhancing drug scandal that severely tarnished the reputations of players, coaches, and the sport of baseball.
Among professional baseball’s responses to the Mitchell Report were a tightening of access to players during the season and increased efforts to establish accountability for coaches and support staff working directly with players. Though the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society had created minimum standards for employment in professional baseball in 2004, these were upgraded in 2008 to mandate an NSCA certification. In the beginning of 2011, MLB informed General Managers throughout the league that: “By April 1, 2012, all individuals holding the position of Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, or Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach at either the Triple-A or Double-A level must be registered as a Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach, or shall become registered within 120 days.”
RSCC: The Badge of Credibility in Professional Sports
“The NFL may not mandate the RSCC distinction yet, but the coaches I hire will have it,” emphasized Myslinski. “I look for coaches with a Master’s degree in Exercise Science or a related field and a CSCS certification that includes the RSCC distinction. They need to have a strong baseline of skills and expertise, the intellectual curiosity to stay up to date on emerging sports science, and the ability to connect with and manage athletes in a team environment.”
Strength and conditioning coaches from MLB, NBA, and NFL acknowledge misconceptions about a S&C Coach’s role on a team, admitting the profession is still dogged by perceptions S&C Coaches only know how to lift weights. “Our profession is changing rapidly and our role is becoming more specialized, continued Myslinski. “We deal with a lot of personal medical information, and rehab is a large part of the equation. In Jacksonville we were the first team in the NFL to use GPS, to use force plate data, and to use the Nordboard for measuring eccentric hamstring strength. Staying current with research is crucial, and the NSCA’s peer reviewed journal (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research) is a big part of that.”
“The RSCC distinguishes someone who is really a professional coach and sports scientist,” added Burgos. “It’s not a distinction you can get in a weekend. It reflects a long-term commitment to continuous learning and applying the science of performance.”
The NSCA is dedicated to the continual improvement of knowledge and skills of the S&C Coach and moving forward in advancing the strength and conditioning profession. The CSCS requires a minimum of 6.0 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) every 3 years to ensure professionals stay current. Additionally, the RSCC requirements include completing an annual renewal course.
Earning Your RSCC Distinction
To earn your RSCC you must be have a current CSCS certification and a minimum of 2 years of verifiable experience working full-time as a designated strength and conditioning professional in a scholastic, collegiate, or professional sports program (NCAA, MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, or USOC qualify). Medical professionals, certified athletic trainers, and physical therapists working as designated strength and conditioning coaches in scholastic programs may apply for consideration, as can graduate assistants with two years’ experience in the Graduate Education Recognition Program.
There are three levels of Registered Strength and Conditioning Coaches included in the NSCA registry: