A common email that I get is usually from a younger strength and conditioning coach who is interested in working in professional sports. “What was the path that you took that got you to where you are ?” First, I am truly honored and humbled that some folks are 1- interested in a similar career, and 2- take the time to ask me what I have done in my experience. I appreciate this because I remember writing and sending emails and letters to Strength and Conditioning coaches, head coaches, and management personnel on my old Dell Computer when I was first starting out. I would like to take a shot at answering.
I would begin by saying that I was lucky to enter the professional hockey ranks at a time when the full-time Strength and Conditioning Coach wasn’t common. At the time, there were part-time strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers who possessed their C.S.C.S. (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) who did it in addition to their full-time responsibilities, or outside consultants. I was fortunate to be the first full time Strength and Conditioning Coach for an organization at the time (2002).
The reality it is that it is probably harder to obtain full time employment in professional sports now than it was 16 years ago. Not only is it difficult to work in professional hockey but it is also difficult at every other level of any sport. Strength and Conditioning/Sport Performance is an awesome profession and more people want to become Strength and Conditioning Coaches.
What I would like to do is let you know what I believe worked for me. It is definitely a combination of having a passion for what you want to do, making the right decisions, education, experience, luck, and knowing the right people.
When I was an undergraduate Exercise Science student in college, I decided that I want to become a Strength and Conditioning Coach. At the time, I was a football player who enjoyed strength training. When I found out that there was an profession of coaching athletes in the weight room with the intention of improving performance and reducing the potential for injury- I knew it was what I wanted to do.
What I would like to say to the aspiring Strength and Conditioning Coach is:
Find mentors- I met great people who helped guide me throughout my career. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They also went to bat for me when a Head Strength and Conditioning Coach or a Head Hockey Coach was looking for a “Hockey guy”. There are so many mentors that I had and still continue to receive guidance from. I wrote about mentors here.
Volunteer/Internships- You will need to get experience. Learn how to coach and interact with athletes, coaches, and administrators. You never know who or where these people might be in the future. Find a way to make it work. Work another job if you have to. I completed 3 internships/part-time opportunities before I went to graduate school.
Master’s degree- I’m not sure if this is 100% necessary. Although I will say that I’ve spoken to several collegiate Head Strength and Conditioning Coaches who will disregard applicants who don’t possess a master’s degree when hiring assistants. Considering that some professional teams that have Directors of Sport Science with PhD’s, I would strongly recommend it.
Take risks and adventures- For me, when I was in my early twenties, I didn’t necessarily want to leave the Boston area. This was where my family and friends were/are. I realized that if I wanted to do this as a profession, I would have to go . I think this coincides with not being afraid of being uncomfortable. Learn new ideas and philosophies from different coaches and work to develop your own.
Work hard- This goes without saying. Arrive early and stay late. Network and read everything that you can. Some resources that I recommend are here.
There are also several paths to working in professional sports. This isn’t necessarily what you have to do. I know of several of coaches who took different paths. I wrote my story to let you know that this is what I did because I believed that this process worked. There were no shortcuts or situations where everything was perfect, but I think things worked out.