Tips for Aspiring Strength and Conditioning Coaches in Pro Baseball
There are several job opportunities available for strength and conditioning coaches and interns in MLB. (See http://baseballstrength.org/category/jobs-2/). PBSCCS asked three head strength and conditioning coaches with decades of experience at the Major League level to provide tips to aspiring coaches. Specifically, coaches were asked to provide suggestions on three topics: 1) Education; 2) Getting in the Door and 3) Professionalism.
EDUCATION: Mandatory requirements for working in professional baseball are:
You must have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher in a related field, e.g., kinesiology, exercise science, athletic training, etc.
You must be a Certified and Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
You must be CPR/AED certified.
Matt Krause on education: Choose a college or university program that offers and exercise science track. Take classes and get experience in exercise physiology, anatomy, kinesiology and sports medicine. Once you receive your degree, join the NSCA and become certified. NSCA certification is mandatory for employment as a strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball. Don’t stop learning once you graduate. Continue to learn and expand your base of knowledge by attending conferences, reading books and articles, listening to podcasts and networking with other professionals in the field.
Jose Vazquez on education: A college degree is a must and the more you know, the better you will look to a potential employer. So, get a degree from a college or university that has a reputation as having a good program in exercise science, biomechanics, physical therapy or related field. When you graduate, you will probably know only as much as your professors teach you and be only as proficient in a strength and conditioning setting as your college experience provided. So, choose where you get your degree from very carefully.
Get serious about science – anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, chemistry, etc. You have to understand the body and how the different systems and parts work together before you can determine how to improve how it functions. With a good science background, you will have a better understanding of what really works, why it works, how to read the literature and how to determine if a product or program does what it claims to do.
Some schools focus primarily on how to improve performance in healthy athletes, but you will never have a team in which every athlete is healthy. Take classes in athletic training, sports medicine, etc. to learn how to work with injured athletes. Take classes in sports psychology so you will know how to talk to athletes with different interests, needs and ability levels. Take classes in sports nutrition to learn how to help athletes learn how to consume the proper fuel for optimal performance, complete recovery and personal health. Don’t just focus on what to do as a strength coach. Learn the roles and responsibilities of the athletic trainer, team doctor, sports nutritionists, sports psychologist, etc. You will be a member of a team and it is imperative that you understand the roles, responsibilities and functions of every member of the team.
Many colleges and some pro teams are moving toward a Sports Science Program approach in which there is a Director and Coordinators for strength and conditioning, sports medicine, physical therapy, athletic training, nutrition, sports psychology / mental health, massage therapy, etc. Look at the classes that you are taking and ask yourself what can I apply from each class that will make me a better member of a sports science team. The days of being just a strength coach are likely numbered. If all you want is to focus on improving strength, you might consider becoming a personal trainer.
Nate Shaw on education: There are certain requirements that are mandatory prior to receiving an interview with a professional baseball team. You must have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher in a related field, e.g., kinesiology, exercise science, athletic training, etc. You must also be a Certified and Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and be CPR/AED certified.
Many teams place a high value on versatility. Although not a requirement, having experience with techniques and philosophies such as Postural Restoration Institute (PRI), Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS), Active Release Techniques (ART) among others can be a plus. Versatility will allow you to expand your role. Several team, including the Diamondbacks, look for candidates that possess a diverse background of experiences and bring a versatile skill-set such as massage therapy, athletic training, physical therapy, etc., that will allow them to work both in the training room and weight room, manipulate soft-tissue and perform treatments. All of this can increase your value as an employee as well as the value you can provide to the organization, sports medicine team and players. Once the prerequisites are in place, you can apply for a job as an intern or a full-time strength and conditioning coach. Versatility is consideration along with other qualities that are important to a team such as team approach, integrity, worth-ethic, passion, communication skills and attitude.
HOW TO GET YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR:
Matt Krause on getting a foot in the door: An internship allows you to gain practical experience and put your knowledge into practice. Experience is something that all pro teams look for. Make sure that you work under a certified strength and conditioning coach. Working under a non-certified coach will not provide the level of expertise and practical experienced needed for success at the professional level. The longer the internship, the better. The only way that you will be able to observe what is expected of you and your athletes during the off-season, pre-season, in-season and post-season is by working for a full year. Seek opportunities that will be challenging and let you get involved.
Don’t expect a positive response from every coach you come in contact with. You might run across a few who think they know it all. Some might think that they have the “secret” and won’t share it. Most, however, are knowledgeable, hardworking and eager to help you learn. Get involved and listen, listen, listen!
Apply for a graduate assistantship and volunteer at your local high school, college or university. Most pro teams have internships, but there might be only one or two per team and hundreds of applicants. Be willing to file several applications and don’t be upset if you don’t get your first choice. Applying for an internship in pro sports is a process so, start early. Pro baseball teams strive to have all intern positions filled prior to the annual MLB winter meetings in December.
Check the on-line sources for internships and other positions. The NSCA has job postings at www.nsca.com as does the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society (http://baseballstrength.org/category/jobs-2/).
Jose Vazquez getting your foot in the door: NSCA certification is a must. Without it, professional baseball teams can’t hire you and many will not even grant you an interview. You can’t get a job in pro baseball or many other sports if all you have is a weekend certification from another agency. The only certification that MLB recognizes for strength coaches is from the NSCA.
Work on your certification while you are in school and obtain it before you apply for an internship, graduate assistantship or job. Don’t work on it while you are trying to perform the responsibilities required of your employer, one or the other or both will suffer.
Get experience in the field. Volunteer to work in your college sports program. Work in as many programs as you can, not just baseball. You can learn a lot about how to coach and interact with coaches, trainers and athletes by working in other sports. The sports are different, but many of the movements in are similar. Everyone has to run, jump and throw. Sprinting, jumping and change of directions are skills needed for nearly all sports; the specificity of the skills is the difference. Lean how to make players stronger, faster, more explosive and get them in better condition. Stay in your area of expertise. Communicate with the skills coaches. Find out which movement skills they think are needed for each player and each position, but let them teach the players the specifics of the on-field tasks.
Nate Shaw getting your foot in the door: Volunteer in as many areas as you can, not just the weight room. Actively seek out coaches with different expertise, backgrounds, viewpoints and approaches. You will be a better coach because of it. Putting yourself in a box and only exposing yourself to people and coaches who think like you will limit your growth and development. Be a sponge. Learn from everyone. Everyone has something to offer. Learn to filter the good from the bad. Sometimes it as important to learn what not to do and how not to do it as it is to learn what to do and how to do it. Identify the setting and level that you want to eventually work in. Find a mentor to learn from. Make sure that you are working in a program that will help you get where you want to go. Start thinking about the big picture of where you want to go. Make the most of your internship or first job because it will often set the tone for your career. Every day is what you make of it. Be patient. There are no short cuts. It’s going to take decades to become a great coach. Keep grinding. If you put in the work, your time will come. Be prepared when it comes.
You are not a friend. Be courteous, patient and attentive to your players, and build good relationships. Just don’t be their friend. The best thing you can do for your athletes is to care about them, not be their friend. Having close personal relationships with athletes makes it even more difficult to have conversations about staying the course if they veer off. We are all human and no one wants to be wrong or disliked. Being a professional is a challenge. Doing your job is going to be hard. Don’t make it more complex than it has to be. It is a fine line between being friendly and being a friend.
If you want to make it in this profession, start connecting with people. Networking is a key to learning and advancement, and is one of the most powerful tools you can use. Ask your mentor to recommend individuals, groups and professional organizations that you can connect with. Networking will allow you to build meaningful relationships in the field. Focus on what you can do for those within your network, not what your network can do for you.
Matt Krause on professionalism: Being a professional means being committed 24-7, not just when you are in the weight room. Being a strength coach in pro baseball for most coaches means working in the minor leagues with limited facilities, tedious bus rides, long hours, modest salaries, limited family time and lots of administrative duties that have nothing to do with working with athletes. Strength coaches are required to keep complete records, complete a lot of paperwork and manage people. You can’t just be a good strength coach. You have to be competent at every aspect of your job, even the things that you are not interested in and don’t like doing.
Jose Vazquez on professionalism: This profession is not for the faint of heart. Strength coaches are overworked, they don’t get paid what they are worth and there is little job security. Being a strength coach is not something you become overnight. It requires hard work, the will to learn, consistency and focus. You will be tested you every day. The job can become a grind that pays pay little money and requires very long hours of relentless focus. You will be questioned, belittled and sometimes overlooked, but you have to stay focused on your job, consistent in your effort, have a passion for learning and a desire to help athletes develop into capable professionals and caring people.
It is not about you. It will never be about you. It’s about the athletes. If you want the best out of your athletes and those around you, remember that it is not about you. It’s about them. Your job is to make players better. No one wants to hear how bad you have it. If you don’t like the hours, responsibilities, lack of recognition or pay, don’t complain. Suck it up. There are thousands waiting for a chance to take your job.
Don’t expect immediate results. Adaptation takes time. What you do today might not produce positive measurable results until months or even years down the road. Your goal is to help players build a solid foundation upon which they can build upon throughout their career.
Don’t just read strength and conditioning books or listen to only strength and conditioning podcasts. As a coach, you are an educator, and the more well-rounded you are the more your supervisors and athletes will respect you. If you have a solid exercise science and conditioning background, explore areas in which you have limited knowledge. See what’s new in sports nutrition, recovery techniques, sports psychology and learning theory. Effective coaches are good communicators. Improve your communication, leadership and listening skills.
Be consistent in your appearance, focus, demeanor and how you approach your job day-to-day. While it is important to be consistent in how you present yourself, treat others and do your job, it is also important that you are able to adapt to change. Front office personnel, managers, coaches, coordinators, athletic trainers, supervisors, team members and organizational philosophy change frequently in baseball and with these changes come new ideas, some of which might be foreign to you. Change is a big part of the game and your ability to adapt to change will be instrumental in determining how long you remain in the game and your level of success.
Learn to take constructive criticism, i.e., advice. When a manager, coach, strength coach, coordinator, trainer, etc. tells you what you need to work on, work on it. Do everything in your power to get better at it. It’s usually not a suggestion. It’s an expectation.
Nate Shaw on professionalism: To be successful in this field you will need use all of your knowledge, creativity, energy and patience every day. Bring energy to the weight room every day. You must set the tone. Your athletes will feed off the tone you set. Be positive and encouraging. Your athletes deserve the best.
Set an example. Be fit and look fit. Practice what you preach. Get in the weight room and workout. Don’t ask players to do something you won’t or can’t do. Be confident, but not arrogant. The way you carry yourself, your demeanor, coaching voice and knowledge all matter. If you are not confident, the other coaches and players will see it and won’t respond to you.
Technique is the most crucial aspect in training and is many times overlooked. Make sure that movement patterns are grooved well prior to adding load or reps to an exercise. Don’t add resistance to dysfunction. If an athlete has poor technical execution of an exercise, it usually does not get better with more weight. Insist on perfect technique on every rep. Don’t allow sloppiness. It shows a lack of respect for the profession, the athlete and your job. Stop a player when he is doing something wrong, reduce the load if needed, make corrections, repeat the movement and create an environment of excellence.
Never be the last one in the weight room and the first to leave. Find a way to be there all the time. It shows the staff and players that you want it. Stay until the last athlete leaves. Build a reputation as someone who cares, is willing to help and will stay until the job is done.
You will be a member of the sports medicine team and as, such you will be expected to be on the same page as others on the team. Don’t be a maverick. Emphasize the team’s message, approach and program at all times.
Conduct your personal and professional relationships with honesty and confidence. Give and earn respect. You will meet the same people on the way down that you met on the way up. It is important that you can be trusted with your decision making.
You must be motivated to work hard. There is no substitute for hard work. This job requires many long and thankless hours, especially when you are just starting out. You will get out of it what you put into it. You will need to pay your dues in order to remain in the game for an extended period of time and your work-ethic will be a barometer. Invest the time and energy to be your best every day. Nobody wants an average coach. Strive to be great. Players and staff should never be able to say that you were the reason that they got injured, didn’t improve or didn’t win.
Learn! Learn! Learn! Knowledge is power. Continually strive to better yourself intellectually, morally and physically. Be a person of character, not a character. The profession is constantly evolving. If you are not improving with it, you will be left behind. Improve your critical thinking skills. They will help you understand why injuries occur, how to minimize the risk of injury and how to quickly and safely return a player from an acute injury.
Education: Education in the field is essential to getting a position. You need to know what’s current, what teams are looking for over and you need to have skills, knowledge and experience that separates you from others applying for jobs.
Getting your foot in the door: You need intern experience. If you haven’t served as an intern, find a place to intern. You should start seeking intern positions at least a year out from when you will receive your undergraduate degree.
Professionalism: This is a profession. It will be your profession only if you conduct yourself in a professional way.
Matt Krause, MA, ATC, CSCS, RSCC*D is Administrative Director of the PBSCCS. He has over 30 years of experience including Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Yankees, Reds and Pirates, 11 with the Reds and six with the Yankees. He has served as President of the PBSCCS and was the 2018 PBSCCS Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year.
Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Texas Rangers. He has over 20 years of experience in professional baseball including four years with the Mets. Jose was the 2014 PBSCCS Strength and Conditioning Coach of the year.
Nate Shaw, ATC, RSCC*D is the Major League Strength and Coordinator for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Nate has over 20 years of experience in professional baseball including three with Tampa Bay.