Degree or no degree…that is the question?

Last week I asked this question on Facebook and Twitter:

“Do you need a degree to become a strength and conditioning coach?”

It received more comments than pretty much any of the posts I’d put out this year.

What does this tell us?

This is a subject people are thinking about. People want answers. People need to know how to take things forward.

Rather than weigh in with my thoughts I thought at this stage, I wanted to highlight some of the comments that I feel paint a fair picture (All pasted straight from Facebook). I’ve made a few comments of my own at the end.

Comments from the recent thread:

Russell Jolley Hi mate, great thread. Just finishing my MSc in S&C from St Mary’s (3 years part time). Its been an awesome strength and conditioning course and I have learned so much that is directly applicable and useful. I have been coaching full time throughout, so i’ve been able to apply the content straight away. I would say a good degree/MSc is something most credible coaches should look to be doing. It really builds a base of knowledge from which to experiment and apply to your coaching. I’m not a fan of those coaches that say they “don’t care how it works as long as it works”, because at some point with some people it may not work, then they’re stuck because they don’t know why or what to do to change it or if its even appropriate for that person. I have found it also helps with member/athlete confidence/buy in to the the programme if they know you have a good education AND experience base.

Ben Coomber Personally, it depends on your goal, every goal should shape a journey. Want to go into elite sport and coach teams, get a degree in S&C and then nutrition on the side with ISSN. Want to be a bad ass and self employed, dont get a degree, can do more in less time with less money doing peoples courses and quals.

Darren Stratton I think regardless of academia either way, the sooner you can get out there and actually coach, the better. Great coaching is more than theory and knowledge, it’s experience and being able to work on the hidden keys, like communication skills. It’s an art form that has to be lived. Whether the theory comes from workshops, courses, books or bsc/msc, as long as its sound and you’ve been able to apply to the art is what matters most.

Matt Davies I qualified as a PT 5 years ago and wanted to go into elite sport. I trained athletes working for myself but getting into a club or more full time paid role was tough. I spoke to several people about doing a degree and decided that if I wanted to go ‘all the way’ then I’d definitely need a degree- possibly a masters. Brendan you were one of those that suggested a sport science degree and specialising in S&C at masters level. I’m now two years into a full time course and I love it. I am hoping that when I finish next year I will have UKSCA accreditation, a degree AND experience to break into a paid role in S&C but even then I know it’s not going to be easy!

Oliver Whitton I’ve just completed a BSc in exercise and sports science at Exeter. My goal from the beginning was to become an S&C coach, which I’m aiming to do via the self employed route. For me the degree has given me the ability the analyse research and therefore provided the all important ‘shit filter’. Similar to others on the thread it’s been somewhat limited in terms of applicability, but being aware of the difference between knowing the theory and actually applying it and getting results from it I’ve spent my three years trying to gain as much practical experience as possible.

Oliver Whitton Whichever route people take I think you have to be very clear which area of S&C you wish to work. Considering the fact there’s unpaid internships listing essential/desirable criteria such as relevant BSc/MSc it’s definitely vital to have a plan!

Monica Torland My undergraduate sports and exercise degree was relevant to me in the sence that I got an understanding how the body works and function etc,but the most important part was the practical skills and experience that I gained when I was out working with other coaches (like you Brendan Chaplin) and teams.The experience and the network I created then is invaluable and I wouldn’t have got that if I didn’t do my course.I gained the UKSCa accreditation and the PT qualification after uni, but it made me get experience in several areas and this is stuff I still use now:-)

Blaine Clancy MSc Sports and Exercise Biomechanics. Currently I am applying absolutely zero of what I have learned. Most of what I learned just my MSc was more appropriate for research and not in an applied sport setting. I have applied little bits of my BSc Sports Science degree with regard speed and vo2max tests. Just the little bits from the BSc I can really apply in S+C. BSc + MSc = good paperwork and essential for getting a job. I also feel that the degrees have improved my reading ability, and is now helping me to trawl trough research and article to pick out the pieces I can apply.

Karl Beacham Ok guys so from someone who is researching next steps etc (me). Private courses like Ben Coombers BTN course or precision nutrition compared to a uni based nutrition course. Which has more value in a practical based environment? And then similar for the physical coaching aspect! Degree in sports science or seminars, and coaching days/weekends like Brendan offers? Other than letters after your name is it really worth the £30grand +?

My thoughts…

Brendan Chaplin Strength and Fitness So I guess the big points in this discussion might be: know what you want and work back from there. Who you want to work with? How long you are prepared to wait. That should decide the educational route to take. With reference to courses versus degree. I would always say that i’d rather be able to do the job rather than have the piece of paper to say I can. Learning from more experienced coaches, how they do things, mistakes made etc gave me the confidence to validate my own practice and develop far quicker. “Get your hands on people” was the best advice I ever received I think.  Go do it! Doesn’t matter with who, just get on with it!

Brendan Chaplin Strength and Fitness As far as getting a job, a degree or lack of and even a masters is being used to eliminate people from applications due to the sheer volume of people available. These roles tend to be in Olympic sports, universities, professional sports. Because they can! This might be the option for people looking to progress in those sports. But there are sports that fall outside the classic structures. I know trainers who work in boxing, mma, to name 2 examples with the best of the best who don’t have classic degrees. They do a superb job. 
So knowing what you want, who you want to work with is key.

Brendan Chaplin Strength and Fitness Also the commercial model is growing and is a valuable, respected route if you ask me. This path doesn’t require a degree or masters. It needs you to do the job well. To be able to get results.

Strength, conditioning & degrees

As more and more people become aware of the benefits of a well-designed and coached strength and conditioning programme these businesses will thrive. The good coaches will make a good living. The young athletes will remember where they got the coaching that helped them in their development and come back for more.  The US model is an example of this. Their sport structure is different but it will carry over.

I believe those people who are well placed and do a great job will have opportunities to work with performance athletes down the line. It’s a long game after all. 

I can only say that my consultancy work has grown through word of mouth as people realise it’s getting them results. All performance athletes, many fitting outside the classic sporting funding structures. Pro golfers, cyclists, combat athletes, motoGP, Superbikes, footballers. All I believe would have come to me irrespective of whether I had a degree or not.

So, do you need a degree to be a successful Strength and Conditioning Coach?

Absolutely not! Our Level 4 Strength and Conditioning Course does not require you to have a degree. And, with the right training, experience, and networking – you can become a successful Strength and Conditioning Coach without a degree. All you have to do is put your mind to it!

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