How to become a strength and conditioning coach. Part 3- Good to great

So here we go with part three of this guide on becoming a strength and conditioning coach. Firstly, if you’ve missed any of the past 2 parts you should go back and read them before you read this. 

Click here for part 1 which is all about getting the knowledge and qualifications required.
Click here for part 2 where I look at how you can get your coaching experience.

This post is all about once you’ve got some experience and are working in the industry, how do you keep on evolving and progressing into the coach that you really want to be. Ultimately this about going from good to great.

Continuing your development

Let’s split term ‘continuing your development’into three areas which are:

  1. Your technical development- the underpinning skills required.
  2. Your personal development- Who you are, where you want to go.
  3. Your career or business development- How you are going to achieve your goals.

All of the three areas above need a plan of some kind in order for you to ensure you’re developing, and to get to your destination in the most efficient way.
You’ll find that each of those three areas has a different emphasis at different stages of your career. When you first start out it’s all about technical development, then you tend to focus on building your career or business. Typically then you might experience challenges which mean you must address your personal goals and work on yourself more than anything else.
In my experience ‘personal development’ tends to be reactive instead of proactive. We really must have a good understanding of our personal strengths and weaknesses, and challenge ourselves regularly with where we are, where we want to go and how we are going to get there.

Personal development

Seen as if we don’t know where we want to go how on earth would we get anywhere!

Firstly it’s worth considering your long term goal. The most common that we have on the Level 4 course are the following:

  1. Open their own performance gym training athletes and the general public
  2. Get a job in performance sport
  3. Keep on improving as a coach and building your business at the same time

All of these of course are possible but they will not happen without a plan of action to help you to get there and get there more efficiently.

Long term career goals

If you don’t know that yet don’t worry. Instead think about what would be a success for you in the next few years. Perhaps you simply want to become a fully booked coach earning decent money.

Perhaps you want to get your first job in performance sport.

When I first started out I knew I wanted to work with elite athletes so my development was all about getting that first role. I networked like crazy and eventually got an opportunity to do an internship with Mike Boyle in the USA. Prior to that I’d been teaching martial arts and coaching strength and conditioning for free to anyone who was interested. I cam back from the USA and started a business delivering strength and conditionoing out of the South Leeds Stadium in Leeds. I had no plan and the project bombed big time!

So I took a step back and reflected on my options. I decided to get a job in performance sport and soon landed a role at the English Institute of Sport and Durham University. I then started writing a blog and realised I wanted to teach people and build an education business having seen people like Mike Boyle do that so successfully in the USA.

You don’t have to have all the answers but don’t shy away from putting your dreams down on paper. Dreams with a date on them are goals. Goals with a method of achieving them are plans. Plans broken down into a visible line of sight tell you what you are doing tomorrow, this week and this month. So my message here is you absolutely can achieve your dreams!

The hardest thing as a full time strength and conditioning coach is finding the time to keep up to date, but I personally believe that it is absolutely imperative to do so! So managing your schedule to include reading and reflection time is very important. What tends to happen as you build your career is that you get busier and busier with clients, athletes, teams all wanting your time. Before you know it you’re fully booked and you then compromise on your learning and reflection time, the thing that got you to where you are in the first place! This is why it’s critical to have a career or business strategy so you can keep your eye on the prize whilst still enjoying your coaching.

You’ll never have as much free time as when you are studying and immediately following your studies when you’re looking for work, so I would make the most of it and try to get through as many books and DVDs as you can!

So ask yourself the following questions:

What do you want long term?

What do you want in the next 12 months?

What do you need to do in the next 90 days to move towards your 12 month goal?

What does that mean you need to do today and this week?

Technical development

We all have specialist areas of interest within the umbrella term of strength and conditioning coach. You need to have a level of competency in all the areas of job which are:

– The art of coaching
– Coaching and designing strength and power sessions and programmes.
– Coaching and designing speed, movement, and conditioning sessions and programmes.
– Rehabilitation and injury mechanisms for your sports and all sports.
– Periodisation and annual planning for the training units above.
– Nutrition, lifestyle support, psychology basic understanding and application.
– Underpinning knowledge of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, strength and conditioningprinciples.
– Monitoring and recovery and principles behind these.
– Communication with coaches/athletes and clients. For some this comes easy, for others it has to be the primary area of focus as this is what really gets you results!
– strength and conditioning for specific populations- Rugby, MMA, Youth, etc etc.

Although I still try to read books, but I find it easier to digest information through blogs, websites and videos.
Here are a few websites/blogs that I would highly recommend you check out:

Vern Gambettas blog on athletic development– a pioneer in the field with a huge amount of experience.
– Eric Cressey Blog- Eric comes up with some gems of knowledge generally on the corrective exercise side of things.
Mike Boyles strengthcoach.com website– another pioneer in the field and a wealth of information on this site.
– Precision Nutrition- John Berardi’s website has some great nutritional information for coaches that I’d highly recommend.
EliteFTS website– a must for the strength and power training, this site has some great practical info (including a handful of articles from myself :D)
UK Athletics coaching website: Some great podcasts and articles on speed training, strength training recovery and more on here.

Reflection is the way forward!

One of the best ways I have found to improve my coaching is to find the time to regularly reflect on what it is I’m doing. I don’t mean sitting cross legged with some whale music in the background, unless you really feel the need, its more about finding 5 minutes to think about how that session went, or how your exercise selection could be improved for the next phase of training. I always carry a diary with me and regularly write notes when I have an idea for a movement or exercise for a specific population. I also scribble down websites to check out when people mention them to me in the gym, and anything else for that matter. I keep the pad by my bed at night too so that when I wake up in the night I can remember the ideas that come up (and pass it to my therapist). Incorporating this into your week will improve your performance as a coach, so make time to do it!

Beyond your Level 4: Further education to accelerate your development.

Here are a few courses that I’d recommend you check out along with a load of books that are worth a read too:

MSP Performance Coach- This is our flagship programme and stands for Movement Strength Power Performance Coach. It covers everything from performance coaching models,  advanced movement, strength, power and training techniques, business, mindset and more. Without question there is nothing out there at this level and is only for the most serious of coaches.

MSP NetworkAll of our video resources in one place. It’s a tenner a month and to be honest it’s worth a lot more than that. Expect Vern Gambetta, Mike Boyle, Duncan French, Dan John and more.

Youth Strength and Conditioning AssociationIf you are looking to specialise in working with young people this is the place to go and get qualified and insured.

6 Figure Coach ProgrammeIf you are looking to build a business and maybe even have your on gym one day this is like an MBA programme for our industry.

Ron McKeefery- My friend and colleague Ron is a pioneer in the USA.

Kelvin Giles Movement Dynamic Physical Competency screening and athletic development manuals- The best assessment process out there in my opinion from a leader in the athletic development field. Our courses have taken some of Kelvins principles of assessment and built on them for our purposes.

Practical Programming for strength training– A great guide to periodisation from a practicing coach. Well worth a read.

Starting Strength An in depth look at the basic barbell exercises which form the cornerstone of most strength and conditioning programmes. Great investment.

Tapering and peaking for optimal performance- Mujika: This is the text to get if you wanrt to learn from the authority on tapering. Truly a great resource.

Athletic Development- Vern Gambetta. Need I say more? Buy the book.

Nutrient Timing- Ivy and Portman: Released a while ago but a good look at the science and practice behind nutient timing.

How do you want to develop?

When you are coaching everyday you will find the gaps in your knowledge through your experience which should lead you to the right resources to check out. Following this it is down to you as the individual to decide which areas you want to develop more or less than others. For most of us (me included) we will base this on what we like rather than what we need. However its still important to keep in touch with other areas that are important within the role. For me I’ll always be happy to read up on athletic development, strength and power training, and sport specific strength and conditioning, sometimes I need to push myself to read up on nutrition as there’s always something else that you can put to the top of the pile, even though I have an interest in this.

Career and business development

Where are you and where do you want to be? This is the question to ask at this point.

I separate career from business as career relates more to people who want to move up in organisations where as business development is more focused on how to build a business for yourself.

Identifying your areas of development is a better way to develop your knowledge than simply reading random stuff you come across on the internet or wherever else. It’s nice to have time to read what you want to read, I think this is very important, but I would also recommend having a must read list, which should be based on your development needs as a coach. I encourage up and coming coaches to write up a competency map as I call it when they come into our Level 4 programme which is basically a profile of where they are in terms of knowledge and experience on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the best coach you can be in that area. You need to get to a baseline in each quality in order to be able to do the job well and this should be addressed first, from there you can choose to go down a specific path to improve your knowledge in that area. Then you can bring up your weak areas when you feel like they need improving. Very often this will be triggered by something that goes on at work, or a conversation with a colleague about programming etc which makes you think you need to brush up in that area. These are all healthy things to be doing and will improve your competency as a coach no end.

Who’s in your network?

Such an important question. One of the main ways you can keep yourself sharp is to pick up the phone and call up someone else in strength and conditioning. Have you ever heard that phrase ‘you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with’, make sure those 5 people challenge you in some way and get you to think about your programmes and ideas. Even if you decide to keep everything the same at least you’ve rationalized your programme.

Who you are networking with on a regular basis will have a big impact on how successful you are. You’ll find out about opportunities before they are advertised. You’ll sharpen your technical skillset. So get out there and meet people who are your peers and people who are one or two steps up the ladder from you.

In addition, think about your personal strengths and weaknesses and how that comes across in the workplace. If you haven’t done sign up for my newsletter HERE and i’ll send you a link to take one for free.

Some prompts for you to think about if you are struggling:

How are your presentation skills?
How successful are you in interviews?
Can you lead conversations?
Do you need to challenge yourself to attend more events?
Do you know how to build a business, attract clients, get finance?

All of these areas are huge when it comes to fast tracking a career. Over 10 years you can be 5 years further on than if you didn’t address these points.

So you want to be a 6 Figure Coach?

I am going to write a full bonus article on this very subject. If you are at that stage where you’re either working too many hours for not enough money and you want to learn how to move into working less and earning more this is certainly going to be a must-read for you. Stay tuned for that.

So that completes part 3 of the ‘So you want to be a strength and conditioning coach series’ As I mentioned part 4 is a special additional article called ‘So you want to be a six-figure coach?’ I will take you through everything you need to really thrive as a business owner in this fantastic industry.

Once again to your success,


Brendan is the CEO and founder of Strength and conditioning Education, the UK’s leading education provider for people looking to work as Strength and conditioning Coaches.

As a strength and conditioning coach Brendan has worked for many national governing bodies and institutions including the English Institute of Sport, Durham University, Huddersfield Giants, British Tennis, England Golf, TASS, and many more. He has also supported many professional athletes including UFC fighters, cyclists, boxers and many many more. Follow Brendan on all the usual social media channels @brendanchaplin.


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