CSCC Weighs In

For the second time in 25 years, a group of strength coaches has created a new association to represent them. Find out how the new CSCC differs from the NSCA.

By Dennis Read

Dennis Read is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

Training & Conditioning, 11.9, December 2001,

Among strength and conditioning professionals, the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCC) is the new kid on the block. With more than 250 members on its roster today, the CSCC was created in February 2000 by a group of NCAA Division I college and university strength and conditioning coaches who felt their needs were being diluted in the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

When many strength and conditioning coaches first hear about the CSCC, they want to know why the new organization was formed and what it will do that the NSCA hasn't done. The answer to those questions, according to CSCC leaders, is it will be dedicated to addressing the needs and concerns of collegiate strength and conditioning professionals. CSCC leaders feel this sole focus will enable the CSCC to effectively promote the membership's skills to athletic directors and other employers, provide a better certification, and take on a stronger advocacy role than many believe the NSCA has done in the past.

"The purpose of the CSCC is to educate, update, and upgrade all the collegiate strength and conditioning coaches on the latest research and its practical application in the field,"says CSCC Executive Director Chuck Stiggins, EdD, MSCC. "The other important things are to promote strength coaches as professionals, to build more respect for our group, and to unify all college and university strength and conditioning coaches.

"Being a charter member of the NSCA, I have nothing but the utmost respect for that organization,"continues Stiggins, who served as a strength and conditioning coach at Brigham Young University for 25 years before becoming Professor in the College of Health and Human Performance at BYU. "But the NSCA just did not meet the unique and specific needs of the college strength and conditioning coach. They opened their doors to everybody, and they got too big. The guys who started the organization were college and university strength coaches, and 25 years later, they have all these athletic trainers, and physical therapists, and personal trainers, and teachers, and researchers."

So a quarter of a century later, a group of college and university strength coaches has once again started a new professional organization that, they believe, will better serve their unique needs and give them more respect in the world of college sports. But the CSCC is more than a "feel good" organization. Its plans include a focus on the issues facing college strength and conditioning coaches, strong advocacy on behalf of college strength and conditioning coaches, and its own certification process.

A major impetus behind the CSCC's creation was dissatisfaction with the NSCA's certification program. Some CSCC members feel that the NSCA's Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification does not properly indicate someone's readiness to be a collegiate strength and conditioning coach.

Others were concerned by the number of people getting a CSCS as a secondary certification and the effect this could have on job seekers. Stiggins, for one, wants to draw a line distinguishing full-time strength and conditioning professionals from people in other professions who hold an NSCA certification.

"It really bothers me when athletic trainers or physical therapists come over and dual-certify with the NSCA," Stiggins says. "Then, when a strength and conditioning coach's job comes up, they tell the athletic directors they can more effectively do the job because now they have two certifications and they can better interface with the training room in the rehabilitation process."

The CSCC has established what it feels are more stringent requirements for awarding its Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified (SCCC) certification than the NSCA requires for the CSCS. Candidates for the SCCC exam must be a member of the CSCC, have a bachelor's degree, and have completed an internship before taking the exam. In contrast, the NSCA's CSCS process only requires a bachelor's degree with no internship or membership requirement.

"A by-product of opening membership up is that anybody can get certified by the NSCA if they have the money and want to study for the test,"says CSCC Board Member Rob Oviatt, ME, MSCC, Director of Physical Development at Washington State University. "There is no prerequisite of experience in the field. If a taxi driver wants to buy the study materials and send in his 300 dollars, takes the test and passes it, he's a certified strength coach. We think that hurts the creditability of our profession."

The CSCC certification process will keep these "taxi drivers" from taking the test. "Under CSCC guidelines, you need a certain amount of personal experience in order to be allowed to sit for our test," Oviatt says. "Not just anybody can walk up and take the test, and I think that's very important. That's what the athletic training profession has always done and that's to its credit."

The CSCC internship--which can also be fulfilled through a residency, practicum, or graduate assistantship--must be completed under the supervision of a CSCC-certified strength and conditioning coach. The program must be completed over eight or nine consecutive months with a minimum of 30 hours per week, 120 hours per month, and 1,000 hours total, although the exact number of hours will be determined by the supervising coach. Candidates will choose between programs using high-intensity training or free-weight methods and be evaluated in one of those areas during the internship, although familiarity with both areas is highly recommended by the CSCC.

After completing the internship, a candidate takes a written test of both scientific and practical knowledge, then performs a hands-on exam. Candidates must demonstrate a variety of strength and conditioning coaching skills and techniques during the exam plus answer oral questions before a group of Master Strength and Conditioning Coaches (MSCC). (The MSCC is limited to CSCC coaches with 12 or more years of full-time experience as collegiate or professional strength and conditioning coaches and, according to the organization, is the highest honor that a strength and conditioning coach can achieve.) However, strength and conditioning coaches who were full-time professionals on or before Sept. 1, 2000, need only take the written test to receive the CSCC certification.

"We want to make sure that candidates are really trained from an educational and a practical standpoint so they can go out and do a great job at the college level," Stiggins says.

The CSCC's initial certification efforts haven't gone without criticism from strength and conditioning colleagues. For instance, John Taylor, MS, CSCS*D, Chair of the NSCA's College Strength and Conditioning Professionals (CSCP) Special Interest Group and Head Performance Training Coach at New Mexico State University, says that internship requirements and hands-on testing are not bad ideas, but he wonders about the logistics behind their implementation. Among other things, he questions how the criteria for a successful internship will be established and how the hands-on test will be judged.

"The problem from a certification standpoint is that I want it to be a legitimate process," he says. "The CSCS exam has taken a long time to get where it is now as the industry standard and that's by virtue of the legitimate process it's gone through."(For more information about what the NSCA is doing for collegiate strength and conditioning coaches in its ranks, see "NSCA Solutions" at the end of this article.)

Besides the certification process, another key motivation behind the creation of the CSCC revolves around the role of strength coaches at the college and university level. Although the basic tenets of most strength and conditioning jobs are similar, those working in the intercollegiate arena say they face special challenges on the job that others in the profession don't.

The first challenge is the very nature of college sports, where winning and losing is the measuring stick for most athletic department employees, including strength and conditioning coaches. These demands are especially acute in the high-profile Division I-A football schools that dominate the CSCC's membership roster.

"The biggest difference for college strength and conditioning coaches is the volatility and the daily pressures you face in this job," Oviatt says. "Because of the money that has become involved, the pressure to win in college has never been greater. That's reflected in the pressure that sport coaches face, and the pressure, in turn, that the support people working for those coaches endure.

"It used to be that if a college strength coach serviced every team and did his job well, he had a good chance to keep his job," Oviatt continues. "Now, there are strength coaches who lose their jobs when the head football coach gets fired. There needs to be fair and uniform accountability on how strength coaches are treated when coaches change."

Then there are the more tangible differences in day-to-day demands and responsibilities. "We have to deal with the regulations of the NCAA," says CSCC President Mike Clark, CSCS, MSCC, Assistant Athletic Director for Speed, Strength, and Conditioning at Texas A&M University. "We're also dealing with a large number of athletes with very restrictive schedules, so sometimes we're working with large groups of people at once and sometimes we're dealing with smaller groups throughout the day.

"Our scope is becoming much broader," Clark continues. "Now-adays, you're spending almost as much time out of the weight room as in it. For example, if you look at high school athletes, most of them have mom feeding them and taking care of them. Now we have to try to feed them. We used to feed them at training tables, but now that's illegal. So we've had to take on more of a nutrition-education role with the athletes."

The CSCC also feels its contingent needs to lobby for pay raises. According to Stiggins, there are certified strength and conditioning coaches in its ranks with masters degrees who make only $16,500 a year. "There are about 15 guys in the country who make real good money, but the vast majority of strength coaches are grossly underpaid and that's ridiculous," Stiggins says. "We have to step up to the plate to let athletic administrators, coaches, and university officials know that the most valuable person in the athletic department, as far as human performance is concerned, is the strength and conditioning coach."

All of these issues, claim CSCC leaders, are challenges unique to college strength and conditioning coaches that their specialized organization can address. And the CSCC hopes to improve the lot of coaches in several other ways. The most basic is simply stating its members' case to athletic administrators.

"The message we're trying to get out to athletic administrators is that the most highly trained individual in strength and conditioning, fitness, and wellness in their department is the strength and conditioning coach, and he or she should really be valued," Stiggins says. "We need to get the message out that these college and university strength coaches are the best in the business and they need to be treated that way."

To get this message across, the CSCC is developing a video that explains what strength coaches do, how they do it, and what qualifications are required to be one. "I don't think people understand the education that goes into learning how to do this job, the continuing education needed to keep up on the latest training methods, the extremely long hours, and all the other things that go into doing this job well," Oviatt says. "There's a stigma out there that the old strength coach just throws the ball out on the playground. He's down there in the gym, out of sight and out of mind."

But efforts to educate administrators may not come naturally to many strength coaches who have quietly gone about their jobs while doing little to bring attention to themselves or their accomplishments. "We just haven't done a good job of marketing our profession," Oviatt says. "I personally don't like self promoters. But I think there's a big difference between promoting yourself and trying to promote the value of your occupation for the betterment of others in your field."

In the process, the CSCC is raising a few eyebrows, particularly with its membership policies that require all members to be full-time collegiate strength and conditioning coaches. "I think coaches at the smaller Division I, Division II, and Division III schools don't feel that their interests are being served by this new group," Taylor says. "The majority of CSCC members are from major Division I football-playing schools, and that's not going to represent the issues facing coaches at Kearney State or Wayne State or others that are not major college football-playing schools.

"Plus, a lot of college strength coaches feel we should be distinguished from high school strength coaches," Taylor continues. "But the general consensus of the CSCP is that's not the case. I know some very good college strength and conditioning professionals who are now working at the high school level. And there are some former high school strength coaches who are now very good college strength coaches. To me, a strength and conditioning professional is a strength and conditioning professional, and that's one of the philosophies that differs between the two organizations."

Stiggins admits that the CSCC membership policy limits the size of the association, but defends it as part of the group's effort to promote the importance of collegiate strength and conditioning professionals. And the membership issue isn't closed, as there are some indications that the CSCC may revisit this strategy as it matures.

"We may end up adding some other people, but we're going to add them at our pace," Clark says. "We don't want to grow so fast that we lose control of what we've established."

Despite their discontent over the size and focus of the NSCA, many CSCC leaders are quick to emphasize that they appreciate all that the NSCA has done in the past and continues to do. "The NSCA is a great organization," Stiggins says, "and it's done many great things in the areas of strength and conditioning, health, fitness, and wellness. I wish them nothing but the best."

And many CSCC members stress that the group is not setting itself up as a direct competitor to the NSCA. Rather, it is an alternative organization with some overlapping goals. "The NSCA forever has said its main goal is to educate people about the training of athletes, and they do a tremendous job of that," Clark says. "Personally, and as an association, we encourage our members to have a dual membership along with the NSCA because they are going to do things educationally that we can't do and won't try to do."

And while there are clear differences regarding their certification processes for strength and conditioning coaches, the CSCC and NSCA share similar goals and objectives. So, the obvious question is whether they can work together. The general consensus appears to be yes.

"I know there are people who bash the NSCA and I know there are people in the profession who bash the CSCC, but I think in time that will come to a halt," Clark says. "I think both groups can benefit from each other if they'll just cooperate."

After all, there is some precedent for a group of strength coaches operating their own organization beyond the NSCA. "There's the Strength and Conditioning Society in the NFL, and that's a group that operates outside the NSCA umbrella," says Yale University Director of Conditioning and NSCA Vice-President Steven Plisk, MS, CSCS. "So I think there's a lot of potential for many symbiotic things to be done. Just the fact that people have a choice of which group to join is a good thing."

In his role as CSCC President, Clark feels a duty to do what he can to get the two groups moving in the same direction. "The main thing I can do is communicate to the members of our association that our job is not to bash the NSCA or put them out of business," he says. "That's the last thing we want. They have their niche and we have ours. To be honest, I think dual membership will be very valuable. I know I'm not giving up mine."


The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) acknowledges the need to do a better job of promoting and serving collegiate strength and conditioning coaches and is currently working on that initiative. For example, the NSCA has strengthened its College Strength and Conditioning Professionals (CSCP) Special Interest Group. One of several special interest groups within the NSCA, the CSCP is focusing on many of the same concerns and issues being addressed by the CSCC.

"We'd be a lot better off, and we could get a lot more done, if we had all those people in the other organization working in conjunction with ours right now," says John Taylor, MS, CSCS*D, Chair of the CSCP and Head Performance Training Coach at New Mexico State University. "Our voices would certainly be a lot stronger. But I don't foresee that happening in the near future."

Like the CSCC, the NSCA is promoting its members to people outside strength and conditioning. NSCA President Richard Borden recently gained a seat on the NCAA Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports Committee. And the NSCA just completed a standards and guidelines project similar to one done by the National Athletic Trainers' Association. It spells out what is required to run a strength and conditioning program effectively and safely, including personnel qualifications, staffing and equipment issues, and emergency plans. The NSCA is also communicating with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), the NCAA, and the NAIA through their publications and annual conferences.

"We're letting them know that what's involved in running a strength and conditioning program is not arbitrary," says NSCA Vice President Steven Plisk, MS, CSCS, Director of Conditioning at Yale University. "It has to be managed well and staffed well and employees need certain qualifications. So here are the things you may want to look at if you want to make sure your program is safe and effective."

The NSCA is also examining steps to better differentiate professional strength and conditioning coaches from others holding the CSCS certification. One possibility is an educational recognition program that will examine a school's curriculum and reward those who meet still-to-be-established criteria. The NSCA is also working on a registered coach distinction that would be awarded on top of the CSCS to strength and conditioning coaches who meet certain criteria.

"Just because you're a CSCS does not necessarily mean you are ready to be a strength and conditioning professional," Taylor says. "Even if you pass the exam and get a job as an assistant strength and conditioning professional, you may not have the same types of skills, aptitudes, and abilities as a strength and conditioning professional who has been practicing for some time.

"So we're establishing some criteria for a distinction that will indicate [your expertise] to an employer or another strength and conditioning professional," he continues. "There will be criteria established for how many years you need to be practicing as a strength and conditioning professional before you're eligible for the distinction. We'll also probably have criteria that will, in a sense, weigh what kind of contributions you've made to the profession, such as what committees you have served on or which conferences you have presented at. And this will probably encompass high school strength and conditioning coaches, too."