By Paul LaDuke
Paul LaDuke, MS, ATC, CSCS, works as the Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Lower Dauphin School District in Hummelstown, Pa.
Training & Conditioning, 13.2, March 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1302/certified.htm
As competition for entry-level athletic training positions continues to be fierce, many of todayís students are seeking secondary certifications. A second professional credential increases marketability to clinics, high schools, colleges, and even professional teams. The dual role of teacher/ATC was adequately discussed in the July/August 2002 issue of Training & Conditioning, but another dual certification that has great potential is the ATC/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Just as a teaching credential can make you more marketable to some potential employers, the CSCS may make you more attractive to others. But it is a little different in that most athletic trainers use a CSCS to enhance their effectiveness as an athletic trainer rather than simply adding the duties of being a strength coach for part of their day.
Finishing an accredited athletic training program should provide the formal education necessary to take on the CSCS exam, which is administered by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. CSCS candidates must have a bachelorís degree and be CPR certified to sit for the exam.
Because of the specialized nature of the subject matter, however, you will most likely want to purchase the study manuals available through the NSCA. The exam is given in two parts and covers exercise science, exercise technique, program design, nutrition, testing, organization, and administration.
There are several reasons why an applicant with both ATC and CSCS certifications will be attractive to potential employers, especially in situations where there is not a separate strength and conditioning coach. The first advantage is the potential to reduce injury rates. Many sport coaches know very little about strength and conditioning and need help developing appropriate, progressive programs. Second, since many rehabilitation protocols include extensive strength and conditioning activities, the dual-certified athletic trainer may be better positioned to more effectively help an athlete return to full health.
The true value of holding dual certification will vary based on the work location. Hereís a look at four typical settings and how an ATC/CSCS might operate:
College Level: Thomas Palmer ATC, CSCS, Curriculum Director at Charleston Southern University, encourages his athletic training graduates to pursue a dual ATC/CSCS certification. This comes out of his experience at Coastal Carolina University, where he was the Head Athletic Trainer working with menís soccer, basketball, and baseball. Desiring to use his CSCS knowledge and seeing a great need for it, he volunteered his services as a strength coach that first year. The college saw the need for a strength coach, formally expanded his position to include strength and conditioning, and increased his salary.
One of the advantages he found was a decrease in the number of overuse and low back injuries. The athletes had been performing too many plyometrics, had advanced too quickly into Olympic-style lifts, and showed poor flexibility. As ATC/CSCS, Palmer was able to quickly address these problems, resulting in a decrease in injuries.
He says that the biggest drawback to the position was the time commitment. He would open the weightroom and supervise two one-hour workouts at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. He would then perform his athletic training duties.
Professional Sports: Minor league sports franchises have proliferated over the last few years, creating many new opportunities for clinics and individuals. Most minor league franchises run under tight budgets and can not afford the services of a CSCS, but would love to have one. During the hiring process for a minor league athletic training position, the ATC/CSCS with a strong desire to develop a strength and conditioning program has a distinct advantage over applicants without the CSCS credential.
The Clinical Setting: Many sports medicine clinics are expanding their services to include personal training and group training for local athletes. Progressive clinics looking to market themselves in the community are running strength and conditioning camps; speed and quickness camps; weightlifting camps; and the like. These clinics prefer to hire ATC/CSCS personnel for these positions because the clinic can contract the ATC out to local high schools and utilize the CSCS credential in the clinic.
High School Level: I currently work as the athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coordinator at the Lower Dauphin School District in Hummelstown, Pa., which fields 45 squads in 19 sports. I have found my dual certification to serve me very well here.
While my duties include designing each teamís strength and conditioning program, it is up to the head varsity coach for each sport to implement the program with his or her athletes, track their progress and attendance, and perform the supervision of the weight room. I assist in the supervision and teaching of the lifts.
Lower Dauphin has also implemented a strength and fitness course for physical education credit. About 65 athletes are taking the course this school year.
There are some disadvantages to a combined ATC/CSCS role. An ATCís first priority will always be injury care. The ATC must ensure that in-season athletes receive proper injury treatment and that practices and games have adequate medical coverage. This takes priority over any strength coaching duties. Thus, the ATC/CSCS can not always monitor the weight room during most on-campus sporting events or practices.
Another disadvantage can be greater stress levels and burnout created by the increased demand on an athletic trainerís time. It takes a lot of time to develop a strength program, distribute it to the coaches and athletes, and teach the athletes how to perform the routine. However, this time commitment can be reduced over time through judicious re-use of effective programs. Having the head coaches supervise the athletes while using the weightroom will lessen time commitment further.
In addition to seeing the way a CSCS credential can change their own job, athletic trainers should also be aware of the ways it may change how some strength and conditioning coaches view them. Some strength and conditioning professionals feel the CSCS doesnít properly reflect all the skills and competencies needed to be a full-time strength coach and are wary of dual-certified athletic trainers replacing strength and conditioning coaches in some situations.
Despite the potential challenges, I believe the ATC/CSCS role is one with great potential for growth, from the high school level to the pros. It can help reduce injuries, keep you more in tune with the coaches, and give you a better understanding of how strength programs and athletic training relate. And it may just land you that dream job.
For more information about the NSCA and its certification program, contact the organization at (719) 632-6722 or www.nsca-cc.org.