Strength & Conditioning Certifications: What Is The True Value?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tim robinson

Tim is the archetypal coach. His father, a teacher, coached collegiate and high school football. Both of his uncles did the same. His older brother has been a head wrestling coach and is currently an assistant football coach. So, it wasn’t due to divine providence that for the better part of the last decade Tim was a collegiate football and strength and conditioning coach. From the junior college ranks to the PAC 12 Coach Rob garnered invaluable experience across nearly every level of collegiate competition. Now, Tim coaches up TrainHeroic’s invaluable network of coaches.

Certifications. They are most noticeable as the cacophony of letters that comprise the email signatures and business cards of strength coaches and fitness professionals the world around. But what do they really mean? Anything? Everything? Nothing? I think the better question is what value do they provide? To that point I want you to keep one thing in mind: the journey to becoming certified is where you’ll find the true value, not from simply receiving the certificate or certification. Any other way of attacking a certification or ascertaining a certificate will cause you to be found wanting at the end of the process. 

In my mind there are two ways to become certified (officially recognized as possessing certain qualifications or meeting certain standards) and neither is better or worse than the other. They’re simply different and can serve vastly different purposes, populations, etc. The question becomes, why do I need this cert and how will this help my coaching and ultimately my athletes? The two categories are weekend certificates and certifications.

This is the easiest way to break these down:

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Certifications

are essentially a subscription based model that require the pursuer – that’s you coach – not only to recertify (annually or bi-annually) but they require you to collect continuing education opportunities in order to recertify. These are commonly known as CEUs (Continuing Education Credits). A certification like the C.S.C.S. may take considerable time – I spent 3 months prepping for my exam. Once you pass the exam, you are now certified. For now.

Weekend Certificates

on the other hand are generally a one time, one size fits all deal. A weekend cert will call for 2 or 3 consecutive days of your time over the course of a weekend. Hence…weekend certification. These certs will usually come with a written assessment and a live action practical. Think USAW here.

Both of these options will come with considerable financial investment as well.

Investing. That is what you are doing. You are investing your time and your capital to garner the knowledge provided through the pedagogy of the certification process. You are not investing in the letters that appear after your name. The former is much more important and with this mentality you’ll see that ROI more clearly and more consistently down the line. 

The most common questions I get about certs are: is there value in them and are they necessary? 

Value? Absolutely. Necessary? Yes. The value doesn’t come in the form of letters you can tag on the end of your name. I think there is a misconception that simply because you have a cert means that you are now the most marketable and knowledgeable fitness guru in the land – you have arrived! 

Sorry. Not the case. Your certification(s) is simply a part of your coaching journey. It’s not the end of you journey and it certainly is not where it starts. Weekend certificates or certifications provide a foundation from which you can grow. And growth is what it is all about. Certification is a commitment that you, the coach, are making a concerted effort to better yourself and hone your craft. The real value is in the learning. Any certification or certificate shows your openness (white belt mentality) and that you are willing to invest considerable time and finances to be your best. Bottom line, enjoy the process of being certified, and don’t focus on the end result – You don’t gain anything by throwing CSCS after your name, rather you’ve already gained what you came for, the knowledge. Remember you must find joy in the journey because that is where life happens. Most positions in strength and conditioning will require a certification or at least a certificate. These are known as qualifications. Qualifications allow employers to take a huge pool of applicants and almost immediately eliminate a majority of them simply by creating a baseline requirement – “candidate must possess X certification.” As a director of S&C at the collegiate level I had to hire assistants and interns. They were only qualified for the post if they had a particular certification. Remember, this was not the most important metric I used to hire folks. It simply sets a baseline of competency that is required for the position. In fact, it was the lowest “standard” I was looking for. 

Being qualified simply means you are capable.

Capability – I have the requisite knowledge and practice to perform my duties successfully. We know you do, you passed the test!! Hopefully if you’re hiring, your pool of candidates are all qualified and capable otherwise they wouldn’t be candidates at all. 

Capacity is truly what I am looking for during the hiring process.

Capacity – Possessing the tools to address and fix an issue when the clock is ticking; the ability to adapt, adjust and drive our people to be better under duress and in the moment. In a hiring situation I call the combination of capability and capacity, FIT.

  1. Can you coach (skill, movement, etc.)? 
  2. Can you teach (the why behind the coaching)? 
  3. Is there great energy in the room when you’re leading the way (are the athletes excited to see you and train)?

These three things that require reps on the floor as well as the requisite knowledge learned from the certification or weekend course. It is a combination of both personal skills and acquired knowledge. You need to be able to take what you’ve learned and put it into action. You’ll need to be able to assess, intervene and adjust. A piece of paper won’t help you here. But, your experience and what you’ve picked up along the way most certainly will. 

For those seeking certification, a couple things to keep in mind:

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The journey is the reward.

Yes, at some point you will be required to have letters to get a job. Should this be your #1 concern? No. The magic is in the learning. Your ability to apply what you’ve garnered will be paramount to what you scored on the test or practical. This is the difference between capability and capacity and between an elite coach and an average one.

More isn’t necessarily better, but variety can be.

The beautiful thing about certifications is that they take a considerable amount of time and they are general. My advice, vary your weekend certificates en route to your certification – don’t just get a certificate in weight lifting because you’re comfortable with weightlifting, but go outside of your comfort zone – try going after your TPI or RPR for example. Use weekend certs to add to your own flavor packet. All the while you are gaining knowledge by hitting the books and preparing for the certification you desire. Create a wide breadth of skills that will allow you to be the best generalist you can be. If you wish to specialize and master a particular skill you will need to first become an elite generalist. Rid yourself of the specificity demons. Don’t go for more, rather look for variety to bolster your skill set as a coach.

Certifiers are businesses.

You have to remember that those providing you with your credentials are businesses. They need to make money to provide world class service to coaches everywhere. There is no way to hold any type of certificate (as long as the teaching is quality) for free. You will have to pay $ and even continuing ed for your certifications is not free. But remember, this investment will pay off when you ring out that sponge of a mind you have and put practical to practice. Invest now, see the dividends roll in later. This is something that we tell our athletes consistently but as a whole, I think coaches struggle with the idea. It won’t happen in the blink of an eye, but why would you want it to? Life will just pass you by at that point. Patience is a virtue, coach.

The bottom line is not to think of certifications as a means to an end. You should love the process of earning a certificate or a certification. That is where the value is. That is where life happens. Life doesn’t start with the letters at the end of your name and it will certainly go on without them. Earn the knowledge then apply it. If you are great at what you do, people will seek you out. Remember, the journey IS the reward!

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