Athletic Insight - The Online Journal of Sport Psychology

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Requiring Certified Strength Coaches
In High School Weight Rooms

Wayne Dominowski

      As a long time coach, trainer and educator, I believe the future of our profession demands a new horizon, one that lends itself to the positive growth of men and women who wish to pursue a path of youth leadership. Make no mistake about it. To be a coach or trainer and an educator, we must be leaders of youths, and it's to the good of our profession that we recognize that direction now in the 21st Century.

      Much has changed in our great nation since its inception at Philadelphia's Independence Hall, in 1776. We've seen the advent of women's rights, minority awareness, social activism, technology, industry, and global enterprise. Yet in education, the precepts of Thomas Dewey remain not fully grasped, much less fully enacted. And only now are we beginning to explore personality concepts by such great minds as Alfred Adler, Albert Bandura, Carl Rogers, and Jean Piaget.

      Teachers, coaches, and administrators today are working with worn-out tools in many areas, and one of the most lethal - athletics and sports strength and conditioning - is overtly bypassed. Institutions established years ago - state athletic associations, and their parent organizations on the national level - are primarily governing bodies, not assisting aides. Ask any teacher or coach or administrator in any state what their state high school athletic association does, or who comprises that state's athletic association and you will receive a blank stare. That's because no one knows.

      Are our states' athletic associations affiliated with their respective state, or are they an independent entity? Who works in these organizations, and what are their qualifications? Are they educators first - interested and concerned about educational development - or are they merely overseers of athletic bylaws, rules, and technicalities of games? Whom do these people answer to? Do they select their own governing body, or do the state's people have a say in selections of their executive boards? What are the salaries of the directorates of these athletic associations, how are these determined, and where do the monies come from to pay those salaries? How many people are on staff, and what is the function of each? In other words, is there accountability for the vast amount of monies generated by state high school athletics?

      If you can't fully answer one or any of these questions, you needn't feel alone. Most people have no idea. Yet, these and similar institutions are the very organizations that regulate and determine your child's life not only during the formative years of primary and secondary education, but his or her fate beyond.

      Unless you reside in a state that believes in enlightening its public about the in-and- outroads of education, you may not know that today anyone is allowed to work with youngsters in the school weightroom. They don't need to know anything about youth physical growth patterns, or weight allotment standards for lifting, technique, form, or breathing. Neither do today's pseudo-weightroom supervisors have to really know anatomy, kinseology, training regimens, performance goals or expectations, performance nutrition, macro or micro cycles, fat reduction, muscle endurance, strength, resistance, sets, reps, genetics, fatigue, stress, over-training, steroids, interval training, periodization, isokinetic, isometric and isotonic training. None of this is required by state organizations affiliated or associated with athletics, yet in today's technological society, where heavy demands are placed on young athletes, we accept this profound discrepancy. Indeed, anyone who takes a fancy to "weight-lifting," or perhaps has "done it" for a period of time, or "looks fit," can be a self-proclaimed guru in a high school weightroom. Never mind that the physical health of a youth may be greatly impaired or may lead to serious damage either immediately or in the years to come. Let's simply go on the "cheap," and let the chips fall where they may where each child's physical health is concerned. The latter thinking not only is irresponsible, but it is also a prelude to future lawsuits that can financially decimate any school district.

      Some coaches having realized the existing disparity of unqualified personnel in the weightroom and the tragic and irresponsible consequences such lack of knowledge brings with it, have taken it upon themselves to become qualified through registered certifying agencies. They have done so independently through such organizations as the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), the American Council on Exercise (ACE) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), to name but a few.

      None of this, incidentally, is even remotely considered by state athletic associations. There is no involvement on their part regarding the actual intricacies for the well being of athletes. Yes, they provide rules for safety - helmet safety instructions, participation in hot weather, the banning of steroids, eligibility rules for athlete participation - but that is the extent of an association's involvement. It's left to each individual coach to go beyond association requirements; the coach, for the most part, generally has to take it upon himself to see to the well being of the athlete. Then again, some coaches are equipped to do so, others are not.

      Because the human body is a complex and intricate organ, certified strength and conditioning coaches and trainers eliminate the dangerous practice of guessing, and its sister companion, ego. Just as there is no set of fingerprints or DNA alike throughout the world, so too is each individual unique. Body types are no longer classified simply as ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph, but rather derivations exist of each. The latter may list in the hundreds or possibly thousands. Understanding this, does it make sense to give a youngster a piece of paper with a proposed training regimen and tell them to follow it, or with the youth not knowing (or caring) what a particular exercise may or may not do? Of course not. Nor does it make any sense for a coach to provide training enmass - "getting everyone in the weightroom, so they can lift and get strong."

      Experienced and certified trainers will tell you that once you go beyond six athletes training in the weightroom, you lose continuity of the training methodology. You simply cannot possibly observe more than three trainees at one time, or see to it that the "spotters" are spotting as they should. As a certified trainer, you must know that each trainee at each station is performing an exercise correctly, that their form is absolutely perfect, and that their technique is proper, and that each individual's breathing is in sync with each repetition. And that's not all. Is the trainee benefiting totally from the rep, or is he or she simply going through the motion?

      Currently, there is no weightroom certification requirement in Iowa. Nor would one course provide a realistic knowledge of weight training. Right now, in Iowa, anyone can coach as long as the individual takes four prescribed courses leading to a state authorization (endorsement if you hold a teacher's license). So, if for instance you enjoy watching football, baseball, or basketball on television, or you have a penchant to coach track, softball, wrestling, tennis, swimming, or even badminton, you need only complete four courses - Body Structure and Function, Sports Psychology, Introduction to Coaching, Injury Prevention and Care. Do that, and wah-lah, instant coach. All things being what they are, at least the requirements for an authorization exist. For strength and conditioning coaches or weight training coaches, it's wide open to everyone and anyone. Scary thought? Absolutely. But that's exactly what we have in many states.

      Colleges and universities long ago learned that in sports competition, the need for a certified strength and conditioning coach and trainers for weightrooms, was essential if the schools hoped to be competitive and avoid both costly and debilitating injuries. State primary and secondary schools are no where near coming to this conclusion. As such, the latter are virtual sitting ducks awaiting legal action, liability and long-term litigation.

      State athletic associations are incapable of providing a legitimate channel for implementing certified strength and conditioning coaches because they are basically regulatory agencies concerned with sports rules, bylaws, and game technicalities. This isn't the fault of the athletic associations. The fact is when these state agencies were established, they did not see the evolutionary process as it now exists. Primary and secondary schools were basically in their educational infancy and neither the need nor the knowledge was in existence. Today, there is a definite need, and athletic associations simply are not in a position to augment any such program. One, two or four subject courses no longer can provide the governance essential to provide our youths with the healthful and proper training they need in order to avoid serious injury both on and off the athletic field or gym.

      We need to establish assistance organizations that are youth, coach, teacher and administrator oriented. Asking an existing agency to perform this task - or any developmental task for that matter - is akin to a general medical practitioner being asked to perform neurosurgery. We need to find qualified persons, certified in the area of strength and conditioning and weightroom training, and begin the process of assembling the parameters necessary to implement and assist in this direction. Dismantling outdated and outmoded institutions is a progressive step in the right direction.

(Ed. Note. Wayne Dominowski holds a post graduate degree from the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College. He retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He also has a certification in Performance Nutrition and is a Certified Fitness Trainer. Wayne has earned the distinction of Master of Fitness Sciences from the International Sports Sciences Association. He is currently completing research (Master's thesis) toward his Master in Counseling degree. Dominowski is a long-time strength and conditioning coach, football coach, sports and news writer.)

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Athletic Insight - The Online Journal of Sport Psychology: Line Mental Health Net Award Winner
Copyright 2002 Athletic Insight, Inc.
ISSN 1536-0431