It’s a fair assumption to say that, for the majority of college students who decide to pursue Strength and Condition as their career, do so with the hope of one day working with a major collegiate or professional team. I mean, this makes sense right? This is where the best athletes are at, with the best equipment and facilities. And by having every tool and toy at your fingertips, you can write the best program that will develop the next Jordan or Namath.
While there are plenty of positives to the collegiate or professional sector of strength and conditioning, one overarching fact remains: it can be extraordinarily difficult to get a foot in the door to even get started, let alone get paid to be there. Because of these huge hurdles, there are countless stories of coaches giving up and going into other professions before ever really getting a chance to spread their wings. But, I’m here to offer a different perspective.
Did you know that there are in fact coaches OUTSIDE those two bastions of performance that also have the drive to coach, train, and empower the performance of the top athletes? It’s true, and there’s an entirely different arena they can work in: the Private Sector.
I am a coach in a private training facility here in Knoxville, Tennessee. In the past I interned at the collegiate level, and have worked extensively with other coaches who have worked exclusively in the private sector training athletes from high school all the way to the pros. And just like any other industry, this one has its own pros and cons as well. In this article, I’m going to break down some of the more common ones from each column, to give you prospective coaches a better idea of what you might be getting into, and what you can expect to see out there where the rubber meets the track.
They’ll Never Take…Our Freedom!!
In my experience, the freedom to choose who you want to work with and what hours you want to work are the best things of the private sector. If you aren’t a morning person…guess what? You don’t have to take clients who only want to work out in the early morning!. Does the idea of working out after 5PM send you into cold shivers? No worries, you can block your schedule off and be sure you’re home in time for The Bachelor. Setting your boundaries for when you coach allows you to strike a healthy work/life balance. After all, coach will do no good if he or she is burning the midnight oil.
Right up there with choosing when you work is being able to choose who you work with. Whether you want to train any type of athlete, only a certain sport, or just linear speed training, there is freedom in your client selection. This also feeds into another important benefit, and possibly one of the ones that drives folks into venturing out on their own in the first place: programming philosophy.
If you’re an assistant or an intern for a university or professional team, you are at the whims of whoever is in charge, whether you disagree or not with the programming or not. Coach wants the team in better condition, so he prescribes one mile tests for the team. The problem? Your sport is played only a quarter mile at a time. Or maybe coach saw some new training methodology involving TRX and Bosu Balls, and wants it implemented immediately. You can plead and beg and show all the studies you want…but in the end, coach makes the call. In the private sector, you are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul. You choose both how and where to steer the boat. But, this also means their success or failure rests solely on YOU…so do NOT take this responsibility lightly.
Becoming a People Person
Businesses need a lot of things to get off of the ground. Licenses, plans, insurances…the list goes on and on. But the one allegedly important thing they all need? Paying clients. Seeking out and getting clients was the most difficult part of starting in the private sector for me. In high school/collegiate/professional sports, your client base is provided to you on a platter. And, you don’t even have to take any butt shots on IG to get more; they just keep coming! I joined a facility with established, experienced coaches that got the first picks of clients. It took a couple of weeks for me to shadow some training, then take over a client and slowly build up to a regular training schedule.
Established gyms also have the ability to show the proof in their pudding by highlighting the performance of their previous athletes; if they have a reputation of producing D1 All Stars, they may be doing something right. New training businesses have the issue of just getting people to come in to train without a built up reputation. Building your personal and business brands can be frustrating and arduous, but from my experience the payoff is definitely worth the effort.
I Choose YOU!
Like I mentioned earlier, one of the huge benefits of the private sector is choosing who you work with. Many strength coaches want to work with high level athletes; they don’t need to work on the basics (cause who needs the master the basics, right?), but instead can the jiggy fun stuff they see on social media and read about in magazines. And when those athletes succeed, guess who gets the credit? That’s right, the S&C coach and then ingenious training! You know what’s really rewarding though? Taking someone who has never lifted, or is just starting in their journey, and building them up to be a savage on the field or court. Their first squat may have looked like Bambi trying to walk; now they are running through people and cutting the field up like a cake at a kid’s party. And when they get their roster spot or scholarship? Hard to tell who’s happier, the athlete or the coach.
But maybe I didn’t convince you, and your ultimate goal is still to only train the highest level athletes. Finding a starting point here can be harder, but not impossible. One piece of low hanging fruit you can focus on is the Off Season. High school, collegiate, and professional athletes will need a place to train in the off season. Football and baseball tend to have the most established S&C programs, so finding athletes willing or able to train outside their mandated programs may be difficult. Sports like soccer, rugby, basketball, lacrosse, volleyball, etc. will most likely have a greater pool of athletes looking to keep their blades sharp in the off season, so focusing on these sports might provide a pool of athletes ready to put in the sweat equity.
I’m Gonna Need You To Come In On Saturday…
If you have the freedom of Who and When to train, then scheduling is super easy, right? Not so fast. Think of how hard it is to coordinate a dinner (or even just grabbing drinks) with 3 of your best friends. Now amplify that by trying to schedule multi-sport athletes who have busy lives, along with demanding parents. Fun right?
There can be many conflicts in schedules between clients that might want, or “need”, to train at the same time. Some may legitimately have to for work or if they are driven by their parents. Some may have to because they read something online that said if you don’t train at exactly 7:53AM you’ll minimize your re-feed window and your arms will fall off. Try as you might to move training times around and balance everything, the occasional stubborn parents or athlete will not budge on their allotted time. This could mean not training one of them that day, or them potentially needing to train with someone else.
And, the best part? After all that work moving heaven and earth to get the perfect schedule set for the day…someone cancels. 30 minutes before their session. Athletes canceling at the last minute is the worst, even when you desperately need some down time. Another client could have taken that spot had you been notified earlier, and every lost training session means you don’t get paid. Also, missing a session means that the macro/micro cycles can be thrown off the path. Obviously there are situations that are out of the athlete’s control for missing workouts. But canceling for reasons like, “too tired” or “not feeling like it” can lead to habits of continued last minute canceling, which can throw that perfectly crafted program of yours out the window. Adaptation in situations like this will be critical if you hope to maintain a forward trajectory with your athletes.
More Money, More Problems
Making money is the subject every profession wants to hear about. For me, this fits as both a pro and a con, because there is a way to make a good amount of money in the private sector…but only if you are smart about it.
Depending on the training facility you’re using, or if you’ve opened your own, you can set your own rate per session in the private sector. But this is a double edged sword: price too high, and you won’t get the volume of clients (or potentially any) to bring in the income stream. Price yourself too low, and you might have the volume but aren’t actually making money. The key? Knowing your worth, and the value you bring; unfortunately, I don’t have an easy button for you to push where it tells you the exact rate you need. My advice would be to talk to coaches of similar experience, garner their feedback, and go from there. Remember when we talked about setting your own schedule? I’ve seen folks take this on both ends; training from dawn until dusk, and training in a time window that would leave a bank jealous. I’m not saying make yourself available all the time, but the more hours you offer to train, the more potential for income there is…so find that balance that keeps you sane but also keeps your wallet happy.
Your Move, Coach
Coaching, like any other profession, has its own ups and downs. If you’re seriously considering venturing out into the professional coaching realm, I encourage you to take a hard look in the mirror and really be sure it’s what you want. Talk to other coaches, ones both new to the game and seasoned vets, and get their take. Then look in the mirror again just to be sure.
Not sure where to find this network? Head on over to the Power Athlete Academy and sign up for the Power Athlete Methodology course. Once you complete the course and earn your Block One certification, you’ll have access to coaches literally across the world with different backgrounds and experiences in coaching, who will help you sharpen your blade and get you on the road to truly Empowering your Athlete’s performance. So what are you waiting for? Start today!
Podcast: PA Radio Episode 504 – Where Private Sector Coaches Fit Into High School Athletics
Podcast: PA Radio Episode 567 – Career Halftime With Coach Mike Hill
Blog: Your Cert Didn’t Prepare For Real World Coaching | Part 1 by Cheyne Zeller
Cory is the Head Strength and Speed Coach at D1 Sports Training- Hardin Valley in Knoxville, Tennessee where he trains youth, collegiate, and professional athletes. Through D1, Cory is also on a Training Panel helping further more coaches in their system to grow in their careers. Cory has been around sports his entire life, playing football at the NAIA level and a few games of basketball as a stand in as well. Wanting to get out of the physical therapy track, he found strength and conditioning/sports performance coaching. As a continual pursuit of further education, Cory earned the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) title through the NSCA and joined the collective of Power Athlete Block One Coaches a couple years after. He pushes to help athletes reach their athletic potential and earn scholarships, draft spots or contracts to continue their athletic career.
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