In a few months, I'll also be wrapping up my 5th year handling the Strength and Conditioning duties for various college teams ranging from baseball, lacrosse, golf, and tennis. I also spent my 4-month internship at the University level at the University of Minnesota, primarily working with football, hockey, basketball, swimming, and wrestling.
While short in comparison to others experiences, this timeframe does give me a pretty decent amount of experience and appreciation of both sectors, and many of the nuances of each.
Young coaches are often dealt with the task of deciding which field to enter, and unfortunately in our field, the deeper you go into one field, the harder it becomes to switch to the other field; so understanding the pros and cons of each sector can help young coaches hopefully make better career decisions.
I'd like to add that as a whole, both fields need to do a better job of coming together and working together INSTEAD of competing against each other. A week doesn't go by where I don't see some quote or tweet or hear from an athlete about a coach in the public sector bashing the private sector.
- "They only want your money"
- "Why would you pay when you can get the same thing here for free?"
- "Only selfish athletes seek out private sector training"
- "Private sector coaches just use flashy gimics that look cool in videos"
Believe it or not, most private sector coaches are NOT in it for the money; they're actually in it for the same reasons public sector coaches are - they love to coach, they love to work with and be around athletes, they want to make a positive impact. Another believe it or not, many, if not most, coaches in the private sector are not making much money, they're just trying to make ends meet and provide for their family.
I also know, athletes only seek out services from the private sector when they feel they're missing something from their school. I know, the quality of product I'm able to provide is much better in my private facility over with my teams. The 20-30 athletes at one time, freshman through senior athlete experience, 1-hour time window, and facility/equipment restriction all handcuff many aspects that I'm otherwise able to provide at my private facility.
Before bitching about athletes seeking out the services from a private facility, ask yourself
- Is your weight room open on Saturdays?
- Is your weight room open on Sundays?
- Is your weight room open at 5:30am?
- Is your weight room open at 8:00pm?
- Is your weight room open over holidays seasons (day before/after holidays)?
- Do you listen to your athletes and ask for their opinion during the training process?
- Do you assess your athletes and seek to individualize their training?
- Is your training really optimal for each individual athlete, especially when there are 20-50 athletes training at one time?
So in no particular order, here are some broad categories pertaining to each the private and public sectors...
Caliber of Athlete
In the public sector, you generally get to work with higher level athletes (I know the field of HS S&C is growing, but when I speak of public sector in this sense, I'm speaking of college or professional).
If an athlete playing in college, they have some quality skills and talents, although many may not be very skilled in the weight room. Heck I’ve worked with college kids that can’t skip, squat, do a push-up, pull-up; but when they’re on the field/court, they are very impressive.
In the private sector, you're typically dealing with HS and middle school kids, and often kids who are absolutely new to a performance program. When I was young I wanted to own my own facility so I could work with professional athletes. I was going to train these athletes with advanced techniques and create absolute monster’s!
That’s everyone’s dream right?
Well quickly you’ll learn that this probably won’t happen. Heck if you work with a handful of college and professional athletes, you’ll be pretty lucky. More than likely, most of your population will be young beginners and general population clients that are very poor at the basics.
Understand that 90% of your clients will never be ready for most of the advanced and intense training regimes we read and study. Advanced tri-phasic, shock method, stimulation method, Westside, French Contrast, APRE, etc are all great, but in most private settings, these will be out of the realm for most of your clients.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are gyms out there that have elite athletes and can train with some of these advanced methods, but understand this won’t happen overnight. Most of the time you’ll be teaching the very basics – how to squat, skip, row, push-up, hex bar deadlift - over and over and over again.
Oh the hours of being a S&C Coach! No matter the sector, you’re going to be working some long, crappy hours.
First get used to being up by 5:30am every weekday, and that’s late. I arrive at my facility around 4:45am every morning to get things prepared for 5:30am groups. Some college S&C’s arrive even earlier and often have a pretty decent commute to get there!
If you are not a morning person, you should start looking for a different career, because by the time regular Joe’s and Jane’s wake-up, we’ve already put a couple hours under our belt.
If the early mornings weren’t enough, then the 12-16 hour days might be. In a public setting, coaches are typically there from 5:00am until 3:00-4:00pm. Don’t forget about traveling with the team to games and working weekends.
At my facility, during the summer it’s pretty much straight through 6:00am until 7-8:00pm. During the school year, I’m a little more lucky because it’s 5:30-11:00am then off until 2:30pm, and then go 2:30-9:00pm.
No matter your choice, they are LONG days, and not only that but you’re on your feet for the majority of it. Standing, walking, demonstrating, jumping around, and building excitement for this long, everyday takes its toll. This is one of the first things coaches learn when they enter the field.
In the private sector, you'll typically get an athlete for an extended period of time, and KNOW that you'll have that athlete for 2-4 years.
In the private sector, you don't know whether you'll have a certain athlete for a month, 3-months, 3-years. Obviously you hope they return for your services year after year, but in many cases you might only get an athlete for a certain 3-month stretch every year, and then not see them for 9-months.
This means how you program and introduce concepts is vastly different between jobs. Knowing you have multiple years, and will be with an athlete for 11-months of the year allows you to have a much better idea of how to plan and progress athletes.
Not knowing if you will have an athlete for 1-month or 3-months changes how you approach their training. You might exclude things that have longer learning curves, you will have a greater sense of urgency, you might stick to progressions longer, etc.
Planning for athletes in the private sector involves much more conversation and daily/weekly tweeks to an athletes program compared to the public sector - some coaches enjoy this, others do not.
Duties of the Job
Working or own your own private gym is great and all, but be aware you’ll be wearing many different hats.
My “cool” title as owner and head of sports performance is nice on a business card and it allows me to design programs for all my athletes and plan out all the aspects of physical preparation.
Now what you don’t see are all my other titles: receptionist, marketing and advertising, janitor, account manager, handy man...
- Toilets clogged? That’s my job.
- Floors/Rubber Flooring (3000 sq/ft worth) need vacuuming/mopping for the 3rd time this week? That’s me.
- Finished working a 14-hour day now benches and tables need wiping down and laundry needs to be done? I’m on it.
- Phone calls and emails are piled up? Guess I’ll spend the next hour taking care of those.
- Need to restock on toilet paper, garbage bags, disinfectant, light bulbs, soap, and protein supplies? I’ll make an errand run.
- 50 saved receipts from the past month need to be entered into a spread sheet? Hopefully you're well versed in excel
There are a ton of non-pretty tasks and jobs that need to be done, and if you’re in the private sector, that’s your job! If you're lucky you might be in a position where you can hire cleaning services or are in a public building that does some of these jobs, but it's been my experience that most of these jobs fall upon the business owner.
In the public sector, these jobs are probably not your worry. You don't have to worry about the bathroom, or vacuuming the facility, or taking phone calls, or worrying about marketing/advertising, or filling out spread sheets, etc. You also probably don't have to worry about equipment issues or putting together new equipment - there are people for that.
That being said, you may be part of hiring committees, leadership committees, required to attend athletic meetings, and sport coach meetings - so getting used to sitting in on hours of meetings becomes normal.
There has been a rise in S&C pay in the past 5-years, and were now seeing strength coaches with salaries of 400k or more. The average DI head Football S&C is making around ~200k - that's damn good money.
That being said, there are still plenty of assistants, Olympic sport S&C's, and S&C's at the DII, DIII, and HS levels making penny's compared to Football S&C.
A rising tide raises all ships - coaches making more money and getting seen as more and more valuable is only a positive for our profession.
Instead of getting jealous or thinking so and so is making 300k! I'm a way better coach. Understand it can only be seen as a positive that coaches are getting paid better and it will only positively effect coaches at all levels sooner than later.
In the private sector, understand, you probably won't make much money during your initial years - especially if you're the one starting the business. With all the expenses it takes to get a facility running and keeping it rolling, it's takes some time before things start paying for themselves.
I spent my first year owning my business sleeping on a futon in the back storage room on my facility. I lived on protein shakes and $5 pizza's from Little Ceasar's. I hustled for every penny, busted my ass for every client, and knocked on every door I could to get things going.
No one saw what that first year was like, no one saw the 1am working on a programs or a project around the facility; no one saw the Sundays; no one felt the fatigue from coaching for 16-hours; no one felt the hunger from not eating solid food for days at a time .
But this is why I'm picky about every penny I spend, this is why I don't like not coaching every session - because no one can understand what I sacrificed to now have a gym filled with athletes and they'll never understand the sense of urgency and energy needed every single day.
People take for granted when they see something without appreciation for how they got that way. New interns or coaches take for granted having every session filled with athletes and think that's normal BUT they didn't go through any of the pains or hustle that got it that way.
That being said, I truly think everyone should go through periods of their life where they struggle, they're poor, they're living week to week, they have to hustle for every dollar, go hungry - it's makes you appreciate the small things and the experience and lessons learned serve you well down the road.
Sorry for the rant, but the beauty of private coaches is they don't have a ceiling for pay. If they do a great job, organize a well structured business, and are able to charge for their services - they can continue to increase their earnings.
In the public sector, minus being at a Power 5 conference, you're typically set in your salary for multiple years. Teams could win championships, athletic programs can have tremendous success, but the S&C coach will likely stay at their set salary.
This is a major reason coaches move quite frequently, in search of those higher paying jobs. So even though we see DI coaches making 200k-400k, understand there are far more coaches at other levels/schools still making 25-40k.
One of the often unseen benefits of working in a public setting is the benefits a coach receives. Typically, full health insurance, matched retirement, PTO, and vacation.
In the private sector, don't expect any of that. No health insurance (hopefully your spouse can provide that), you're responsible for long-term financial investments, no built in sick days or vacation.
I have many friends in the college realm, and depending on the sport(s) they coach, they typically get 2-3 stretches of the year where they won't have any teams for 2-3 weeks. So typically, a solid 4-6 weeks with no teams - great opportunities for vacation and/or a chance to recharge their batteries and catch up on project, programming, etc.
In the 5-years of my business, we've never been closed for more than 3 days in a row. I've taken one 10-day vacation for my honeymoon. If I get a weekend of no coaching, it's a small miracle.
As coaches get older and start families, many of these added benefits are huge and may override some of the potential luxuries of the private sector.
Working in the private sector generally gives you a lot of freedom in terms of programming, duration, and timing. While coaching in the College setting you’re usually restricted to certain time frames and restricted hours; in the private sector, I can spend just about as much time as I want with an athlete and coach at many different times.
I have said this before, and will continue to say it - I'm able to put out a better product in my private facility than I am with my college teams.
- Better athlete to coach ratio
- More time
- More space
- Better able to individualize training
- No restrictions from sport coaches or head S&C coach
In many instances S&C coaches are at the will of their Head Sport Coach. If a Sport Coach wants his team to Olympic Lift, you’ll likely have to implement Olympic Lifts. If a Coach wants his athletes to run 300-Shuttles, you’ll probably have to follow his or her will.
Also, many assistant S&C coaches are also at the will of the head S&C coach. So they may be implementing the head S&C's program or have certain restrictions based on what the head S&C stipulates. So even if it’s something you don’t agree on, you might be forced to include exercises/drills you don’t want to.
Now coaches for years have gotten around this by doing whatever pleases their coaches, but in low doses. If coaches have good rapport and experience with their Head Coach, they can often talk to them about why they don’t want to do certain things or are given freedom to do what they please. But for many coaches, the big boss runs the show and what he or she says, goes or you may risk losing your job.
There are plenty of pros and cons of each the public and private sectors, and it really comes down to each individual coach.
As a former athlete, I'm driven towards the team setting and to me nothing beats a big game. But as a coach, I feel more impact and more influence as a coach in the private sector.
As I get older, the public sector may be a better calling with the less physical stress of being my feet for 14 hours, added benefits, less stress of owning a business, and more time off for family.
For now, BBA is what I enjoy most. The population of athletes, freedom and growth as a coach, individual attention able to provide for each athlete... plus I get to bring my dog to work everyday too!
You might also enjoy a Podcast I did with Matt Gifford (NXLevel), Steve Brown (UW-Oshkosh), Zach Cahill (Northern Illinois), Korey Van Wyk (Northwestern College) where we talked about working in the public vs private sectors.