Sport Australia (formerly Australian Sports Commission) 14024-01

Prepared by: Nyrie Atkin, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Australian Institute of Sport
Evaluated by: Ross Smith, Manager Strength and Conditioning Operations, Australian Institute of Sport
Last Updated: December 2016 

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This article will explore the role and fundamentals of Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coaching, its similarities to sports coaching, specifics to error detection in the gym and the integration of support staff for holistic athletic development.

An S&C coach works as part of a service team alongside the sports coach, physiotherapist and other key providers. After gathering information in respect to the sport, playing position and the stage of development, S&C coaches assist in designing and implementing programs that address the individual needs of the athlete. A well planned periodised program that targets; both the strengths and weaknesses of the athlete, the training goals and competition peaks, will ensure longevity in the sport, reduce the risk of injury and provide superior performance outcomes (1). 

14021-18Role and fundamentals of S&C coaching

The role of the S&C coach is to enhance sports performance through the development of the key physical qualities of strength, speed, flexibility and the energy systems. The training of these factors are integrated into the overall sports training plan, which assists with the development of athletes. S&C encompasses the entire development of the athlete to improve the physical performance of their sport now, and in the future. This development also involves building the capacity to train at higher intensities and volumes, to ensure a safe athletic progression and transition.

S&C coaches blend the science of training, program design, and periodization with the art of high level communication and interpersonal skills required to create a motivating and engaging learning environment to meet the needs of each athlete. In effect, S&C coaches are great teachers; as they educate, inform, assess and correct through relevant feedback. 

14021-12S&C coaching and sports coaching

Sports coaching and S&C coaching have many parallels; essentially they both teach or develop an athlete's skills, which contribute to an improvement in their athletic performance. Where sports coaching may encompass the teaching of sport specific skills, tactics, and game strategies, S&C coaching aims to teach movement competency in the fundamental movement patterns of push, pull, lunge, squat, hinge and rotate (2).

When teaching new skills, in both S&C coaching and sports coaching, communication is vital. Successful coaching entails understanding the impact of instruction, demonstration, feedback and cueing. Different methods of communication are required depending on the athlete's training age, stage of development and stage of learning (2). For example, it is suggested that all coaches have a basic understanding and knowledge of the 5-step approach to teaching new skills, the 3 stages of learning, the 3-step approach for providing feedback and the difference between verbal and no-verbal instruction (2).

The better you know your athlete, the more successful you will be at creating a change in their behaviour or have an impact on their training. As with all coaching, S&C coaches learn how to respond to the verbal and non-verbal communication from their athletes, such as body language and subtle behaviour changes. Therefore there is a need to be intuitive, as these non-verbal cues may be an indication of the athlete's physical capacity or unavailable effort for the given training session. Just like sports coaches, S&C coaches need to be dynamic and flexible; capable of changing the session's parameters to fit the fatigue level, injury status or wellness of the athlete, in order to optimise the effect of their training. 

14021-51S&C and error detection

S&C coaches must have a sound understanding of the mechanics of exercise and movement patterns, to be able to identify and correct movement dysfunction. S&C coaches use movement screens or functional assessments to get a baseline of the athlete's current movement capacity. The S&C coach observes the athlete during completion of skills and has to determine if a dysfunction is related to structural interference (limb lengths, previous injury), functional inabilities (decreased ROM, tight muscles), technical errors (incorrect/poor/inappropriate skill acquisition, sequencing/coordination issues) or strength deficits.

For example, an athlete who is unable to maintain correct knee alignment during the concentric portion of a squat can demonstrate knee valgus or "caved in knees'. This inability could be caused by multiple factors; the athlete may have poor glute activation, insufficient strength, incorrect movement sequencing or decreased dorsi flexion range of the ankle (3). This highlights a dysfunction with the lower limb movement capacity. If there is instability of the knee during a movement in a controlled setting, then during a dynamic movement - for example in a jumping movement, then this athlete may be unable to produce or reduce adequate force in the take-off and landing phases, respectively. This may lead to an increase risk of injury (3).

Similar to a sports coach, once the cause of the error has been identified, then the implementation of action can follow. This can come in the form of but not limited to: changing the feedback or instruction during the S&C session, adding accessory exercises into the program for stability or modifying their warm up to assist with correcting the dysfunction.

Integration of S&C and physical performance

It is imperative that the staff on the athlete's service team work together to create a holistic plan for the betterment of the athlete. Ultimately, both sports training and S&C training attempt to create an adaptation in an athlete from exposure to specific stimulus (1). Therefore, the sports coach and S&C coach should work together to ensure that their athletic priorities align to target the athletes key physical qualities. In essence, this is periodisation, and is crucial for ensuring the proper recovery from training to elicit physical adaptations and consequently improve sporting performance. This includes understanding the impact that residual and neuromuscular fatigue can have on strength development, co-ordination, decision making ability and power production, which can assist coaches to plan what sessions should go where and at what stage of the year.

Moreover, coaches need to be aware of how nutrition, sleeping habits, recovery methods and their overall training load can influence performance (1). Both sports and S&C coaches must be aware of these multiple factors and how they impact one another, in order to create the best possible training environment and plan for their athletes.  

Further resources and reading


  1. Bompa, T. and Buzzichelli, C. (2015) Programs for Peak Strength. In. Periodization Training for Sports, 3E. Human Kinetics.
  2. ASCA Level 2 notes. (2012)
  3. Munro AG, Herrington LC, Carolan M. Reliability of two-dimensional video assessment of frontal plan dynamic knee valgus during common athletic screening tasks. Journal of sport rehabilitation. 21(1): 7-11. (2012)



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