The journey I took to become a Strength and Conditioning Coach

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Article by Chris Szedlak, Sport and Wellbeing

About 12 years ago, after trying to become an accountant having to study and manage a young family I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue.  Re-evaluating my live and what I really wanted to do led me to a journey that incorporated physical exercises into my daily routine.  Physical exercises are known to help chronic fatigues sufferers and after persevering with it over the years I improved dramatically.  As a result my focus turned towards working in the fitness industry.

 I started out as a personal trainer but soon realised that that I desired to work with athletes.   An opportunity became available to train some of the TASS (Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme) athletes at the University.  It was a challenging but productive time in which I also gained my accreditation with the UK Strength and Conditioning Association.  I soon realised that working with athletes requires a greater in-depth understanding of exercises prescription in conjunction with the demands of the sport.  Sports science became my new found inspiration.

‘Stronger, fitter, more robust and powerful’   soon became the core focus of my delivery.  Nonetheless, I soon found out that the role of Strength and Conditioning, due to the infant nature of the profession in the UK, was not clearly understood by all the athletes I worked with.  Motivation to train in the gym or engage in extra cardio sessions needed to be linked to the athlete’s performance.  To overcome this hurdle, I needed to realise that there is more to applied scientific knowledge and that ‘being a coach’ is synonymous with inspiration, motivation and pastoral care. My approach dramatically changed from ‘applying’ science to ‘coaching’ science.  Seeing the athletes develop physically and psychologically, are the core elements of this holistic method.
To further develop myself I enrolled on a part-time MSc in Strength and Conditioning which I successfully finished this year.  The course underpinned my scientific knowledge and led me to research coaching techniques linked to athlete’s motivation.  After reflecting on the past years of working in performance sport, highlights including seeing my athletes competing at London 2012, I can without a doubt say that all the hard work paid off.   Being part of the development of a successful athlete is not only a joy but a privilege.  Although, the significance of Strength and Conditioning varies from sport to sport, I know that regular engagement will enhance performance and reduces injury.

On a personal note, over the years I have fully recovered from chronic fatigue and have embraced a lifestyle of exercises which includes all kinds of modes from Olympic lifting to downhill mountain biking to surfing.  I certainly feel that the motto ‘practise what you preach’ applies more than ever to Strength and Conditioning, hence I endeavour to do whatever is within my power to portray a positive role model to my athletes.