- a person who concentrates primarily on a particular subject or activity; a person highly skilled in a specific and restricted field.
synonyms: expert, authority, pundit, master, pro, buff, ace, connoisseur
- possessing or involving detailed knowledge or study of a restricted topic. “the project may involve people with specialist knowledge”.
These days, it seems like everybody is a self-proclaimed “injury prevention specialist”. Just the other day we received a resume for a prospective SP intern who had just graduated from a local Massachusetts college. BIG BOLD letters in his most recent work experience read: Injury Prevention Specialist (June 2016 – Present). Here’s a tip: 4 years of schooling and 3 months of experience is nowhere near long enough to consider yourself a specialist in anything – let alone injury prevention.
There is no single test or certification that qualifies a person to call themselves an “Injury Prevention Specialist”. It is experience, and experience alone, that separates rookies from veterans. Take medical doctors as an example. Graduating from a prestigious medical school is merely the beginning of a doctor’s education. Newly-graduated “doctors” are still years, even decades, away from becoming masters in their field. You wouldn’t consider a doctor an expert at ACL reconstructions just three months after they receive their MD, would you? This holds true for all professions. You wouldn’t trust a lawyer, fresh out of law school, to lead a high-profile court case. A 16 year old, leaving the DMV with their first driver’s license, to get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car. Would you hire an amateur photographer to shoot a wedding? So why are we so trusting when it comes to injury prevention?
For those unfamiliar with our industry, it can be easy to fall into the “suffix trap”. That is, believing that a coach or trainer is experienced and qualified based solely on the fact that they have an alphabet soup of letters after their name. “John Doe, CSCS, ATC, LAT, CF-L1” sure looks impressive, clearly this man is educated and knows what he’s doing….right? Not necessarily. Those certifications mean nothing without the experience to back them up. Where has he worked, what has he done, who has he learned from with those certifications? Like the doctor fresh out of medical school, “John Doe, CSC, ATC, LAT, CF-L1” is only a rookie until he earns those years of experience.
To be clear, I am a self-proclaimed ‘Injury Prevention Specialist’. Unlike most of those who claim such specialization, however, I have the experience to back it up.
My resume is short and my reference list is long. I have a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine with a concentration in athletic training. I was a three-sport athlete in high school and a single sport athlete in college. I also possess a master’s degree in administration from Boston College that grants me zero points towards injury prevention specialization. My work experience treating and rehabilitating injuries as an athletic trainer includes two years at Boston College covering four sports, 790 days with the New England Patriots, and 260 games on the bench with the Los Angeles Kings. As an athletic trainer for the Kings, I was the youngest Director of Rehabilitation in the league by nine years. Following LA, I consulted 15 MLB teams in three divisions, and am now enjoying my sixth year as a strength and conditioning coach in the greater Boston area. While here in Boston, I have worked with over 600 high school, college, and professional athletes, mentored 30 clinical athletic training students, observed over 50 surgeries, and I married a physical therapist. As an athletic trainer, marrying a physical therapist doesn’t make me a specialist, but it does make me well-rounded. As a compliment to my modest work experience, I have successfully opened Stadium Performance, a 14,000 square foot state-of-the-art training and treatment facility that trains athletes to be bigger, faster, more conditioned, and infinitely durable.
In the strength and conditioning industry there is a phrase, “10,000 hours under the bar” which means a strength coach will need to work 10,000 hours before they can possibly be considered proficient. In the world of 40-hour work weeks, that would be nearly five years. For strength coaches in a collegiate setting, it’s closer to four. Regardless, without the hours worked, the title of specialist cannot be achieved.
For those of you who call yourself an ‘Injury Prevention Specialist’, think about these two questions:
- Are you a duel credentialed physical therapist or athletic trainer with an NSCA certification? Why this is important: Athletic trainers and physical therapists are nationally certified and state-licensed professionals who have studied anatomy, physiology, injuries, treatment, and rehabilitation. More important than the injury is knowing the mechanism of that injury. Preventing cavities is difficult to do if you don’t know how they are created. Likewise, preventing injuries is difficult to do if you don’t know the combination of forces, angles, and rotations that yield harm. Injury prevention is not about getting strong. Injury prevention is about training long, understanding mechanisms and educating the athletes on how to recognize danger and avoid it. In the instance the mechanisms cannot be avoided, athletes need to be prepared to fight/oppose the force, escape the force, or stabilize and endure. Can you teach each athlete how to recognize those moments, what decision they should make, and how to do it?
- Have you worked UNDER other strength coaches, physical therapists, athletic trainers, or physicians? Why this is important: Professional progression regardless of industry is about experience, repetition, and retention. It’s no coincidence that sport and injury prevention bare a similar sequence of execution. When I worked for the Patriots as the 4th assistant athletic trainer, I posted this picture next to my desk. For all days that have passed since, I cite this picture in conversation and elaborate on the benefits of taking the long uphill climb to the top of my professional peak. It’s more than seeing a-holes in more prominent positions and constantly catching sh*t from superiors – it’s about observing how they interact with athletes, learning and questioning their methodology, and appreciating their path. Greater exposure to varying professionals yields a diversified portfolio of facts, opinions, philosophies, and failures. Through all, you will be outfitted with the ability to conceptualize, create, and implement a hybrid of diverse skills to most appropriately address the problems you intend to solve.
Moving beyond the basic principals of real life experience, let’s close the book on one very important fact. The national ranking of the collegiate institution from which you graduate does not in any way reflect your over-all knowledge base nor the effectiveness of your training programs. “Just get the letters and be open to taking risks” is my advice to high school graduates. The college experience is what any student makes of it and what happens next is based on your willingness to take chances. The stature of an academic program, the depth of an athletic budget, or the success of a football program represents 0% of the action potential brewing inside one’s heart. Without the grind there will be no coffee.
For the average mother or father looking to keep their kids safe on the field: do your research. Does the strength coach you just found actually have the experience necessary to implement an injury prevention program? What makes an ‘Injury Prevention Specialist’ legitimate is the results they put on the field. Do they have the data to support their claims that they are a specialist?
What makes them so special? Do they have proprietary evidence-based methodology that no other strength coach uses? Do they consistently see a decrease in injuries year over year? Could they sit down with other industry experts and explain their own theories, methodologies, and set-rep-recovery ratios without fear of rejection? If yes to all, than yes, they are special and have the anticipated fundamental results of a specialist.
If not, they’ll just need to update their Linkedin profile and keep on grinding.