So You Want My Job: NBA Strength and Conditioning Coach

The NBA season is in full swing, and the competition is fierce. The Memphis Grizzlies are a team on fire with their new star player, Marc Gasol. With him comes an army of tough men that have to be well conditioned for their 37-minute games!
To better prepare them for those long nights on the court and intense matchups against some of the best athletes out there, I was given this job: So you want my job?
This article will detail all about what it’s like being an official strength coach for a professional basketball team.

The “strength and conditioning coach salary” is a job that the average person would not want. The average salary for this position is around $35,000 per year.

We’re back with another installment of our So You Want My Job series, in which we speak with guys who work in coveted positions and ask them about the realities of their employment as well as tips on how men might achieve their goals.

Are you a man who enjoys sports, working out, and studying about fitness and health? Have you always wanted to play professional sports but lacked the skill or physical ability to compete at the top levels? While you may not be able to participate, you have a chance to work as a coach for those world-class players. Of course, as Shawn Windle, the Indiana Pacers’ strength and conditioning coach, points out, that chance is almost as tiny as getting picked by the NBA: this is a very competitive professional path. Do you think you’ve got what it takes? Continue reading.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (e.g., where do you come from?). What is your age? Describe your job, including how long you’ve been doing it, and so on.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a 38-year-old strength and conditioning coach for the Indiana Pacers, which means I’m in charge of the constructing and rebuilding of NBA bodies. I’m in charge of the performance of roughly $60 million in yearly assets. Designing and implementing programs to develop strength, speed/agility, power, nutrition, recovery, and rehabilitation are among my responsibilities.

I grew up in Auburn, Maine, or as my friends refer to it, “Southern Canada.” My wife and I have lived in Florida (Lehigh Senior High School), Massachusetts (Auburn High School), New York (Minor League Baseball), Connecticut (University of Connecticut), New Jersey (Rutgers University), and now here in Indiana while working on my résumé. My career spans 15 years and counting, with the Pacers accounting for 6 of those years.

2. What inspired you to pursue a career as a strength coach? When did you realize you wanted to do it?

This is a professional path that I stumbled onto. I went to a couple institutions in search of the proper fit for me, and one even advised me not to come back. It took a manager at a pool business asking me to clean the floor with a portable brush about eight inches long for the light bulb to go off for me, and I determined that scrubbing floors would be my lifetime job if I did not return to college.

I started taking classes to raise my grade point average so that I could return to college full-time. I liked lifting weights in the traditional meathead sense and I loved sports, so when the athletic training program director at the University of Maine at Presque Isle offered Strength & Conditioning as a related profession during a campus tour, I was sold. My first college class (History of Physical Education) identified my career ambition as becoming the head strength coach of an Olympic team. Despite the fact that I have worked with Olympic athletes, I have never served as a strength coach for an Olympic team. That’s fine… The government is not as highly compensated as the NBA. LOL!

 

3. What should a guy do to prepare for a career as a strength coach? Should he attend college and, if so, what degree should he pursue?

Although almost anybody may become a personal trainer, and there are numerous courses available online to do so, a four-year college degree is required to become a strength and conditioning coach. Although not all strength coaches have degrees in kinesiology, sports training, or exercise science, the majority do, and possessing one of these degrees can help you get hired. A variety of certificates are either required or highly recommended. One of the most well-known entry-level criteria for becoming a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist is membership in the National Strength & Conditioning Association. The College Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association has a certification program that is gaining traction. Employers search for a variety of parallel qualifications once those “baseline” criteria have been completed. In addition to the NSCA certification, I am also a Performance Enhancement Specialist and Corrective Exercise Specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a USA Weightlifting Level One Club Coach with the National Athletic Trainers Association, Certified Athletic Trainer with the National Athletic Trainers Association, Certified in CPR and AED, and finally certified in the Functional Movement Screen. Each certification not only expands your knowledge base, but it also increases your chances of finding a job. Many strength coaches also enroll in graduate school to get a master’s degree, since certain employers prefer candidates with a master’s degree. Take a deep breath if you’re concerned about the amount of science in your coursework. I didn’t like or perform well in biology or chemistry since they appeared too abstract for my professional ambitions; however, I found exercise science, kinesiology, and motor learning to be much more intriguing and really easier because I knew those classes will have a direct impact on my future.

4. How do you get your foot in the door and secure your first job after you have the appropriate skills? How do you work your way up from the bottom to a position as a strength coach for a major sports team?

Volunteering!!! Nobody likes to hear that, but you must be ready to labor for nothing in order to succeed. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always been paid at some point in my career, but I know a lot of folks who work as professional interns. Jobs working with athletes are difficult to come by; jobs working with extremely excellent athletes are much more difficult to get by, and jobs working with top athletes are practically impossible to come by. Many young coaches enhance their resumes by interning with well-known strength coaches at well-known colleges in order to raise their profile and demonstrate that they can handle the pressures of working in a high-pressure environment. The stakes in collegiate sports have risen each year, and new coaches often have 4-5 years to have a substantial influence in the win column (2-3 years in professional sports); as a result, the desire to win and the preparation to win are vitally important. Losses may be very stressful for everyone involved, from the head coach to the interns. Higher-profile occupations are more likely to lead to higher-profile ones. Just like any other job, you’ll need a lot of effort, commitment, networking, and preparation to advance in this one. Most of the strength coaches I know have traveled across the nation a lot, sometimes for the purpose of developing their portfolios, and sometimes because they were forced to. Because many strength coaches are intimately related to the head football coach, you may have a limited shelf life in the NFL. When a coach is sacked, the strength and conditioning staff is often let go as well. The best circumstance is to be employed by the owner or general manager, since these jobs have lower turnover rates.

 

5. How difficult is it to get a job as a top-level strength coach? What distinguishes a job applicant from the competition?

If you want to fast speed your way to professional sports, the odds are stacked against you. If my recollection serves me correctly, the National Strength and Conditioning Association has over 20,000 members, but the NBA has just 30 clubs and the NFL, NHL, and MLB each have around the same. Make the calculations! My career is similar to any other in that there are some persons in my position because they are the owner’s relative, and there are some fantastic strength coaches and some very awful ones. I believe that most things work on a bell curve, and that most occupations follow that distribution from bad to excellent. I believe I have adequately prepared myself via education, certificates, and practical experience, as well as through meeting the appropriate individuals along the route. Everything in life boils down to your interpersonal interactions. Many outstanding strength instructors have failed to develop in their careers because they don’t understand relationships or refuse to play a game that they believe involves too much ass kissing. If meeting new people, being kind to them, and working hard are considered ass kissing, I’ve already puckered up. Being a guy, in my opinion, is treating others with respect and really caring about them.

Shawn windle NBA strength coach at court floor.

6. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

I go to work in shorts! Enough with the words! That is one of the numerous advantages. The NBA is for you if you prefer shorts, shoes, socks, sweat suits, or any other kind of athletic clothing. I have more “gear” than I know what to do with, and it’s difficult to pass it on to family and friends since it’s difficult to locate somebody my size at 6′ 6″ and 250 pounds. If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll have a front-row seat to the world’s finest players during an 82-game regular season schedule. We fly on rented flights with plugs for our equipment (everyone is plugged in, whether it’s an iPad or a laptop), as well as first-class seats throughout the plane. In my role, I’ve had the privilege of attending concerts in suites, the Indy 500 in a suite, and meeting a slew of celebrities, sportsmen, and actresses. We stay in some of the best hotels in the nation, and there is food everywhere. Do you recall the freshmen 15? Watch as a new staff member reminisces about his first year on the job. It takes a lot of self-control to avoid eating everything, and it may quickly spiral out of control.

Aside from the job’s ancillary benefits, you also get to work as part of a team. Not a cliched squad, but a genuine collection of guys dedicated to achieving a single objective. Living in close quarters with one another. Many individuals will never understand this kinship. Participating in the process and assisting each athlete in reaching his full potential may be quite gratifying. My position as a strength coach entails more than just instructing them on how to lift weights. These are really young men, and many of them lack good leadership. I want to speak to them about the necessity of creating a daily routine and leadership since they have never been challenged to grow up. Great teams recognize that nothing we do is really about basketball. It’s all about the development of males. Everything else comes into place when you teach respect, discipline, responsibility, and hard work.

 

7. What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

People watch the NBA for the lights and the glitz, but they don’t think about what happens after the final buzzer rings. If we’re on the road, we normally spend an hour in the locker room before leaving the venue, waiting for the media to arrive and the men to shower. Most games begin at 7 p.m. and conclude about 9:30 p.m., so we begin our journey to the airport around 10:30 p.m. In most cities, it takes 20 minutes to drive to the airport, plus another 30 minutes for the luggage to be loaded and the plane to take off. If all goes according to plan, we should be in the air by 11:30 p.m. Things don’t always go as planned, such as overtime, post-game x-rays, sutures, bus breakdowns (yeah, I’ve seen it), and don’t forget that we play usually in the winter, which needs de-icing, which may add 20-45 minutes to our departure time. When we return home, we get to sleep in our own beds, and those of us with kids can anticipate an early wake-up call, so there are plenty of nights when I get 3, maybe 4 hours of sleep because my kids normally come in and jump on me bright and early when Daddy returns from a trip. When we’re on the road, we’ll arrive in a location like Denver at 3 a.m., unload the aircraft, and take the NBA’s longest journey to reach downtown. It’s a physically and psychologically demanding work. Whether we are watching college football, NFL football, or Monday Night Football in the autumn is the only way we know what day it is. Thursday is also garbage day at home, so I always know when it’s that day.

Although I create a negative image, these are some of the realities of working in the NBA. It is not suitable for everyone.

8. How do you strike a balance between job, family, and personal life?

With all of the travel and home games, I missed 110 meals and bedtimes at home, which forced my wife to parent alone from October to April. When I’m at home, my phone is set to vibrate, and I only check it a few times during the night, reacting only to emergencies. Because we spend so little time together over the season, I want to give my kids my entire attention. That means whatever is left over goes to my wife, and since we are usually fatigued at the end of the day, our spare time is spent side by side, deep asleep. During the season, there is no such thing as family balance. Because we don’t work as many hours over the summer and get to sleep in our own bed practically every night, you try your best to make apologies.

 

9. What is the most common misunderstanding about your job?

Many individuals have told me that they would not want to spend their days dealing with overpaid prima donnas. Dealing with a group of wealthy young guys that refuse to work. I’ve only worked with a few divas in six years, but the bulk of the athletes are grateful to everyone on staff and realize that everyone is there to help them achieve. These players didn’t get to the NBA by being big, and although it helps, it takes many hours in the gym working on their talents when no one else is there. Nobody notices these people arrive 3-4 hours before a game. Alternatively, come back after the game, when the audience has dispersed, to fire some additional shots. Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone, but isn’t that why coaches have jobs? More than anything, I see myself as a teacher.

10. Do you have any other advice, recommendations, observations, or anecdotes to share?

As a side note, I took over four weeks to do this interview. During that time, I’ve visited current players in New York, Los Angeles (twice), and North Carolina, as well as assisting with the draft process, where we’ve injected, inspected, and detected nearly 50 draft eligible draft prospects in Indiana alone, not to mention a week spent in Chicago at the NBA Pre-Draft Camp, where the evaluation process includes height, weight, wingspan, body fat, upper body strength, lower body power, speed, and agility. Welcome to the OFF-SEASON, when you can relax and spend time with your loved ones!

 

 

 

 

The “strength and conditioning jobs” is a job that only a few people can have. The job is to care for the players’ physical health, preventing injuries and maintaining performance levels.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do strength and conditioning coaches make in the NBA?

A: Strength and Conditioning coaches in the NBA make an average salary of $139,000.

Do strength and conditioning coaches make good money?

A: Strength and conditioning coaches have a lot of responsibility. They are responsible for creating programs that help athletes achieve their performance goals, as well as developing workouts to improve ones physique, which can be very time-consuming.

What degree should I get if I want to be a strength and conditioning coach?

A: If you are interested in strength and conditioning coaching, your best bet is to have a masters degree. The average pay for that kind of work is around $56,000 per year.

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