Over the years, individuals have asked me a number of times about the differences between the collegiate world and private sector. I believe they ask me this to develop a better understanding between the two areas to perhaps decide if one area suits them better than another. That being said, and since I have worked in both settings for a number of years, I thought I would share my opinions of the differences between the two worlds.
One note of caution; I will not list the “pros and cons” of both sides. That tends to place focus on the negative aspects that each side possesses. If you are deciding between the two worlds, view this decision using the “rubber band model.” I first discovered this model in The Decision Book by Michael Krogerus. The premise of this model is to examine what’s pulling you toward one direction, and what’s holding you where you are. Viewing it this way allows you to view the attractive qualities of both sides rather then becoming fixated on the negative.
Please keep in mind that these differences are in no particular order, nor am I advocating one side over another, I am merely speaking about the differences between the two…it’s up to you whether you think one side is pulling you more than the other.
Collegiate: Medical-Based Model
Most (if not all) colleges employ a medical based model. This means that most schools have larger numbers of athletic training/sports medicine staff to assist in the medical care of the student-athlete, and most decisions on the support side are driven from the physician and sports medicine team. While it’s extremely important to have a large medical support system, if an equal investment was placed on the performance (injury prevention) side, perhaps it would lighten the loads placed up the medical staff.
Private: Performance-Based Approach
This approach has had enormous success in the private sector. Everything is built upon performance, and injury prevention is first and foremost. Medical is still part of the group, but they work in concert with the performance coaches. In short, this is the best place to see groups staying within their lanes’ of expertise, and to really understand that these two areas can and must coexist.
Collegiate: NCAA Rules and Restrictions
In the collegiate setting there are a number of rules and regulations governing how long and how much time you can spend with athletes. There are also regulations regarding supplements and supplementation that can be provided.
Private: Moral Compass and Some Rules
In the private sector, many restrictions are not present. The exception is banned substances for which there must be familiarity with these items. Other than that, your “moral compass” and expertise is what guides your training decisions.
EVOLUTION & PROGRESSIVENESS
Collegiate: Slow to Evolve & Conservative (evidence based)
The collegiate setting is much slower to evolve and thus tends to have a more antiquated methodology than the private sector. An example of this would be utilization of the FMS, which was being used in the private sector since 1998 and today some colleges and universities still have yet to adopt this. This is getting better with the use of the internet to share information, but things still have a long way to go. However, because this setting is more medically based, and the medical community is “evidence based”, the evolution will continue to be slow and conservative until things change.
Private: Fast Evolving & Progressive (evidence led)
The private sector seems to be largely progressive in adapting new methods. Typically on the leading edge or training, many of the concepts adopted profession-wide begin in the private sector. The approaches in this setting are more “evidence led” rather than evidence based. As such progress is being made using evidence to guide those in the private sector in new and innovative directions.
Collegiate: Time Restrictions
As mentioned earlier, the NCAA regulates the amount of time you can spend with athletes. Therefore, it’s a challenge to determine what to program and how to program to make the biggest difference. Not to mention, you might be responsible for programming anywhere from three to thirteen teams at once. Limitations, however, can be a wonderful thing and can bring about thought provoking ideas when it comes to training!
Private: No Time Restrictions
Generally there aren’t any time restrictions other than another group or athlete on the schedule. This allows you to address every training need an athlete might require.
Collegiate: Game day!
Game days are fun at the collegiate level. This is where you get to watch the athletes do their thing. It’s also exciting to think that you might have had some impact in their performance (no matter how small of an impact it might be).
Private: No Game Day
Game days are lacking in the private sector. You train the athlete and then they go off to their teams. Sure you can watch the combine or watch them on TV, but it’s not the same.
The training calendar can be a bit of a challenge at the collegiate level. This is dependent on the level (division and conference) of college and/or the sport you’re assigned to work with. Many times you will make great strides in the off-season only to watch many of the athletes return home for four weeks during the holidays. Often, this can result in loosing much of what they have gained.
Private: Also Challenging
The training calendar can be just as challenging in the private sector. Athletes will be in and out of training depending on their schedules, seasons, etc. Sessions can be sporadic or steady. Many times you work with athletes in their respective off-seasons and send them on their way before they report to school or training camp.
Collegiate: Very Long Hours
Be prepared to work long hours for a majority of the year. There is downtime - finals week and dead weeks are usually times when you cannot train the athletes. Also, depending on the sport you’re assigned, you might be afforded three weeks off for the holidays (sorry basketball & bowl eligible football…not you). I believe there is a benefit to this – often times there is downtime from the late morning to the early afternoon. This is great time to focus on continuing education and grow as a professional.
Private: Long but Respectable
The hours are much more respectable. Long hours still are a part of the job, however, there are certain times of the year where the days are longer e.g. combine prep.
Collegiate: Coaches Rule
Coaches are everywhere and for better or for worse, they all have their own way of doing things. The U.S. sports collegiate model is a bit antiquated as the head coach oversees all aspects of the program rather than just the technical and tactical portion. In this setting, supporting the coach is key. Providing them correct and valuable information is essential. This is also a great exercise to better “sell” your programs and your worth, sharpen your communication skills, and enhance the ability to work with others.
No coaches to work with…unless they have hired you or your company as an outside consultant. If that’s the case, there will be very little “push back” from them as they sought out your assistance. In other words, you can dictate volumes, intensities, densities, loads, and frequencies with zero push back. Also, you will not have to adjust your training because a coach wants to spend more time with the team or decides they need to run more.
Unless working with football or the head for basketball, be prepared not to make a lot of money. Colleges and Universities are notorious for not paying large salaries regardless of the time and amount of responsibility you might carry. For instance, you might be the second assistant (out of five) for football and make more money than a coach who is the lead for five sports. Good or bad, this is just the reality of the situation. Before squawking about salary, check the benefits (health and retirement) along with any other perks the collegiate environment gives e.g. tickets, gear, monies for continuing education, etc.
Private: Not as Underpaid
Slightly better than the collegiate world, depending on the group you are working for/with. However, working for yourself can leave you worrying about the next paycheck, paying your own benefits, trying to set aside monies for retirement etc. If you’re lucky enough to work for a private company, then likely many of those worries don’t come into play.
Collegiate: Only the Names Change
There is never a shortage of clientele at this level. Not to mention there is a new batch of incoming student-athletes every year. However, the age group 17-22 is only demographic with which you work.
Private: Wide Variety
Depending on the time of year, you’ll see numbers fluctuate with the amount and type of clients. Also, there is a wider variety of clientele e.g. general population, professional athlete, high school athlete, corporate, tactical, etc.
MOTIVATION & MATURATION
Collegiate: Mixed Bag
A wide variety of motivation and maturation is found at this level. This means that the maturity level of a 17 or 18 year-old freshman is far different from a senior of 21 or 22. Motivationally speaking, some student-athletes may or may not want to be there. Some are just using their athletic ability to pay for school, while others are seeking to advance to the next level. Something also to consider is that student-athletes have a hierarchy of importance with family and faith ranking first, followed by school, social life, sport, and then the world of sports performance or strength and conditioning after all of that.
Private: Mostly Motivated
Maturity level runs the gambit in the private sector. Some groups might be young athletes as young as 10 years old while the next could be working with seasoned NFL veterans. Motivation often isn’t a concern at this level. Everyone training at the private sector is paying good money to do so, and there typically seems to be higher levels of motivation when this is the case.
Resources are not bountiful in the world of collegiate athletics. Depending on the level you are employed (top Division 1 school vs. mid major) resources might be even more scarce. To give some perspective to this, some athletic departments give their S&C programs an operating budget of $7,000 while other schools can elevate upward to $250,000. For those who enjoy doing more with less, this might be a perfect place to land. However, seeking out continuing education might be difficult with smaller budgets.
Because of the progressiveness in the private sector, the resources tend to be greater and more advanced. Also, because of the progressiveness and calendar, continuing education can come a bit easier.
At the end of the day, it’s all about what area you believe will challenge you the most and allow you to develop your craft. If you’re trying to decide, I suggest you examine your own skill sets. Where do you excel, and where you do you need work? If your weaknesses match more toward one way, then that’s likely where you should explore.
Remember, both worlds have attractive qualities and I suppose many see the grass being greener on the other side. However, while the grass might seem greener, you still have to mow it.