Salary Survey Unveiled

January 7, 2019

In July 2018, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) partnered with Employers Council to collect data regarding the annual salaries and education level of strength and conditioning professionals around the country, with results unveiled this week. In total, 2,325 responses were collected from current Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certificants in North America. The majority of the participants work in a college or university setting (791), followed by independent (477), and high school (323) settings.

Based on the responses, the average annual salaries break down as follows: $49,037 at the high school level; $49,286 at the college or university level; $76,772 at the professional sports level; $69,437 in the tactical setting; and $48,584 in the independent setting.

The majority (57 percent) of the participants held a master’s degree as their highest level of education, while 38 percent had a bachelor’s degree, and five percent had a doctoral degree. There was a large disparity between genders, with 84 percent of the respondents being men and the remaining 16 percent being women. Five percent of the participants had less than one year of professional experience, 40 percent had between one and five years, 26 percent had six to 10 years, 13 percent had 11 to 15 years, nine percent had 16 to 20 years, three percent had 21 to 25 years, and four percent had 25 or more years.

A link to the overview and full survey can be found here. 

After reviewing the survey results, a variety of strength and conditioning coaches have offered their own take-aways. One area being debated is whether or not strength coaches are being adequately paid.

“Although salaries have increased substantially over time, those with master's degrees in the college sector are still paid below the national median, which is over $65,000 according to numerous sources,” says Mike Favre, M.Ed., RSCC*D, CSCS*D, Director of Olympic Sports Strength & Conditioning at the University of Michigan. “Even teachers surpass us, and they are consistently among the lowest paid when compared against other professions. Considering the years of experience and number/cost of the credentials necessary to become entrenched in this profession, the salary is often not in balance, though there are exceptions.”

Favre’s colleague, Ashley Jackson, MS, CSCS, CSCCa, USAW, Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Michigan, agrees that college strength coaches deserve more compensation. “With the minimum qualifications, level of education and experience needed in the college sector, along with the hours worked per week and stressors of the job, I believe that the college coaches are underpaid,” Jackson says.

Yet, Mike Nitka, MS, CSCS*D, RSCC*E, FNSCA, USAW, former Director of Strength and Conditioning at Muskego (Wis.) High School and member of the National High School Strength Coaches Association Hall of Fame, feels differently about the average annual salary of $49,037 for high school strength coaches. “I think that salary is a good start,” he says. “And then if coaches go on to get a master’s degree and more experience that salary will keep bumping up, and by the time they retire they will probably be making around $75,000.”

When looking closer at the data, some coaches noted the disparities within each sector. “Small college coaches (DII and DIII) are paid disproportionately less than their DI counterparts,” says Mike Caro, MS, CSCS*D, RSCC, USAW, PES, Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Emory & Henry College. “This is especially true in light of the fact that many (if not most) small college coaches also have a secondary duty on their staff. In this way they provide the work of two employees for one salary.”

Nitka warns of the same disparities at the high school level. “The school’s ability to pay is a big factor,” he says. “What is the philosophy of the school district and how much value do they put on strength and conditioning? Some people on the school board might not think that’s the best place to put the city’s money. You also have to consider whether it’s an affluent school district and if they can afford to pay you more.”

Another discrepancy that stood out to Caro and Nitka was the difference in the number of male and female respondents. Caro noted the disparity between genders, but Nitka doesn’t believe this is necessarily a bad thing.

“To me it seems that strength and conditioning is a field that’s wide open for females who want to get a leg in,” says Nitka. “I think there’s an opportunity for more women to enter the profession.”

Some coaches also offered advice for those looking to improve their salary and advance the profession. “College strength coaches must be seen as part of the medical staff,” says Caro. “Athletic trainers treat injuries after they happen, while strength coaches work to prevent these injuries from happening. Strength coaches should be more closely related to the athletic training staff and must be distanced from the sport coaching staff. The responsibilities, educational requirements, and work environments are all more closely related to athletic trainers than sport coaches.

“It is also often overlooked that the strength and conditioning coach is the only coaching position that is required to have ongoing national certification and continuing education in the NCAA,” he continues. “This also requires a minimum education level. This alone should point to the importance of a properly prepared (education, experience, certification, etc.) strength coach.”

Bob Alejo, CSCS*D, RSCC*E, Director of Sports Science at Power Lift and former Director of Strength & Conditioning for North Carolina State University, believes that communicating your value as a strength coach can be key to getting the salary you deserve. “Learn how to negotiate and realize that empathy is the number one strategy next to your performance,” says Alejo. “Figure out what the school, administration, or supervisor want and how you can show your monetary worth to them. Also be prepared to show hard evidence of your salary and where it should be when compared with salaries of those with like titles, responsibilities, resources, and accomplishments.”

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