The emergence of the professional baseball strength and conditioning profession started in 1993 with three American League strength coaches, Fernando Montes (Cleveland Indians), Steve Odgers (Chicago White Sox) and Bob Alejo (Oakland A’s). Montes, who was a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) while coaching at Stanford, came up with the idea of creating an educational-based organization dedicated to developing, improving and evaluating training techniques and protocols for professional baseball players. Montes met with Odgers and Alejo when their teams played each other. He also met with other AL strength coaches when they played the Indians to discuss the role and scope of the proposed organization and solicit input. During the off-season, five major league strength coaches met during the 1993 NSCA Sport Specific Conference and decided to create a Society of professional baseball strength and conditioning coaches whose primary purpose was to unite the profession of strength and conditioning in baseball with the application of proven strength and conditioning principles.
The concept was finalized in 1995 with the formation of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Society (PBSCCS). The first PBSCCS meeting was held in 1995 in conjunction with the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS). The second meeting was held in 1996 in conjunction with the NSCA Sport-Specific Training Conference. There were only a handful Major League strength and conditioning coaches present at the first meeting, but the meeting was very productive in that the attendees were able to define the mission statement of the society, pick officers, establish by-laws, collect dues and have a series of round table discussions and evaluations of on-going practices and programs being used in MLB. The mission statement developed was – The PBSCCS is a non-profit organization represented by major and minor league strength and conditioning coaches from each MLB organization. Its focus is to provide education, community outreach awareness, and long term athletic development information about our roles and responsibilities in professional baseball. This objective is completed by the collaboration of its active members.
There were not many full-time strength coaches at the Major League level and even fewer at the minor league level when the Society was formed. Strength coaches were the new kids on the block and many, unlike the athletic trainers with whom they had to work, were not certified by a nationally recognized professional organization and/or had not paid their dues by working endless hours, days and years in the minor leagues. Prior to the hiring of strength coaches, the conditioning of professional baseball players consisted on long distance running (aerobics) and shoulder maintenance programs, both under the supervision of an athletic trainer. As one might expect, there was some resentment from a few of the athletic trainers who believed that that the strength coaches were encroaching on their territory without meeting a minimum professional standard or working their way up through the minor leagues, and were implementing weight lifting programs that would make their players too tight and sore to play.
Aside from being a governing body and an educational resource for its members, the Society had three other primary goals: 1) To align itself with the NSCA in order to provide a venue through which its members could become professionally certified. 2) To improve working relations with athletic trainers and become an integral member of the sports medicine team. 3) Create a working relationship with other professional coaches outside of baseball.
The Society met annually as part of the NSCA annual Sport-Specific Training Conference from 1996-2004. In 1999, the NSCA changed the name of the conference to Baseball / Football Sports Specific Conference in response to the increasing number conference attendees expressing an interest in baseball. In 2004, the Society established detailed job descriptions and minimum standards for employment in professional baseball for several positions including; head strength and conditioning coach, assistant strength and conditioning coach, minor league strength and conditioning coordinator and strength and conditioning intern. In 2005, the Society was invited to become an official participate in the Baseball Winter Meetings and attend joint meetings with the athletic trainers and team medical staff.
In 2008, Baseball officials responding to recommendations in the Mitchell Report for more direct accountability from those who are close to the players — athletic trainers, strength coaches and clubhouse attendants, mandated that all strength coaches hired by clubs be certified by the NSCA and that clubs must have the approval of Dan Halem, baseball’s senior vice president and general counsel, for new hires.
This mandate was followed by a memo on January 11, 2011 to all Major League General Managers that said “By April 1, 2012, all individuals holding the position of Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, or Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach at either the Triple-A or Double-A level must be registered as a Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach, or shall become registered within 120 days.”
In 2009, MLB and the Major League Players’ Association announced the creation of a new position, Joint Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, whose duties were to provide guidance to and identify best practices for Clubs and Players on issues involving conditioning, fitness, nutrition and other related subjects. In 2010, Tim Maxey, Society president and head strength and conditioning coach for the Cleveland Indians was hired to fill this position.
Profiling the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Turn of the Century. When the society started, professional baseball strength and conditioning coaches varied widely in experience and backgrounds. We had guys with a variety of experiences. Warren Sipp of the Pirates, for example, was a fullback at Michigan, had a doctorate in philosophy and was the head sports conditioning coach at Pitt. Steve Odgers was an Olympic decathlete. Bob Alejo and Fernando Montes were collegiate strength and conditioning coaches. Most of the discussions in the early meetings involved sets, reps and exercise techniques. The focus shifted over time and expanded to include workshops on performance enhancing drugs and supplements by the US Anti-doping Agency (USADA) and World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), periodization, pre- and post-game nutrition, movement screening, assessment strategies, testing procedures, rehab techniques, sleep and fatigue management, rest and recovery, etc.
It is important to note that during the initial years of the Society, several strength and conditioning coaches had other baseball-related duties like throwing batting practice, charting pitches, catching bullpens, etc. to help support their salaries. As the Society emerged one of the first things accomplished was to emphasize that the position of strength and conditioning coach was a full-time professional position and that the strength and conditioning coach was not an additional baseball coach, athletic trainer or BP pitcher. Through years of dedication and hard work, the Society has earned the respect and support of management, trainers and the players as reflected by mandates that all major league teams have full-time strength and conditioning coaches, that coaches be professionally certified and registered by the NSCA, and the inclusion of strength and conditioning coaches as members of the support staff of the annual MLB All-Star Game beginning in 2012.
The Influence of Personal Trainers. There was a period of time when several players had personal trainers and other support staff who were not employed by a Major League club, but had relatively free access to some home and visiting clubhouses and weight rooms. Players came in with their personal trainer, exercise physiologist, stretching specialist, nutritionist, etc. A few had their own entourage, and it was extremely disruptive.
Following an incident in 2001 in which a gym bag coming off a Cleveland Indian’s team charter containing questionable substances was seized by the Canadian Border Service in Toronto, rules governing personal trainers and other forms of support staff were developed and enforced. Over time, clubs began to restrict access to facilities and insist that all support staff had to be official employees of the team. This, in effect, did away with most of the personal trainers during the season from the standpoint that players had to meet them before or after games and always away from the stadium. Given baseball’s hours, few where willing to do this.
In general, players with personal trainers and other forms of support staff tended to be among the highest paid. Sometime this created tension in the clubhouse between the haves and have-nots, based on who could and could not afford the services of a personal trainer, massage therapist, etc. In some instances, it disrupted the team’s cohesion from the strength and conditioning standpoint because a few of the personal trainers were accused of actively recruiting other players on the team. This created hard feelings between the personal trainer and the strength coach and put the player in an uncomfortable position. Members of the society did not necessarily question the abilities of these personal trainers, but they questioned the potential effects they could have on the team.
In the next part in this series, we will make recommendations for the future.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012, has been a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers since 2013 and is currently Professor in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.