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) align itself with the NSCA in order to provide a venue through which it members could become professionally certified; 2) improve working relations with athletic trainers and become an integral member of the sports medicine team and; 3) create a working relationship with other professional coaches outside of baseball.
The Society met annually as part of the NSCA 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 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 MLB Baseball Winter Meetings and attend joint meetings with the athletic trainers and team physicians.
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.
Early coaches. When the society started, professional baseball strength and conditioning coaches varied greatly in experience and background. Warren Sipp (Pirates) for example, played fullback at Michigan, earned a doctorate in philosophy and was the head sports conditioning coach at Pitt. Steve Odgers (White Sox) was an Olympic decathlete. Bob Alejo (A’s) and Fernando Montes (Indians) 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 lectures and workshops by the USDA and WADA on supplements and performance enhancing drugs, round table discussions on procedures and presentations on periodization, sports nutrition, movement screening, 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, such as, 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 earned the respect and support of management, trainers and the players as reflected by mandates that all MLB 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 for MLB All-Star Games (2012).
Personal Trainers. There was a period of time when some players had personal trainers and other support staff who, while they were not employees of the team, had relatively free access to some home and visiting clubhouses and weight rooms. A few even showed up with an entourage – personal trainer, exercise physiologist, massage therapist, stretching specialist, nutritionist, personal BP pitcher, etc. – and it was extremely disruptive.
Following an international incident in 2001 in which a gym bag on an 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. Denying personal trainers access to the clubhouse and weight room meant that players had to meet them away from the stadium either before or after games. Given baseball’s extended schedule and long hours, few where willing to do this.
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 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, especially when a few of the personal trainers were accused of actively recruiting players. This situation created hard feelings between the personal trainer and the strength coach and put the players in an uncomfortable position. Members of the society did not necessarily question the abilities of the personal trainers, but they questioned the potential effects they could have on team unity.
The next posting (Part 5) will discuss future considerations.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.