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Clarifying the Role of the Strength and Conditioning Coach in Athlete Rehabilitation

Andrew Armstrong
31 March 2021

Armstrong, A. (2021). Clarifying the role of the strength and conditioning coach in athlete rehabilitation. (A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Applied Science at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand) 



Strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches are assumed as performance professionals, but S&C may be utilised in athlete rehabilitation. Some S&C coaches collaborate with physiotherapists in athlete rehabilitation. The role of S&C coaches in athlete rehabilitation has been poorly documented. Therefore, this thesis aimed to clarify the role of S&C coaches in athlete rehabilitation using current literature and the perspectives of physiotherapists and S&C coaches.

Firstly, a narrative literature review on the roles involved in athlete rehabilitation helped to theorise a role for S&C coaches. Current literature highlights a gap in performance training at the end of athlete rehabilitation that S&C coaches could fill.

Secondly, semi-structured interviews were conducted in New Zealand (NZ) with four physiotherapists, four S&C coaches and one S&C coach with a physiotherapy background. A thematic analysis of the interview data identified thirteen themes that were analysed in four categories. These themes in their respective categories were: Current role (teamwork with the rehabilitation team, level of involvement, and physical roles), proposed role (teamwork with the rehabilitation team, level of involvement, and physical roles), variables (rehabilitation team structure, governance, relationships in the rehabilitation team, and the athlete), and significance (positive and negative).

The theorised role from the literature is similar to the current perceived role of S&C coaches in athlete rehabilitation. Most S&C coaches seem to have a small role in the end stages of athlete rehabilitation and take over from physiotherapists to provide performance training. Participants thought that S&C coaches should have a much greater role than this. Participants thought that S&C coaches can provide performance context throughout the athlete rehabilitation process, but poor communication and collaboration with health professionals reduces their role. Participants thought S&C coaches should be minimally involved following a health professional’s diagnosis. Their involvement should then increase as athlete function improves and the physiotherapist’s role decreases. Their most significant involvement would be in performance training. Participants agreed that the S&C coach’s role should be flexible and account for the context of rehabilitation and their own personal skillset.

Keywords: physical conditioning, human; physical therapists; professional role; return to sport; sports medicine

Andrews' research was supervised by Simon Body and Codi Ramsey.


This thesis is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International.

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