How important are letters of recommendation and references? In my opinion they are very important. Seldom, if ever, will a candidate list someone as a reference who would give a negative recommendation. I will often ask a candidate if they would give me someone who would give a negative recommendation and why that person would be negative. I want people who are honest. My concern is a way to find out if they really did what they said they did. One way to do this is to ask for a detailed sample program from a team or individual they have worked with. Evaluate this sample program against the following criteria, does the program include:
Injury prevention component
Speed Development component
Strength/Power development component
Sport specific conditioning component
Are there provisions for recovery?
Is the program realistic given the time, personnel, facilities and equipment available?
Is the program adaptable?
Was this program a real or a theoretical model program? I would also ask for video of a workout from the program as it was implemented. A face-to-face interview is a must for any candidate you are seriously considering. This should be as extensive possible and be conducted by all the key people that will be working with the potential candidate. I would also consider an audition. This scenario would involve the potential candidate actually showing a workout in a typical coaching setting in which they would be working.
In addition it is necessary to evaluate the candidate relative to their other experiences. Often the persons success or failure is not determined by technical expertise but by administrative, management, and personnel considerations. The following are those types of considerations that need to be evaluated:
Facilities Planning and Organization
Organizational abilities and Skills
Program Planning, Implementation and Compliance
Work ethic and work habits
Personal grooming and fitness
In terms of knowledge areas and specific competencies the SPP should have a good background in all of the following areas:
Strength Training encompassing the whole spectrum of training methods
Sport Specific Fitness Development
Testing & Evaluation
Growth and Development
How does the prospective candidate compare to the existing staff members or the person they are trying to replace. Along the same line of thought where does this person fit into the department organizational structure?
Educational background and certification are important considerations. It is my opinion that education and teaching and coaching experience weigh more heavily than certifications. An activity based physical education or sports science degree would be the best, unfortunately those programs are now hard to find. A college degree should be the minimum educational requirement, hopefully in some related field.
As far as certification, that is another matter. I know many of these jobs list the NSCA CSCS certification as required, I guess that is acceptable as long as the limitations are understood. The CSCS does not require a practical component, it only requires passing a written exam. This is an inherent weakness; nonetheless, it is still probably the preferred certification. The NASM certifications though very popular carry very little or no weight in my consideration of hiring someone. NASM is nothing more than a certification mill. To my knowledge, at last count, there were over 250 certification programs in related fields. For someone doing the hiring it is very tough to assess the relative merit and advantage of all of these. The biggest weakness missing from almost all of them is a lack of a practical component. Ultimately some certification is necessary to satisfy liability considerations.
The Sports Performance specialist can have a very profound impact on the success of any athletic department. Hiring this person or persons because of the relative undefined nature of the field is not as simple as hiring an ATC where the profession is well established and the roles are more clearly defined. I hope this will give you some basic guideline to help in this process.