Thursday, 18 August 2011

The male ego and why I am better than you

                Before I go on, I just need to make sure everyone understands that the title is a joke!  At 35 years old, I have come to grips with my masculinity and ego.  As an ex-athlete of 3 machismo sports (wrestling, rugby and football) I have had my share of encounters with the male ego.  I am at the point now where I am beginning to realize how egos have shaped this world.  I want to touch on this because I see it as cancer to our industry.  It is our job to help people achieve more in life and sport and it is being tainted by people that are so called gurus and industry leaders.   Obviously we all want to be successful in our endeavours, but the shameless self promotion and ego boosting is taking away from what is most important-our clientele.   At the end of the day we are helping people reach their goals (sport or other), not solving world hunger. 
                I started in this industry at the ripe old age of 25 as a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.  I was lucky enough to work under some great strength coaches and with over 16 different teams from football to gymnastics.  Being immersed in a setting where I was dealing with close to 250 different athletes and coaches on a daily basis gave me a better understanding of the athlete ego and psyche.  
Since returning to Canada in 2002, I have seen this industry boom!  I decided to write this because I feel it is important for people to be able to read through some of the hype that surrounds the professionals of this industry and shed some light as to what one should look for when choosing a strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer.
Degrees and Certifications:
                This is a funny industry when it comes to education.  It is not regulated by any standards that state one should have a degree or any “real” certifications, let alone experience with regards to the field.  I put real in quotations, because for the most part, I don’t think much of certifications (I appreciate the intended purpose, but feel it has turned into a cash grab instead of learning tools).  I don’t have a problem with people attempting to share and learn within the field (I actually really support the concept), but I have a problem with people that lead seminars and clinics just so they can pad their resume and hear themselves speak.  For the most part, I only know of one certification that requires the members to actually have some experience in the field.   This means, anyone can go in and write a weekend course and become certified.  The major strength and conditioning governing body does at least require that you have a degree to get their certification, but it doesn’t matter what it is in.  How does this tie into ego?  If you have ever attended one of these clinics, you will note the use of the word “I” more than anything else.  Instead of sharing useful information, it becomes “I trained this guy, I developed this system, and I am the greatest because my eyebrows are plucked weekly” and so on.  If one is to get a certification, I like to think it means they are actually learning something useful and keeping up to date on the most pertinent information as it ties into the industry, not hearing stories about how great the speaker is or was and what product they are trying to offer you.   From the attendee’s standpoint, there are generally 3 types.  The ones that put their hand up every minute to share with everyone that they do in fact know what the presenter is talking about, the one that doesn’t say anything and thinks the presenter has nothing good to offer because they know it all anyway and the one that just goes to learn the newest and greatest gimmick or fad.   I only pick on education and certifications because it seems like something people feel the need to brag about more than anything else.   Sure these are all great accomplishments, but if I am looking for someone to train me, I look for 3 things:
1.       Results!  When we sign up to work with someone in this field it is not because we are looking for a new friend to chat with.  Results speak for themselves.   Keep in mind results does NOT mean they have trained someone famous or a professional athlete.  If it’s someone famous, chances are; they have an unlimited budget and time to achieve their desired results (quite often it is part of their jobs to look or perform a certain way).   You are paying for a service and you have every right to ask your trainer what to expect and to talk to some of their clientele to see firsthand what type of results you can look to achieve. If it’s an elite athlete; chances are they were elite before they met their strength and conditioning coach (I am not saying that our role as a strength and conditioning coaches doesn’t play a part in their success, but if you take into account the years, months, days and hours a pro athlete trains, it does not compare to most of the population).  There are many great coaches out there that work with both pro and developing athletes, but don’t get caught up in the mindset that your training will make you a pro athlete because you are doing the same workouts. 
2.       Experience!  All the education and certifications available are important, but if they have limited time putting it to practical use, I would question their abilities.  I have worked with many interns and new employees over the years and all of them seem to agree that they have learned far more on the job than through school or certifications.  Granted, I do believe that you should at the very least have a degree in the field so that you can understand the basic concepts before progressing, but it should also be noted that there are many successful and great people in this industry from the most educated to those that have little or none. 
3.       Personality! You are going to be spending a lot of one on one time with this person.  It is important that you can tolerate them.  They are not there to be your cheerleader or drill sergeant. They are there to help guide you with your goals and hopefully help you achieve them.  If your trainer spends more time talking about themselves than dealing with the task at hand, it means they are not interested in you.    If your service provider is sipping on a protein shake, eating a meal replacement bar, checking his phone or constantly checking himself out in the mirror, you may want to look elsewhere.  Their concern is on them and you should not be paying for someone that does not care about you. 
Here are 3 things I would look closely at when looking for a professional in the industry:
  1. The trainer’s physique!  I know what you are thinking here-this is coming from a 350lb trainer and he is covering his own ass.  One thing I love to look for is how many pictures they have on their website of themselves with their shirt off.  It’s usually a great indicator of who they are most likely to look out for.   I have to also note, as a strength coach I don’t believe we have to have competed in a specific sport to train a specific athlete.  But I do think we must have the ability or had the ability to perform what we are asking our clientele to do.  I know as an athlete, I would’ve had trouble with someone telling me to a million shuttles in the hundred degree heat then go to a weight session if they couldn’t at least say they have an understanding of how it feels themselves.  As a strength coach, we have to be able to relate to the athlete and client at all times.  It is not necessary that your coach has done everything that you will be doing, but they have to have an understanding of what the stress of these activities feel like before they attempt your programming.
  2. Hyper Intelligence!  I am not trying to knock smart people.  Look for a balance of education with experience.  I would rather someone that is a professional than someone that is a professional student.  I am butchering this quote that I believe came from Albert Einstein-“ If you can’t explain what you are talking about so that both a 7 year old can understand it and an academic is not offended, you don’t know what you are talking about”.   I have found that a lot of academics have trouble portraying their message to their audience.  Most of their time is not spent in the field and tends to limit their personality and experience when dealing with athletes.  Most academics are great with research and data and for the most part are needed for us to do our jobs.  The problem is; a fair amount of the research being done has either already been determined by those in a practical setting for themselves or it is not practical for the majority of settings it is intended for.
  3. Claims to fame! We all do this, but we tend to look up to people that have had their 15 minutes of fame and treat them like they are above everyone else.  There are a lot of great people in the industry that are great at what they do and they work with very high profile people and should be proud of this.  As a client, we should be looking more at the results as opposed to who they worked with.  Quite often I get parents and clientele asking about so called industry leaders because they have worked with professional teams or athletes.  The first thing I ask back is; did they have good results while that person worked under them?  Is it boasted worthy for me to say I worked for a professional team for ten years and in that time they never were successful or riddled with injuries?  Question everything and if you don’t like the answers, move on.   I listened to a great speaker in our field and he once said something along the lines of “believe nothing of what you read, and don’t read only things you believe”.   So if you go into interview a coach and you are in awe of what you have heard, everything he says is that much more believable.
My final thoughts:
                This industry should not be just about the people that work in it.  We are nothing without our clients and need to respect that.  There is nothing wrong with speaking highly of yourself or your company so long as it doesn’t take away from the client’s goals. We are all proud of our accomplishments, but at the end of the day the summation of our compliments comes from our ability to make our customers happy.  All of us boast an ego at some point or another, but if it is a major part of your life it takes away from your ability to learn.  I used to think we were the only company doing the “right” things for our client and negated everything I had heard from our competitors.  What I now realize is you can learn just as much by paying attention to the things you don’t agree with as you can from the ones that fit into your guidelines.  At the end of the day, we are not solving the world’s problems, be humble in your accomplishments both as a trainer and a person and most importantly-don’t forget, this industry is not just about you. 
                If you are offended by this article, maybe you should read it again.
Yours in Strength,
Joe McCullum

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