You can have all the knowledge in the world as a strength and conditioning coach, but if the coaches and teams that you are working for have no clue as to what you are capable of, it means very little. In Canada, we are in a unique setting. Strength coaches either work for a professional team, the Canadian Sport Centers, Universities or in a private setting. Sounds like everywhere else right? Well, sort of…In Canada, there are a fraction of Pro teams compared to the U.S., the sport centers are all still relatively new in comparison to the Olympic training centers and so are strength coaches in the collegiate systems. You are probably asking yourself where I am going with this? Regardless of which sport you coach, what are your earliest 2 main resources you have developed your coaching philosophy from? If I had to venture a guess, I would say much of it is drawn from your own experiences as an athlete and from your past coaches. That does not mean we do not draw from others in the industry, our education and certifications and our experience, it just means we are products of our environment. In general, coaches begin their careers at the lowest level (internships, volunteer, graduate assistants or positional coaches) with the hope of moving up the chain. Similar to any other industry in the world, we start at the bottom and work our way through the ranks (unless you work for your daddy’s company). The following points are some of the thoughts that I have gathered over the years that I hope may be of some use to both aspiring and current strength coaches.
· Considering that the strength and conditioning field is still somewhat in its infancy stages, many coaches in Canada have either never worked with a strength and conditioning coach or if they have; it has been on a limited basis.
· Another potential concern is the fact that the sporting community assumes that education and certifications account for experience and skill when hiring new strength and conditioning coaches. I can’t think of many sports teams that would hire a head or high level assistant coach right out of university unless they are exceptionally skilled. I am not trying to knock on anyone in particular or to rip on the sport industry, but I have never seen so much merit put into hiring people with little or no experience in the field as we do in Canada.
· Buzz words and gimmicks are memorable for coaches. Most sport coaches travel with their teams and see what their competition is doing and some will assume that what works for their competition will work for their team. I am a big believer in learning from others, but the best thing that coaches can learn from each other is structure over systems or devices. As strength coaches, we should be helping coaches to understand “WHY” certain gimmicks are being used and how they may or may not benefit your situation.
· Egos. Our neighbors to the south have one of, if not the best non-professional sporting systems in the world (NCAA). Surely, we can draw some insight as to how some of their systems may fit into ours. When your ego gets in the way, you are more likely to learn from your own mistakes instead of others that have already made the same ones in the past.
So where do team and positional coaches draw their strength and conditioning knowledge from (other than YouTube)? The answer should be fairly simple, but it is not. I have been involved on some level with all of the sectors I mentioned in my opening which has lead me to believe the answers are as follows:
What can we do?:
· Regardless of whom you collect a pay check from; you need to educate coaches and athletes on what our scope of knowledge is and how we can make their teams better. Share as much of your knowledge as you can with the staff and athletes so they will embrace what you bring to the table. There are still coaches out there calling strength and conditioning “fitness”. I am not one for semantics, but when I think of “fitness”, I think of Jane Fonda.
· Tradition is a touchy subject. It needs to be embraced, but if the team or athletes you are working with are not the best in the world there is going to be a need for change. By nature, coaches are fairly superstitious and set in their ways. We can’t get frustrated with things we can’t change, so make small impactful changes to garner the rest of the staff and teams trust.
· Don’t bitch when you don’t get enough time with your athletes. Encourage the coaches as to what the benefits are of you having more time. If you cannot get more time, make do with what you have and make sure you are giving the best product possible. Once the coaches notice changes, so will the time you get with the athletes.
· Be professional. Save your cut off jean shorts and tank tops for the beach. Athletes are not there to see that you work out; they are there to get better and learn from you. If you have sweet abs, save them for your Facebook profile picture.
· Do not believe that the role of the strength and conditioning coach involves working Monday to Friday from 9-5. The fact is you need to be available. If you are in a Sport Center or a University setting, you may have a little more luxury as to having set times, but in the private industry, you have to make do with whatever time you can get.
· If you get an opportunity to travel with a team, do not think of it as a vacation. Chances are this will be the most contact hours you will get with your athletes outside of the gym or field sessions. Your ability to help with nutritional advice, hydration, recovery work, session planning etc. will help solidify your value to the team.
· Learn from every coach you work with. Systems that have been implemented with one sport may not have been with another. Your ability to share information with coaches shows that your spectrum may be broader than just strength and conditioning. Unless you are working with only one team, you are privy to some very useful information that can help progress whichever team you are working with.
· I struggle with this one sometimes, but it is very necessary in order to move ourselves forward. Do not speak poorly of your competition or others in the industry. It does no good for anyone and it is time wasted that could be used on bettering yourself and educating other coaches as to what you do differently. This industry does not need more ego’s, it needs people that understand coaches and athletes. The more you pump yourself up over others, the more you more you alienate yourself from potential learning experiences.
· Do not allow yourself or coaches to get caught up into the rigidity of testing. I understand that in some sports (specifically at the national level) there are expectations to follow a strict regimen of testing protocols in order to garner funding. I also understand the need for testing and encourage it, but there is a fine line here. I get the fact that coaches want to see improvements over time and have baseline scores for all of their athletes to chart progress, but again we need to educate them as to why we are doing these tests. When programming starts to shift to enhance test results instead of performance we lose sight of the ultimate goal of success. If you have never watched the NFL or NHL combine, you should. I get the fact that it puts the athletes on an even playing field and gives scouts an opportunity to see how athletes move and how hard they work. My issue is that athletes spend 3-4 months prepping for tests instead of working on skill work that may actually make them a better athlete.
· Individualize programs and explain to your coaches why you are doing this. Does the 7 year veteran need to be loading the same as the 1st year athlete? Specifically in contact sports where the years of physical abuse may be catching up to them. This is very difficult to do if you are the only strength and conditioning coach, but loads and movements can easily be manipulated on the spot while working with teams as you see fit.
· Speak in a language that coaches will understand. Do not assume coaches understand the rhetoric of a sport scientist. Save your technical jargon for your buddies in the lab or on chat rooms. If you feel you are dumbing things down or going to lose credibility in what you are doing, re-read the part about egos.
· Unfortunately for the strength and conditioning professional, many coaches assume they can do what we do. We need to make sure that coaches understand that what we do from a skill or technical standpoint is the same as what they would do on their field of play. This is what we do for a living and our countless hours and experience should mean something to them.
As always, this is just my opinion and a collection of thoughts I have gathered over the years. I hope that you may be able to learn from my past experiences to build a better future for yourself and the teams you may be working for. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Yours in Strength,
Director of High Performance Training and Staff Development
Level 10 Fitness