06 Nov Tales of a Washed up Strength Coach: What Are You?
By: Paul Oneid
Being a collegiate strength and conditioning coach is one of the most sought after jobs in athletics. It has a cool factor that is tough to match, perhaps only by the head football coach for a big time program. With that said, the role of every strength coach in the world is different, based on the needs of the team(s), resources, culture, administration etc. It also varies based on who you are and what your skill set is. Keeping all of this in mind, the modern day strength and conditioning coach needs to wear a variety of hats and have an abundance of tools in his or her toolbox. So, this begs the question – what are you?
Having a solid knowledge of training concepts seems obvious to mention here. For the most part we have all read the same books, seen the same talks, read the same articles and have relatively comparable education levels (Master’s degrees are almost mandatory these days). The scientist is the coach who uses all of this information and assimilates it in a way that suits the needs of the athletes he or she is working with. They develop a philosophy that can adapt and apply to any situation. A strength and conditioning coach must be as knowledgeable as possible and be able to experiment with different concepts in different situations to see which one will work.
Any coach is a teacher. As a strength and conditioning coach you teach movement. Not only do you teach movement, you teach it to a variety of athletes, who play a variety of sports, who each have their own needs and who each learn in a different manner. You do this within a sometimes-chaotic environment and to top it all off you are often teaching skills that are strenuous to perform. A great coach will be able to determine the appropriate way to convey information in a concise and positive manner. The athlete needs to know that what they are learning is for their benefit and not for your ego. How you approach each learning opportunity will ultimately add to or diminish the amount of trust an athlete has in you.
This is where the trust you gain as a teacher comes into play. The old adage of “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” could not be more accurate. Your athletes need to believe that you have a sincere interest in their success. If you have a young athlete’s trust, they will run through a wall for you. In many cases, that may be an easier task than what you’re asking them to do. The program you prepare is only a piece of paper. The effort and buy in you can get from the athletes following said piece of paper, is what determines its effectiveness. I heard that from a smart guy somewhere.
Whether you like it or not, you’re going to be the person the head coach comes to in order to punish his or her team. For whatever reason, sport coaches think that exercise is a good punishment. How are you going to use this as a way to increase buy in to your program? How are you going to use a brutal training exercise geared at punishment in a way that tells an athlete you care? The good coaches can do that, and I have seen it done. The key in this point is that you will have to do things you don’t want to do and that you do not believe in. It is up to you to find a way to do them in a way that serves your greater purpose.
The Mentor/ Role Model
Inside and outside of the weight room you are someone your athletes will look up to. The way you behave at all times has an impact on how you are perceived during training hours. The way you eat, the way you train, the way you carry yourself, the way you portray yourself on social media all impact the way the athlete will see you as a person. As a young coach I struggled greatly with this, but as I grew as a man and as a coach I came to greatly value the way my athletes saw me. I used my powerlifting as a way to gain credibility in the weight room and I used my education to gain credibility outside of it. My athletes knew that I expected the same from them inside and outside of the weight room as I did from myself.
The Injury Preventer/ Rehabilitator
If an athlete gets hurt, it’s probably the strength coach’s fault and if an athlete remains injury free, it is seldom rewarded. Your program has to be designed in a way that injury prevention is built-in and in a way that can be adapted should an athlete become injured. I am going to say something here that you need to remember: “ALWAYS HAVE A REASON FOR DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING. EVERY EXERCISE, REP SCHEME, LOADING PARAMETER, MODALITY… EVERYTHING!” If an athlete gets hurt and you cannot justify your reasoning for requiring them to perform whatever it was that they hurt themselves doing, you should be fired. Argue all you want on that one but if you put things into your program and don’t know why, you SUCK!
The Nutrition Coach
Chances are that you won’t be working at a school with a nutritionist on the S&C staff. If you do, use them as often as you can. If you don’t you should be sure to educate yourself on the cafeteria menu and put together some type of healthy eating guide to assist your athletes. If they don’t make the appropriate gains in strength, conditioning, body composition etc. following a proper training protocol it is most likely due to their nutrition. Cover all your bases and make sure that if a coach asks why their athlete didn’t progress appropriately, there can be little blame put back on you.
For the final element, we step outside the walls of the weight room. As a strength coach you must be able to manage people. Whether it be staff, interns, coaches, or athletes, you are always managing people. Here is a short list of some things that need to be administrated:
- Weight room schedule
- Appropriate time slots for teams based on practice and class times
- Cleaning of the facilities
- Preparing internship curriculum
- Continued education for staff
- Team building
- Staff evaluations and progress reporting
- Ensuring programming is consistent across the department
- Managing work hours, vacation time, lieu time
- Meeting with coaches
- Meeting with administration
- Managing a budget
- Maintaining the quality of the facility
- Meeting with athletic training
- Actual time spent coaching athletes
- Attending games
- Attending practices
- Writing training programs
This list could be much ore in depth, but in the absence of training athletes, administrating a weight room can be a full time job in itself. How you manage it and use the tools at your disposal will determine how efficient you can be.
How do you wear all these hats at once?
Wearing all these hats at once can be a daunting task filled with stress. It is not for everyone and it is the reason many coaches do not last long. You don’t truly understand the abundance of responsibility until you are thrust into it. Wearing all of these hats while keeping the best interest of the student athlete in the fore front is extremely difficult. The best can do it, but they cannot do it alone. The best coaches have the best support system, or they use whatever support system they have to the best of their abilities. This is not a job that can be done properly alone. There are many of my former colleagues who were asked to do this. Something always gets ignored, whether it is nutrition, liaising with athletic training, educating staff, intern curriculum etc. The important thing is that the reason you became a coach in the first place is not forgotten. The athletes must always come first. You cannot run a strength and conditioning department like Baylor, with the resources of Monmouth. That is not to say you can’t do your best, but it means you’ll have to be creative.
“Do your best with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt
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