Kentucky Strong: Qualities of the “Private Sector” High School Strength Coach
I work with a wide variety of clients and have over the years. While I love training anyone who wants to get in the gym and pursue a goal with excitement, I’d be lying if I didn’t say some of my favorite clients to work with are high school athletes. Maybe it’s because I was once a high school athlete myself. Going into my freshman year, I discovered my passion for training and saw just what amazing things it can truly do to and for a young athlete. Now I’m able to pass this on to other young athletes and let them develop their love for training as well. I know there are many others out there just like me who love to do the same or who want to eventually do the same thing. In addition to this, over the years I’ve come to realize that there are six very important qualities you need as a “private sector” strength coach if you want to be successful.
Before I start, let me define the “private sector.” It is typically warehouse gyms, personal training studios, big box gyms, etc. Essentially, anyone training athletes who is not working directly for a high school is working in the private sector. When training athletes in this setting, you have to remember a few things:
- Their parents are paying you for your services.
- Like it or not, you are a role model to these young athletes.
- Getting results is very important, but keeping the kids in the gym long enough to get those results is even more important. You’ve got to keep the kids coming back.
The 6 Qualities
You don’t have to be setting any powerlifting records, but you need to show that you have the ability to get yourself strong. How are you going to get other people strong if you can’t even get yourself strong? You are not, and that’s the problem. If you are going to train athletes, you need to have respectable numbers on whichever lifts coincide with your training goals. You also need to be able to display relative strength through bodyweight movements such as chin-ups, pull-ups, dips, etc. We all have different training goals, but in the end, we all need to be strong.
This has a different meaning to everyone. You don’t have to have visible abs, but you need to look the part and have some “go” with your “show.” I recall one day when I had a couple of soccer athletes pushing the Prowler®. The group was typically comprised of three athletes, but one had to miss that day. This threw our typical rotation off, where one would push the Prowler down®, another back, and the final kid pushing it back to the one who started the rotation. Since the rotation was off, I jumped in and did their conditioning session with them. I think this ability to display that you are STRONG and IN-SHAPE to your athletes definitely makes them trust you and believe in you that much more. And it definitely helps you gain more respect from those athletes. So, while you don’t have to be able to run a half marathon, you need to be able to display a decent level of conditioning at any time. If you get winded from walking up a flight of stairs or demonstrating an exercise, this is something you need to work on.
I think you should be educated. I’ve said it before: I take more pride in my years under the bar and in my years coaching others than I do in my formal education and certifications. With that being said, I do think all coaches working with athletes in the private sector should hold the CSCS credential. This also requires a four-year college degree, which is another thing I think should be required. It displays to parents of athletes that you are serious about this and that it’s your career. In their eyes, it shows that you’ve received the proper education to keep their kids safe and to train them correctly. Most parents will be professionals of some sort themselves—who also hold a college degree. Therefore, by holding one yourself, they look at you in the same light as they would any other professional. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any great coaches without a college degree or CSCS. I’m friends with some coaches like this, and this isn’t a slam at them. They are probably the exception to the rule, so keep that in mind. At Argonauts Fitness, the gym I train out of, you are required to have a four-year college degree and to obtain your CSCS before you are even considered for a job. On top of this formal education, I think you should have years under the bar training yourself. You should also read everything you can get your hands on in regards to training and nutrition—everything from more scientifically-based books, such as “Supertraining” and “Science and Practice of Strength Training,” to training programs and books, such as “The Westside Barbell Book of Methods” and “Wendler’s 5/3/1.” And these are just a few examples. There are countless books I’d recommend for coaches to read, but that’s outside the scope of this article. You should always be reading something related to your craft. You should attend seminars, conferences, and clinics. You should buy and watch DVDs. If you want to be the best coach you can be, it’s going to take a lot of reading and learning on your own time. It’s going to cost money, and you’re going to have to travel. Don’t look at this as an expense though. This is an investment in yourself, your education, and your business.
If you are training athletes, I think you need to remember what it’s like to be an athlete yourself. The only way to do that is to compete. You need to know what your athletes are going through mentally and physically. This is something that’s often forgotten once you’ve graduated high school and your glory days are behind you. Finding something to compete in allows you to remember what it’s like and allows you to connect with your athletes even more. Just recently, I was having a conversation with a high-level tennis player I train about the similarities in the mental game of tennis and strongman. You’d be surprised at just how alike they are. This brings you closer to your athletes and earns more trust and respect from them. So when you’re putting them through a brutal training session, or making them do that one exercise they absolutely hate, they know you can relate. You don’t have to be a powerlifter or strongman, either. Just find a competitive outlet that you enjoy and compete, even if it’s only every couple of years. It will definitely benefit you greatly.
This is a big one. You are training someone’s son or daughter. Talking about getting drunk over the weekend or bragging about hooking up with some random chick is a big No. Showing up late is a big No also. Be on time and speak like a professional. Also, dress professionally. This doesn’t mean a polo shirt and khaki shorts. It means wear nice, clean athletic shoes, athletic shorts, and a nice t-shirt (shameless plug: elitefts™ t-shirts are great for this purpose). Wear something you can move in to demonstrate proper exercise technique. Don’t wear shirts with vulgar words or anything offensive on it. Don’t be talking or texting on your cell phone when working with an athlete. Can you imagine going to the doctor or dentist and watching them text their friends or check their email while they are working on you? They wouldn’t do that because they are professionals. Call athletes by their first names. Be respectful to them. Don’t degrade them or talk down to them to try to motivate them. This doesn’t work and isn’t professional at all in my opinion. It’s okay to be critical and criticize them, but also praise and brag on them when they do things right. This goes back to: “Getting results is important, but keeping the kids in the gym long enough to get results is even more important. You’ve got to keep the kids coming back.” Being unprofessional is the quickest way to keep them from coming back.
You’ve got to be friendly and likeable or kids won’t want to be around you. You don’t have to go over the top or be someone you’re not. However, if you want to work with high school athletes, but aren’t friendly or likeable, I don’t care how smart and great of a coach you are, you won’t keep them around long enough to produce any results. They will go elsewhere. Greet them with their name. Look them in the eyes. While they are warming up, ask them how their day was, their weekend, etc. Get to know these kids on a personal level. Unfortunately, a lot of kids don’t get much time with their parents. Sometimes they just want someone to ask them how they are doing. Get to know these kids and be their friends. However, this should never take away from their training session, and it doesn’t have to. There are periodic breaks and times that you can talk with your athletes during a properly designed training program.
While you may or may not agree, I think those six qualities are very important for the “private sector” high school strength coach. If you’re a veteran coach, maybe some of these are good reminders or maybe you learned a thing or two. And if you’re an up-and-coming strength coach, hopefully this opened your eyes to the fact that there is more to training high school athletes than just writing programs, demonstrating exercises, and coaching them.