This article is about the 10 unwritten rules of being a strength coach. They were not given to me by God on stone tablets on top of a mountain, but are probably from stone tablets hitting me square in the head over and over again for the last 21 years. These are important rules that you will never find in any classroom or lecture. These are special rules, passed down from strength coach to strength coach, with ties stronger and more secretive than the Illuminati. My life could be in danger just writing this article. The old strength coaches may come out of retirement or leave their seats in Valhalla to crush me with Thor’s hammer. Hopefully, I will not die in vain, and some of this knowledge will help you in your career. Tell my family I love them.

Without further ado, in no particular order:

1. Thou Shalt Master One Perfect Rep

This is a matter of grave importance, not just for teaching technique in any exercise or drill that you may be teaching, but also for giving you credibility with your athletes and staff. The "one perfect rep" is you performing an exercise with so much power, speed, and precision that athletes will be embarrassed if they do not perform it to your standard. Take bag drills for example. Explaining it is one thing, but if you rip over those bags, knees, and arms pumping, eyes up like a lion on its prey for one glorious rep, you will have their attention. It will give you the ability to talk trash if they can’t do it as good as you, and they will take you seriously. This goes for anything you are trying to teach them — lift, running, you name it. Master the rep.

RECENT: Establishing Team Culture in the Spring — FUNdamentals

As an additional note, if you are really bad at something (like running more than 10 yards) you may insert an assistant, graduate assistant, or intern to fill in for you. It's not as effective but still works in a pinch.

2. Thou Shalt Play to Strengths

This goes hand in hand with the one rep theory, but sometimes you have to get your point across for longer than one or two seconds. So do it on your terms. If you are good at an exercise, just jump in and start blasting out reps while talking trash or teaching them something. I am good at incline dumbbell presses, and I once had to jump in cold and do 18 reps with 100 pounds while “talking” to my athletes the whole time. Could I do that with the clean, front squats, or dumbbell rows? Hell no, I suck at those. So find your strengths and, when the right time comes along, have at it. And yes, I am still out of breath from performing those 18 reps five years ago.

coach g squat

3. Thou Shalt Never, Ever Wipe a White Board with Hands or Fingers

The dry erase or whiteboard is sacred to me, as it is to many strength coaches. It is imperative that I have one wherever I work. It is great for anything that comes to mind. Putting things in different sections and different colors it is just so exciting. It is one thing that will never be replaced with electronics as long as I am around.

This is how to properly maintain a whiteboard: Before it is used, spray it down with board or glass cleaner. Wipe with towel. Then write your thoughts away. When you are done with your musings and want to clean it off, you must spray the same cleaner on it and then wipe it while it is wet. Wipe with towel. Never dry erase a dry erase board. Follow this and it will last forever.

4. Thou Shalt Yell “Get Back” in Any Situation

Those of you who patrol the sideline during football games will understand this more than others. You must take this seriously, if for no other reason than saving face or avoiding a game-changing penalty. If you see a coach or player getting into it on the sidelines, yell "get back!"

This works in many situations. Fans starting trouble with you sideline? Get back! Coaches arguing a call? Get back! Play coming your way on the sideline? Get back! Players on the sideline talking trash to the other team on the field? Get back! Someone cursing loudly on the sideline? Get back! You are thirsty and the trainer with the water is 10 yards away in a group of players? You guessed it: Get back!  It can be used in a variety of situations, and you can never say it enough. There is no limit to get-backs. And don’t forget it for keeping everyone out of the coach’s box, which apparently was why strength coaches were invented.

5. Thou Shalt Follow the Sunglasses Rule

Let’s face it, sunglasses are awesome. They protect your eyes from the harmful rays of the sun and the right pair can make you look like a badass. Wearing sunglasses at a game is Strength Coaching 101, but they are widely misused because not many people follow the correct protocol. Well, here it is, in black and white: If you are wearing sunglasses at the start of any half of a game, they must stay on for that entire half. Start the game with them on and they cannot come off until the half. Then you must go in and confer with your counterparts if you are going to wear them for the second half. Figure out the hypotenuse of the sun, gravitational pull, if it is overcast, duration of time left in the game, and any other factor you can think of to make an educated decision. Guess correctly, you look like a champ. Guess wrong and you are wearing sunglasses at night — not good unless you are Corey Hart. Don’t be that guy.

6. Thou Shalt Always Answer "Three More Reps"

If an athlete has to ask you how many reps they have left during a set, they are not concentrating and not paying attention, so they deserve to do at least three more. As if you have nothing else to do during a session other than counting their reps (coaching technique, team flow, music volume, staff monitoring, safety, etc.). This athlete just has to lift and count his own reps. I have had players during a one-rep set do one and ask me how many more reps they had left. What did I say? You guessed it: three more. Always. The odds are usually stacked in our favor. Sometimes they get away with fewer reps if they are on rep two of an eight-rep set and ask and get three more, but sometimes the opposite happens and they do more reps than the set was intended. It will all balance out eventually.

coach g pull up

7. Thou Shalt Never Place Hands in Pockets

Never, ever do this. It does not matter how cold it is or how bad the weather is. Wear gloves if you have to. If you are not prepared and forgot to bring gloves, that is your problem. There is almost nothing more embarrassing than someone with their hands in their pockets while other people are working. It shows a lack of respect for the work they are putting in. And yes, you can wear gloves and jackets and all that good stuff. It is okay; your athletes will not lift more or run faster if you are freezing to death. I promise.

8. Thou Shalt Never Fold Arms While Coaching

Remember when I said there was almost nothing worse than having your hands in your pockets? Well, this is one of the few things that are worse — and for the same reason. Nothing says "what you are doing is not important to me" more than someone standing there with their arms folded. Never, ever do this. The only time a strength coach should fold his arms is when they are taking a staff picture and trying to squeeze an extra inch on the biceps. Perfectly acceptable in that situation.

9. Thou Shalt Not Live on Food Alone

As a strength coach, you will live on caffeine. You do not have to explain yourself or make excuses to anyone. You must do what you can to survive all those hours in the trenches. Soldiers do not go to war without guns, and there's no way should you go to work without the friend of your program called caffeine. All forms may be required: coffee, energy drinks, chocolate, you name it. Get some and always keep it on hand. You must at all times be ready to go from zero to 100. All the time. Early morning session? Caffeine. Morning lift group? Caffeine. Your lift? Caffeine. It will always be there for you. Even when your significant other may leave you because of the long hours or low pay of your job, caffeine will be there. Always.

10. Thou Shalt Not Take Thyself Too Seriously

At the end of the day, you have to remember that being a strength coach is about more than performance on the field or in the weight room. Part of your job as a strength coach is forming relationships with your players and your staff, and building the culture of the program. Getting the most out of your athletes should be hard work for both you and them, but that doesn't mean it can't also be fun. Don't take yourself too seriously. Remember why you chose this profession and enjoy it.