Five Tips to Make You (or That Have Made Me) a Better Coach

TAGS: professional development, attending conferences, Ted Perlak, goals

Every so often, I sit back and think of ways to get better at my profession. Regardless of what I come up with, I truly feel that it's important to not get too comfortable with what you're doing because you know the adage—“You either get better or worse; you never stay the same.”

I figured that I’d share five things that I feel have made me a better coach over the past few years. Hopefully, it helps someone else out.

1. Go to one clinic/conference a year.

This sounds so cliche (and I know many guys go to every conference out there), but after you get in the field for a decade or so, you start to value your free time more and usually push this aside. I’m not saying that you have to take a week-long trip to a national conference, but find something to get you better.

There was a time when I was very anti-FMS. I thought it was a sham, and I figured that “if you train correctly, you correct a lot of issues.” I still do believe the "training correctly" theory, but I went to the FMS seminar and it was actually great. I was wrong about the whole screening process, and I got a ton out of it. If you get one thing out of a conference that you can use, it's a success. I got some great corrective exercise ideas and have implemented them into our warmup. The other great thing about clinics/conferences is that you'll get to meet and talk to other people in your field. This is always great, too. You might get more out of this than the clinic you paid for and get to set up solid professional relationships for the future.

Overall, one day or one weekend a year devoted to getting better is doable by everyone. You just need to step up and get out there.

2. Go to one professional development site visit a year.

I know I’m asking you to give up two days a year, but hear me out. I've found that going to another university, private training center, or professional team is a great way to grow as a coach. Regardless of your position or age, it's more laid back and less intimidating if you get a hold of a coach and grab some one-on-one time with him at his facility. It’s much easier to pick someone’s brain in his facility where he's comfortable.

If you run your own facility, you might get some layout/equipment ideas. Ask the coach what he likes and dislikes about the products.  Also, in this setting, you get to be yourself. Ask the coach to demonstrate/show you in person what he does. You even get to see firsthand what he uses for a testing/tracking protocol. Obviously, the knock on this is finding the facility to visit, but I've found that being proactive and knowing coaches' downtime in their schedules gives you a great shot at setting up one of these days.

3. Create an internship program.

This one is geared toward more established coaches, and it goes without saying that you can find some quality help out there. To really set up an internship program, you need to be super organized. Anyone can take on a volunteer, but that isn’t what I'm talking about. Truly running an internship program will force you to lay out what your philosophy is, what your daily expectations are, what it means to work in this field from a commitment standpoint, and how you will impact the interns in a positive way for future jobs.

I make it a point to have an “intro” day with my crop of interns where I hand out our manual, teach them the way we perform our training program, and then have them coach the staff and each other on the exercises. Setting up the manual and the intro day forces you to put your thoughts and your program on paper for others to see, and it also holds you to the standards that you want others to have. The final thing an internship program does is that it evaluates your program. Just as the interns are looking for your recommendation, you should also be trying to give them a great experience so that when they go back to their school or group of peers, they will recommend your internship to them.

4. Write down concrete annual goals.

This is something everyone should be doing, but I've found that few still do. As an athlete, I always did this, and I always tried to do it very black and white—"Block three kicks this year, total 75 tackles, etc." Then, when that avenue of my life ended after my senior year of college, my position coach at the time told me, “You have to continue to do this every year regardless of what you do, or else you won’t achieve anything.”

I still do this, and I still believe in it. The goals can be anything, just don’t make them too general like “have a strong, fast team” or “upgrade our facility.” Those won’t cut it. Try to be black and white—“have the football team average 130 kilos on the power clean,” “secure funding for five new glute ham machines,” or “complete the USAW coaches' course by April.” Those are goals that you can either complete or fail to complete. To me, that's the whole point of setting goals. If you can’t fail at something, you won’t work hard to be successful at it. Put goals down on paper that will hold you accountable to obtaining them.

5. Practice what you preach/compete.

This, to me, is the most important factor in always getting better as a coach. I truly believe with every ounce of my being that you need to practice what you preach to your athletes. There isn't anything worse than a weak, out-of-shape, strength and conditioning coach. I mean, just break down the title—strength and conditioning. I also believe that if you're holding yourself to the same standards that you hold your athletes, they will respect you more than you know.

This past year, we've taken this a step further. Each semester, the entire staff participates in one competition. We chose powerlifting, but obviously it can be anything—Olympic lifting, CrossFit, or maybe something I don’t even know about . The point is just to pick something that will make you set up a plan, stick to the plan, adjust the plan if you get banged up, and then lay it on the line to see how your plan worked. (Which, by the way, is exactly what we ask our athletes to do all the time). We make our interns and full-time coaches train for and participate in the competition together. I've found that this has been a great way for me to get to know all my staff, especially the interns, on a personal level, and they feel more comfortable because of it.

I hope this list helps someone out. Hopefully, some of you guys can post some other ideas in the comments to help me out down the line.

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