So You Want to Be a Strength Coach?

TAGS: strength coach advice, So You Want to Be a Strength Coach, Benjamin Jacobs, athlete development, teacher, young strength coaches, coach, ego, strength coach

I believe there is a certain “it” factor required to be a great strength coach. My first mentor Jeff Dillman would say that “you get it,” meaning you understand the hard work, discipline, and pursuit of knowledge needed to be in this industry. I believe that we have come to a point in time where the younger generation has a hard time of grasping this notion. Whether you are an aspiring strength coach or a strength coach that is young in your career, I thought it would be good to offer up some advice.

We must remember that “coach” is just another word for teacher. If you cannot teach, you cannot coach. The first thing I look for when hiring an assistant or graduate assistant is the ability to coach. Now, obviously I don’t truly know this until getting to know them, so I rely heavily on the recommendations of strength and conditioning coaches I respect and look up to.

RELATED: 5 Ways You're Rejecting Self Improvement As A Coach

As a director I put a high premium on discipline, hard work, and the ability to coach. The knowledge can come later. However, I believe young strength coaches are looking to the wrong resources for education and it is our duty as older strength and conditioning coaches to point them in the right direction. But as a young strength coach, you need to be willing to take the guidance and run with it. I am lucky I have had the great privilege of being under some of the best this business has to offer.


I have outlined some things below that I think would serve to help the younger strength coaches and aspiring young strength coaches to thrive in this industry.

Knowledge is an active pursuit, not a passive activity.     

You must be willing to take the time each day to read something from an accredited source (Supertraining, Buddy Morris, Loren Seagrave, Ralph Mann, Bryan Mann, Bompa,, etc.) to better understand the process of attaining sports mastery.

You must be willing to ask a lot of questions. I remember during my time at IMG as an intern before being hired on, my intern class and I would have discussions with coaches on a daily basis outside of planned education. Jeff Dillman, the head strength coach at IMG at the time, told me something that has stuck with me since leaving IMG: “You will never know everything. There is too much information out there. But it is your responsibility to try and learn as much as you can.” Young strength coaches are too caught up in the lifting part of the job and not the knowledge part of the job. What I mean by that is they are more worried about their lifting and not learning to teach others how to lift correctly.

I was talking with one of my mentors the other day about internship development. He shared with me that he does education and chooses the material that they read. However, he brought up a good point to me. If they are not willing to ask questions, end the session. Go over the material and make sure they read it, but if they can’t ask questions, it is not our duty to pull that out of them. Again, your pursuit of knowledge must be active with questions and arguments.

You are entitled to nothing.

Too many young coaches have entitled attitudes. As blunt as that sounds, it is true. You have to work harder than other coaches to stay in this industry. That goes for any industry; the ones that work the hardest to perfect their craft are the ones that end up rising to the top. A certification and having done an internship does not qualify you as a strength coach.

Being under a “big” name strength coach does not make you qualified to be a strength coach either. First, what did you learn while under them? Did you take full advantage of your time there? Remember, they are the great strength coach and you are the one still learning.

Clean the weight room and coach with the same passion. The dirty little parts of the job must be done with discipline. I believe your commitment to cleaning and organizing the weight room is a direct reflection of your commitment to your current school or facility. The little things that no one notices are what you should take the most pride in. Clean with a passion, set the room up with a passion, and do anything you are asked to do with a passion. This will trickle over to your coaching and to your pursuit of knowledge. Remember what Frank Wintrich has said: “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”


You want the Power Five job.

An internship and a graduate assistant position do not prepare you for a Power Five job or a director’s role. Too many young strength coaches want Power Five jobs but can’t give the effort and discipline to make their current situation the best it can be. I always tell my staff that if you can’t make your current program the best it can be, you will not be able to do it at your next job. You can’t all of the sudden learn to work hard just because of a better situation. You have to do that now at your internship, as a graduate assistant, or as an assistant. Make the big time where you are.

You may have to do two to three internships plus a graduate assistant position before you get your first full time spot. The bottom line is that you must be willing to work long hours with little pay to get where you want to be. An internship may not get you the graduate position you want at the school you want to be at. You might have to take the graduate assistant position or the paid internship position at the smaller school. Big time schools don’t always equal big time strength coaches. You might find the coaches at the smaller schools provide you with a better opportunity to learn and grow as a coach. I know coaches that have left full time assistant spots to take graduate assistant spots because it was a better situation for them. At the end of the day it’s about growth and knowledge. Invest in the long term; don’t work for the short term. Be patient and be willing to go after every opportunity that pops up. You have to be willing to put in the work, bottom line.

WATCH: Mark Uyeyama SPS Presentation — The Progression of Strength and Conditioning

If you are in this industry to be rich and that’s what drives you, you are in the wrong industry. There must be a burning desire inside of you to develop young men and women into great adults, to teach them, to problem solve, and to pursue knowledge, because that’s the foundation of a great coach.

You don’t know how to coach hard.

Coaching and teaching is the key to this industry. As I said earlier, the knowledge can come later. You have to be able to coach everything from a squat to a pull-up to something as simple as a band pull-apart. I put a high premium on the ability to coach and coach hard; it is a must on my staff. Obviously, you need to learn how to coach and develop a coaching style of your own. However, I have had interns who refused to work on being a coach, coaching hard, and opening their mouths. Yes, you must be outgoing and comfortable to be able to do this, but you also need to make mistakes in directing athletes to get better at coaching. Mistakes are okay. They help you to grow as a coach. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and learn.

As silly as it sounds, I used to practice coaching cues in my head as a young intern to help me be more comfortable with what I was going to say when actually on the floor. And it helped! You have to practice the art and craft of teaching and be willing to do that outside of the weight room as well.

Be yourself. 

A strength and conditioning coach is not a madman running around a room acting like an idiot! Do our athletes need to feed off of our intensity and energy? Absolutely, but you do not need to run around acting like an idiot to get their attention to be a great strength coach. Coach hard with directions and cues. That’s what your athletes need to hear to help them develop.

Find your own coaching style and what works for you, not what someone else is doing. Can we take different things from different coaches and combine them? Absolutely.


Your ego is not allowed.

Check your ego at the door. Learning is a humbling experience. How much you bench, squat, power clean, deadlift, etc., does not have a direct correlation to how good of a strength coach you are or will become. What we do is science-based. If you do not understand the body and how it adapts to imposed demands, how can you write a good program for your athletes? The answer is that you cannot. At my internship at IMG, I think I worked out twice in a span of three months. I’d rather take advantage of learning from the great coaches I was around than lift, period.

With that said, some people might ask who I am to give this advice. I have had the luxury of learning under the likes of Frank Wintrich, Jeff Dillman, Loren Seagrave, and Kevin Heiberger, to name a few coaches. I was a head strength and conditioning coach at an FBS school by age 29. These men have not only taught me about hard work and discipline but how to instill that into a staff and into athletes. They also pushed me and helped me to learn as much as I can and they are still doing so to this day.

I in no way consider myself to be the best strength coach, as I believe there is always room for growth. What I do consider is the standard I hold myself to in terms of work ethic, pursuit of knowledge, and pursuit of understanding leadership. This is a servant industry; to lead is to serve, so we must remember that young strength coaches must learn to understand that. I think we have truly lost the definition of what hard work is. Simply being at work for 14 hours a day is not hard work — being there for 14 hours and coaching your athletes as hard as you can is hard work.

I will leave the young strength coaches reading this with this last bit of advice:

Stop wishing to be somewhere else (notice I said "wishing" instead of "dreaming," because dreams are good) and concentrate on where you are right now. Concentrate on making it the best possible place you can, whether you are at a college or private facility. Concentrate on learning as much as you can and asking as many questions as you can. Ask for reading material, ask for articles, and ask for extra help, but the most important thing you should ask for is constructive criticism on a daily basis to help you grow.

I refuse to take credit for the above thoughts and information. Instead, I would like to credit Frank Wintrich, Jell Dillman, Dave Trevino, Kevin Heiberger, Blaine Bott, Steffan Visk, and Alex Cohen. These coaches were as hard as they could be on me. They pushed me and allowed me to be where I am today.

Ben Jacobs currently serves as the Director of Sports Performance at ULM. His high-energy and passionate coaching style, coupled with his holistic training approach, creates a unique training environment that allows the student-athletes he trains to thrive physically and psychologically in their sport.

Prior to his current role, Jacobs served as Assistant Director, working with golf, baseball, and football. He also has experience at University of North Texas with football under Frank Wintrich, and at IMG Academies with NFL Combine prep, NFL off-season training, and MLB off-season training under Jeff Dillman where he was able to learn under world-renowned Speed Coach Loren Seagrave and his assistant, Kevin Heiberger.


Loading Comments... Loading Comments...