I recently received an email from a young strength and conditioning coach who had just found out that the program he was running quite successfully was being wound down due to the benefactor's decision to remove funding. As I am often reminded, sometimes bad things happen to good people. Doing an extraordinary job in your present position does not guarantee you immunity to the inevitable changes that take place with funding cuts, administration changes, or coaches moving on. The legendary Japanese master swordsman Musashi has been quoted as saying that the time to sharpen one’s sword is immediately after the battle is fought. The blade becomes nicked and dulled with use, and blood left on the blade can corrode the metal. As Winston Churchill said, “When the battle drum beats, it is too late to sharpen your sword.” So tend to it immediately and you will be ready to engage in the next battle. I love these metaphors because they are very relevant to us as coaches. It is important not to lose faith in your own abilities and the reasons you were given your last position, even if you are leaving the current roll through no mistakes of your own.

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I have been in that position many times over my career, and often it is a case of the coach wanting a new direction and a new voice, even if you have been highly successful previously with that coach. Sometimes it is hard to not to take it personally, since you give the role all your passion can often see the politics behind your dismissal. It is very important to maintain your own personal integrity when these things happen and build upon what you have achieved previously. For me, when in that position most recently in my career, I realized that my sports science sword was rusty and dull since it was unused due to having people to do that particular job for me. I needed to sharpen my skills in that area to show potential employers that I have an understanding of the implementation and use of sports science, as some lesser-funded programs will require you to do both. That is what I have been able to do after taking time away from the role of strength and conditioning coach for almost 10 months. Since the call has come, I am now better prepared to give more into the role than just my programming and coaching ability.

Medieval viking sword against a dramatic sky

Unfortunately, at various times of year, most positions have already been filled. Having been in this situation a few times, it is often a case of waiting out the year and seeing what develops. If you find yourself in this position, this is where an agent or a developed network of colleagues that you can reach out to will come in hand. Also make sure your resume is 100% rock solid, because an agent or new potential employer will check and verify all that is stated in the resume so that he can price you accordingly. They will check their sources to ensure accuracy. To embellish is to perish. Even though your network may be small, the people who are going to be hiring will have a much larger group they can check on. In rugby circles, for example, in most instances, there are only three degrees of separation from every lead strength and conditioning or head of athletic performance. So again, I stress, if you embellish you will perish in the job market.

If your next job does not come up immediately, try and do some up-skilling and volunteering. I have heard of many people who have actually been rewarded with jobs from this. This also shows a level of humility that many will look at and think to themselves that this person is someone they want in the organization full time. I have come across many strength and conditioning coaches that have a false sense of entitlement, which I cannot understand; even if you have risen quickly through the ranks, please stay humble and give back where you can. The time away from the daily work of leading a strength and conditioning program has allowed me to speak at several conferences and seminars around the world, and it has also given me time to talk to other coaches and write more. It also gave me a great opportunity to read extensively outside my direct areas of interest, especially in the areas of military preparation and ideas of resilience. I recommend to you the book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal. I also recommend business-related publications, especially Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek and psychology ideas such as Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

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I am far from ready to retire, but you need to look at this seriously even if you are a younger coach. I was speaking to a well-respected strength and conditioning coach just the other day and he is still quite young (in his early 40s) and he told me he cannot see further into the future than the end of this current contract. As a former NFL strength and conditioning coach once told me when I was just starting out, “I do not want to be spotting bench press when I am 40.” Do you want to open a private training center? Do you want to lecture at university? Do you want to run mentorships? What do you need to do to maintain your currency as a strength and conditioning coach? I return to the most important question: why are you doing this job?

After all the years I have been involved in the fitness and sports industries as a coach and trainer, I have come to believe that this is not a job — it is a vocation. As a vocation, you do not choose it yourself. It chooses you. As the wonderful quote says, “Your abilities are your gifts from God. What you do with them is your gift to him in return.” I am always in awe of the fact that so many good things that have happened to me have been a result of timing and being at the right place at the right time. As the golfing legend Gary Player is quoted as saying, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” In this industry, it is all about keeping your sword sharpened in the event of an opportunity arising. Who you know and what you have done previously may well get you an interview, but who you are will certainly get you the job.

For those of you who are currently on the outside looking in, keep that sword sharp. For those of us who are inside looking out, remember that one day we will be on the outside again someday, so be ready and prepared. I would like to close this article with a direct quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist I mentioned earlier in relation to flow: “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Image credit:  Dmitriy Cherevko ©

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