Let’s face it, in the eyes of almost everybody, strength coaches are a dime a dozen. Any person who has watched a video of someone lifting on their phone thinks that they can do it. You think I am making this up? How many people do you know who hate their job say, “Screw, this I’m going to be an accountant"?
Zero. They all say, “I’m just going to become a strength coach.” They make up business cards claiming to be one, and away we go. More leeches sucking money, clients, athletes, and credibility out the window. No research, no time under the bar, no certifications, nothing. Just a cool logo on a shirt, and it’s time to be a #SAVAGE! Sometimes I almost envy these guys.
As strength coaches in the collegiate or professional setting, we are constantly walking a tightrope of too much, too little, or just right. We have to always be vigilant and pay attention to what our athletes are doing, their safety being paramount, and it should be. Get a few guys hurt in the weight room and see how long you will last. On the flip side, you have to get them ready to play a very demanding sport, so they have to be pushed as well.
A happy medium is what we all should strive for; that way everyone wins. These self-proclaimed strength coaches are the opposite. They call themselves experts, find these workouts on the web, usually from a world-class lifter or strongman and then proceed to murder their clients. No idea of form or technique; they just do it because that is what it is called. Get injured — who cares, go see your doctor — you’ve got to pay the price (figuratively and literally) to be great. No pain, no gain! Parents see their kids sore and beat-up and think, "This is great — let me fork over that $50 a session to get Junior in the big leagues!" One month later, that kid has zero gains, and it’s the kid’s fault. He needs to come four times a week instead of three. That will be $200, thank you!
I wish I could get paid that amount for one week, with the number of athletes we see a day, we could all retire early! The reason for this rant above and this article is to give some tips on how to get into and stay on as a strength coach professional.
The first and most crucial step is to know this is what you want to do. Just because you bro-lift four times a week hyped up on pre-workout squatting 135 in the Smith Machine and think it would be cool to do this for a living, this is not for you. Becoming a strength coach (a real one) has to be a calling. A desire deep down inside that you want to help others succeed. This is true everywhere, even in the private sector. You can go into gyms all over the country and find strength coaches barely making any money but changing lives one person at a time. It is the same in college.
If you are in it for the money or prestige, stay home. Very few college strength coaches are getting paid what they deserve (very few) and it does not trickle down to even their own staff. How can a head guy make $350,000 or more but some of his assistants are maybe making $30,000? Dime a dozen. Prestige? Off the top of your head, name 10 successful college coaches, then name 10 college strength coaches. I thought so. So money and prestige are out. I cannot think of any other reasons than those.
So, let’s say you have the desire to help others, and you want to do this for the right reasons. The first thing you must do is work on getting certified. This will not only help you get a head start on others but will protect you down the road. It could be the way to get in; it just shows potential employers that you are serious and willing to do what it takes. Once you are on that path, start reaching out to strength coaches to see if they take volunteers or interns.
Be persistent! We all get tons of emails and calls, and honestly they all blend together. Stand out, leave message after message, email after email. Find out all you can about him and try to find a common person you may know from the people in his circle. Once they get sick of you and tell you to come in for an interview, come in and be yourself. Dress professionally, and know why and be able to verbalize why you want to be a strength coach. If you do not know the answer to some of the questions he asks, tell him you don’t know but are willing to start at the bottom and work and are willing to learn on the job.
If he says no, thank him for his time, send a follow-up email, and STAY IN TOUCH. Go out and start over with someone else, but stay in touch with all the people you meet. That coach just could have had a bad day, or someone might drop out last minute and he needs someone ASAP.
Best-case scenario: you are fresh on his mind and get the call. What next? The simplest rule in a boss-employee relationship is this – you are there to make his job easier, and he, in turn, over time, will make it his job to make your job easier. Your job will be made easier by finding out exactly what he expects and wants from you. And you, in turn, go do it. Learn how he wants things done and do it to the best of your ability. Like Dabo Sweeney said in an interview when he was a graduate assistant, “If my job was to bring the donuts, you better believe I brought the best donuts I could find to those meetings.”
No matter the task, big or small, even if it looks or feels menial to you, it means something to your boss, so get it done. Always be early, and if you know how he wants things set up, you can start before he gets there. You must always remember, those who are trusted with a little will be trusted with a lot.
Pay attention. This is the thing that drives me crazy from athletes, training partners, staff... you name it. Pay damn attention. If you are shown how to do things a certain way, then do it that way all the time! This goes for setup, technique cues, attention to detail – you name it. If he calls an exercise a different name than you are used to, call it that as well! Soak up everything you can.
Another pet peeve of strength coaches: Don’t be stupid. Don’t be that guy who is all yelling, all flash but no substance behind it to back it up. That shit gets old. Intensity is teaching these kids to keep their form over and over when the weights get heavier as they start to fatigue — not waving a towel in the air and jumping around during a warm-up.
The longer I am in this, I am more and more convinced that the more you drill and demand attention to detail, everything else will fall into place. As I said in my last article, we hired a new football coach, and we have been bringing the kids along the way you should day by day, not killing them physically, but mentally in stressing all the little things. We are making better strides than if we just ran or lifted them into the ground every day. Excited to see what that is going to bring.
But back to your dreams of becoming a strength coach: You got an internship and made yourself invaluable to him. The next logical step is to become a graduate assistant. Hopefully, where you are, they have an opening, and you have impressed him enough to offer you one. If they don’t have one, ask him to help you try to get one somewhere. I have had good interns go and try to get graduate assistant positions without telling anyone, and then I would get a reference call for that person. Just so you know it is not good to blindside a strength coach. Be upfront and honest with him and start over, like you did for this internship — start building trust the right away. When you graduate, repeat the process when getting a job.
Treat all the people you work with — coaches, strength coaches, other interns, and administrators — with respect and professionalism. We had an equipment room volunteer worker at one school I was at, and 20 years later, he is now the general manager of an NFL team! So grow your contacts by your professionalism, passion, and hard work.
Those are things potential employers look for, and everyone who knows you how you score in these areas. Make yourself invaluable to your boss and all those around you, do the little things, and have great passion and attention to detail. You cannot go wrong when you are in it for the right reasons. Good luck.