If I Knew Then What I Know Now: More Than Just a Coach

TAGS: intuition, harry selkow, building relationships, advice, coaching, Life

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Programming, technique, encouragement, criticism, example, and teaching are all part of what strength coaches do. Nutrition, habits, lifestyle, heart rates, and oxygen uptake is part of what a conditioning coach does as well. The part that no one tells you about is a part that you cannot learn in a book or a class—a part where time and experience is the only teacher. Intuition is the only word that comes to my mind, and I am not sure if it is even that.

Yes, there are talented young people coming into the field, and I am amazed at the knowledge they have. I am sure the youthful energy they possess in the weight room is contagious, too. But what I haven’t seen many possess is the ability to look into the people they are training and find out about the “stuff” or baggage they carry as well. Some will argue that it isn’t our “job” to be a friend, parent, or mentor. We are only paid to make the athlete stronger, faster, and more enduring. But I disagree. We are all of that and more. We are a preacher, psycho therapist, and even marriage or relationship counselors as well.

We are often found in a situation of being a “go between” for the player and the coach. And athletes think of us as team members. After all, we have their backs in most situations. We want them to perform well, and we have no issue with who or whom they are as an athlete. We do our best to get them ready. They will confide in us (as most people who sweat and bleed with each other do) the things that are troubling or upsetting, or the things that elate them or cause them happiness—things that the “skill” coach won’t entertain or even care about. There are also those times when the coach will come to us and give us the speech of how “so and so” is on the cusp of getting cut, traded, or fired. We ease that awkward situation by padding the upcoming conversation.

In the private sector, we get to hear the “juicy” stuff between couples (if you are in a situation that you get to train both). You are often invited to weddings, christenings, and funerals, especially if you get to be my age and are still in the field. You watch children grow into adulthood—boys and girls becoming men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. You see the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beauty that is.

I’ve had these opportunities and have cherished each and every one. I’ve laughed with championships. I’ve commiserated with defeats. I’ve jumped for joy upon accomplishments, and I’ve died with losses.

Just last week, an athlete and his dad came into my gym to start training again. He took the football season and wrestling season off from my training, as he usually invests his time during the summer months to get ready again. However, this time it was a bit different. This athlete is a three sporter and usually plays lacrosse in the spring. So when his dad told me that he wanted his son to get started right away, I was quizzical. I asked, “What gives? No Lacrosse?” The answer from this young man surprised me. He told me, “I quit.” Now, I know better of this guy. He hasn’t quit on any objective I’ve given him in all the time that I’ve known him. This was different, I knew it!

As I got closer to him, I asked a few questions in my interrogation that were non-combative or accusatory. When he answered them, I could see his eyes swell with a few tears as he turned to hide them from his dad. I put a hand on his shoulder, (yes, I am a touchy-feely person and for many reasons, not just to “Selkow Approve” people) and I could feel him tense up. I then told him that he was going to have to tell me about it tomorrow morning when he began his “off-season” training early with me.

The next morning came, and there was no sign of the boy. However, later that morning his dad came in as a “courtesy” to me. It seems that I shook up his son’s moral and ethical side. You see, he didn’t quit...he was kicked off the team, and he couldn’t tell his dad. He was kicked off the team because he failed a subject, and he couldn’t tell his dad. He was kicked off the team because he failed a subject due to the fact that he couldn’t get along with the teacher because the teacher and he had a prejudice with each other...and he couldn’t tell his dad.

But the thought of having to tell me was far worse than that of telling his dad. You see, I would be relentless in my approach to get this kid to open up to me, so I could get to the business of training. The very thought of having to see me every day with the inquisition was far too much for him, and it was better to tell his dad the truth because his dad is, well, his dad and he knows my take on the “family.” (I always love them. You can’t pick ‘em, but you better love them, even if you don’t like them). His dad was grateful of my persona and my relationship with his boy. He talked with the head football coach at the high school and applauded me on how, in only two minutes, I could get to the bottom of the issue that had taken two months of his and his wife’s efforts, as well as the guidance staff's at his school.

Another example was how I noticed a participant of mine’s ginormous weight reduction using my version of the “Caveman” diet. I looked at him, put my arm around his waist, and hugged him. It was then that I noticed that he was way too thin for even my fat loss plan. I said to him, “Do me a favor. I know my diet is good, but I don’t think it's this good. Go get a physical.” He resisted, so I continued, “Humor me, and prove me wrong.”

So he did. He came back asking to meet me at my house. "Uh-oh” I thought, because nothing good is said out of the gym and in the privacy of my own house...unless it’s with April (my wife). However, he comes over later in the day with his wife and lays on me that he has Stage IV pancreatic cancer. He tells me that he is going to discontinue training and that he has very little time left. I plead with him not to quit. I promised him that I wouldn’t bury him, nor would I treat him differently except for his programming based on his chemotherapy protocol.

Well, he and I are still training together after an extension of 10 months on his three-month time of death window. He claims it was my noticing and recommending him to go see a doctor that has kept him alive this long. I believe that he can’t stop listening to my never-ending parables. I have massive stories about other things that have happened over time, both good and bad, but I’ll save those for the late night gatherings back at the hotel after a day at the LTTS that you attend.

I have no recommendations for the young strength coaches or even athletes except for this: don’t always be concerned about the performances. Sometimes you have to be concerned for your brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

Be a human being—stay alive!

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