Last month, former elitefts Director of Education Mark Watts appeared as special guest on the Just Fly Performance Podcast with host Joel Smith. Taking a bit of a departure from the typical content of the Just Fly Performance Podcast—which focuses primarily on the technical aspects of strength and conditioning—during this episode, Smith and Watts spend most of their time talking about the more human side of coaching. How can you be a better coach, leader, and person in this industry? How can you have a more positive impact on your athletes? How can you have a more positive impact on everyone you interact with while coaching? As Smith and Watts explore this topic, they touch on many different aspects of coaching and leadership, including the difficulty of measuring success in strength and conditioning, competition between athletes in the training setting, what it means to be a coach that puts the athletes first, and how to leave a lasting positive impact on others.

Watts begins by sharing his background in strength and conditioning—which, as most elitefts readers know, includes a Masters of Exercise Science and Health Promotion, a Masters of Elementary Education, and coaching experience over 20 different sports at institutions at Division I, II, and III levels such as Denison University, The United States Military Academy at West Point, Allegheny College, and Clarion University—and how he transitioned out of coaching and into his Director of Education role at elitefts before then becoming a full-time teacher roughly two years ago. As he walks through his journey in the field, he shares keynote lessons he learned along the way.


Smith then asks Watts what he would do to help the role of strength and conditioning professionals be more appropriately evaluated, given the current state of strength and conditioning being a process-based profession in an outcome-based system. To answer this question, Watts talks a bit about all of the challenge facing young coaching, including the necessity of advanced degrees and the willingness to volunteer to work for free as an intern. Once these coaches do "make it" in the field, Watts says, many go on to feel as if they don't get paid enough, that they work too many hours, that they don't have job security, and they don't have any respect. The underlying factor in all of this is that there is still no objective way to evaluate strength and conditioning coaches. Until this underlying issue is solved—which has yet to happen—strength coaches will continue to face the hardships they do. However, for strength coaches, Watts shares three things that he believes can be helpful: set clear goals for the program and the athletes, analyze visually, and have an open door for other staff members to be part of what you do.

The conversation then shifts to the value of competition and the "winning is everything" mentality often prevalent in sports. Smith asks Watts to share how he believes to best harness competition within a team to bring out the best in athletes. The first thing to recognize, Watts says, is that you need to reevaluate what "winning" means and what "success" means. You and your athletes define these things, and they will often mean very different things from team to team. Conversely, using competition within a training standpoint is an effective way to garner more effort from athletes. From a practical standpoint, Watts shares that, in his experience, utilizing competition within training is most effective when it is a team competition rather than an individual competition. Make the athletes depend upon each other and they'll start to push each other and become better.

For the final topics of the podcast, Watts and Smith discuss the distinction between coaches who coach for themselves and coaches who coach for the athletes, what it means to earn the trust of the athletes, why it's important to forge meaningful relationships in this profession, and how to leave an impact on athletes that lasts long after you've finished coaching them.

By the minute:

  • (3:03) Introduction of Mark and the podcast topics
  • (10:40) Mark's transition out of coaching
  • (15:02) Improving how strength and conditioning coaches are evaluated
  • (22:00) The underlying problem in strength and conditioning
  • (29:25) Athlete training as more than sets and reps
  • (37:09) How to properly harness competition to bring out the best in athletes
  • (45:02) Coaching for yourself versus coaching for your athletes
  • (52:53) Keys to leaving a lasting impact on athletes

From the host:

"Most of the material on this podcast has to do with biomechanics, sets, reps, periodization, and similar material. I wanted to go a bit of a different direction this episode, but to something more global, which is coaching, leadership and personal development. For that topic, I couldn’t think of anyone better than Mark Watts. Many coaches are familiar with Mark’s columnist work on elitefts, particularly his ideas on professional aspects of sports performance.

This episode is all about the sports performance industry, coaching, leadership, and making the biggest impact you can on your athletes. The longer that I’ve been a coach, the more and more I realize that real “success” is not defined by your win and loss record, although that is important (especially if you want to keep your job, in many cases), but more importantly the effect you have on the lives of your athletes."

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