Matt Foley’s investment in his athletes doesn’t begin in the weightroom. And it doesn’t end on the field.

“I have to motivate [my athletes],” Foley said. “I have to drive [them]. I have to be them [emphasis added] to get them to be the best.” Foley’s claim is that, in order to prepare his athletes, he has to be them. Not live vicariously through them, not have emotional commitment to their success, not have professional stake in their improvement — but be them.

If this is the case, Foley, owner of Elite Sports and Fitness in Middleton, Massachusetts, has been a lot of athletes. He started his career in personal training back in 1992, before ever realizing his passion for training young athletes. “I hated being a freakin’ psychiatrist,” Foley said, of personal training. “You spend an hour listening to how [your female client] hates her husband or how [your male client] is cheating on his wife.” These frustrations are what led Foley out of personal training.

“I don’t have time for [those things],” Foley said. “Let’s get the work done. Let’s get what we need done, and let’s get you better. That’s it.”

Foley, a self-proclaimed student of The School of Hard Knocks, made his transition from personal training to strength and conditioning in early 1995, when he approached a renowned strength coach in his area.

“I sought out Mike Boyle,” Foley said. “I asked him if I could just work for him for free. I worked with him [without pay] for five months.”

With no formal education, Foley’s decision to reach out to Boyle indicated his interest to establish coaching proficiency through hands-on experience. The first step of this process was learning the basics from Boyle. Foley quickly grew to handling his own clients and returned to the high school from which he graduated. This is where he developed his first athletes. He made a proposition to the school: let him build their strength and conditioning program. His journey into athletic development all started in a 12x12 closet in this school.

“I actually ended up building them a weightroom,” Foley said. “I crammed in two power racks and had dumbbells to 100. There was no AC, no windows, [and] no air whatsoever. It was hell. But we got some really great training done.”

The expansions continued regularly for Foley after that point. He opened his first facility in Topsfield Massachusetts, where he stayed for three years. He then moved to a larger facility with a partner, with whom things didn’t work out. After realizing there was “a better way to develop [him]self,” Foley moved on to establish Elite Sports and Fitness.

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“[At Elite Sports and Fitness] we train the whole body,” Foley said. “We train the whole athlete and, in turn, we create a highly functional and successful athlete in any genre that we want to put them in.”

Foley claims that, as part of reaching this success, his own practical experience far outweighs any educational background. His training theory is that the application of knowledge (more so than simply the possession of that knowledge) has a profound impact on athletes.

“[As a coach] you can be incredibly smart, but if you can’t get your athletes to do what you want them to, what good is all that intelligence?” Foley said.

The attitudes of his athletes reinforce this idea, Foley claims.

“While you’ve got an athlete under a bar with three, four, or five hundred pounds on [his or her] back, does he or she really give a shit if you’ve got a masters [degree] in sports kinesiology?” Foley said. “They don’t give a rat’s ass. They want to know that you’ve got their best interest in heart and that you’ve got 500 pounds on their back because you know they can handle it and you know that it’s going to make them a better athlete.”

This ability to know and convey what is best for his athletes comes from Foley’s own experience as a weightlifter. He sees personal experience as vital, if not necessary, for good coaching.

“Can you do the program that you wrote for your athlete? Can you survive that nine-to-twelve week program? Can you do it, or are you all just mental?” Foley asks of all strength coaches. “You can write a phenomenal program, but if you don’t know what it’s going to do to you or do to your athletes, I don’t think it’s any good.”

Foley admits that as his athletes evolve, so must his programs — and so must he. He warns of the dangers of any strength coach settling in to his position.

“You can’t be content,” Foley said. “Sports keep evolving every year. My athletes keep getting stronger.” To not develop with his athletes would be to let down future generations, he believes.

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“If I’m turning out a [record setting] freshmen goalie [on a girl’s soccer team], that’s [only] one girl,” Foley said. “There are other girls out there that want to be her, and there are other girls that want to catch up to her. I’m going to work with them, and I’m going to push them.”

To do so, Foley has to constantly broaden his experiences. His main priority is to never allow his athletes to surpass the ability he has to train them.

“As the athlete gets better, you have to constantly get better,” Foley said. “You have to keep up with the athletes. You have to stay one to two steps ahead of those athletes at all times. You have to.”

Two things combine to make Foley such an exceptional coach: his always-expanding experience, and his particular talent to impart ideas on young athletes. Formal education is something that Foley neither has nor feels he needs.

“When [possible clients] look at my resume, some think ‘well geez, why should I go to you when I can go to this guy that has a masters degree in kinesiology and sports movements,’” Foley said. “[To them] I simply say, ‘Try that coach. And then come try me.”

His invitation stands to any who are skeptical of his methods.

Some elitefts™ equipment in Elite Sports and Fitness includes: