elitefts™ Sunday edition

10 Things I Learned (or Was Just Reminded of) During the 2011-12 School Year

Now that we're into summer, and the spring semester is behind us, I think we must reflect on what we did during the school year. Did you make your athletes better? Did you have a high success rate reaching your athletes? Did you help your athletes avoid injuries?

There is a slew of other questions I ask myself, and you could do the same. With all we do as strength and conditioning professionals, we must always look back at our successes and failures. And yes, we all fail. I believe that as a profession, we're often afraid to admit our failures or say, "I don't know." Keep that in mind as we reflect on the past school year.

1. Find your team leaders and utilize them more effectively.

Two years ago, my football team won their conference and went to the IAA playoffs. Last year, we went 2-9 and had the worst season in school history. If I was judged on wins and losses, I should have been fired last season. Jump ahead to the off-season. I knew we had to reignite the fire in this team. I met with the coaches and picked the team's 10 leaders. Actually, I stole this from the book, The Tipping Point. I chose guys from all three groups discussed in the book—mavens, connectors, and salesmen. When we met, I told the athletes why they were there and that they should use their strengths. Then, I had each athlete select his group for the semester. But unlike groups we utilized in previous years, I told them to select their group thinking not only of that group, but of the entire team. In other words, I wanted them to think about who they could affect positively.

I made these guys the leaders of their groups, but I let them pick who they thought they could lead. Instead of worrying about hurting another teammate's feelings because he wasn't picked for a specific group, I wanted them to choose based on who would make everyone better. They actually discussed the different players and said things like, "No, he would respond to you." This was the first step to the best off-season I've ever been a part of.

2. Have Bob Youngs come speak to your students!

We invited Bob Youngs up to our university, and he had one condition—there had to be a football game that weekend. Luckily, not only was there a football game, but there was also a basketball game. The students loved him, and he changed the way many of them look at the world. Remember—your students are young and have a limited scope of the world. Make them think about life and death and how lucky we are to be here.

3. Adding new staff doesn't mean you will do less work; it means you will do more.

I was lucky enough to add one more staff member this year, and he did a great job. But as I learned, now I have another person to work with. I have another person to teach, coach, and help coach the teams I used to coach. I had to learn to lose a little control while still keeping the ultimate vision in front of me.

4. Your strengths are your weaknesses.

I say this all the time and I believe it more and more every day. If you're an intense coach who really gets after every rep and every minute in the weight room, you probably need to slow down. If you're an analytical coach, you probably need to let loose more. But no matter what your strength is, you will be drawn toward it. In order to improve, you must get outside your comfort zone and attack your weaknesses. Let your strength shine, but don't let your weakness hold you back.

One of my strengths is that I'm good at reading B.S. and with that comes a severe dislike of fake intensity. I puke every time I see a Nike or Under Armour commercial with athletes "working hard." With that said, in athletes there has to be some of that corny stuff because they like some of it. So this year, I let loose a little on that. We now have some handshakes and breakdowns that I don't get, but the athletes do and that's what matters. So be a little more comfortable with things you don't like.

5. Ask your coaches for feedback.

In the first two years of my current position, I sent a questionnaire out to everyone in the athletic department. I asked question such as, how is the strength department when dealing with recruits, and do we assist with all your training needs? There were only 10 questions, and I rarely received any responses. Because I received few responses, I quit sending them. However, I learned this year, that even if people don't respond, it doesn't mean they didn't like getting the questions. At least it shows that we care about the coaches' and the administration's opinion. In addition—and here's the real bonus—if a coach ever complains about your department, you have your back covered because you gave them the opportunity to complain to you once a year in written form.

6. Ask your athletes for feedback.

When I'm finished explaining something, I always ask for questions, comments, or concerns. Rarely do I get any of the above, but I've learned that people do appreciate the opportunity.  This is a small thing, but I always ask my athletes (make sure you only ask your mature athletes) how the workout went for them. You will sometimes be surprised with the feedback that you receive.

7. Find a way to give back.

This is huge for me! We, as strength professionals, must find ways to give back. This could be through fundraising for a worthy cause, fundraising for the athletic department, or donating your time at a local hospital. Not only will you become a better coach and a better person, but people will look at you differently. I can't tell you how many people have seen me giving my time at a local church or highway clean up and said things like, "I didn't know you did this." Like it or not, people have  a misconception about us coaches and think that we're very self-centered. Find ways to dispel this myth and you will not only be a better coach, but people will respect you more as a person.

8. Don't over coach.

Here's a fact that many people don't want to admit—no matter how hard you try, your athletes will have imbalances and imperfections. This will never change. So figure out where you can make changes and improvements and don't sweat the small stuff. Some people will never have 100 percent perfect form or movement on certain activities, but if they're still getting better and stronger and it isn't dangerous, why reinvent the wheel? Dave Tate said this a while back—"Don't major in the minor." This isn't in any way an opportunity to get lazy as a coach, but it is an opportunity to play off your strengths.

9. We get paid for 'done.'

I forget where I read this. I'm pretty sure a fitness marketing guru somewhere said this (I promise Alwyn Cosgrove would know), but it's very true. How many people have great ideas but never finish them? It's like the average, lazy, fat person. He doesn't have any problem saying that he'll get up early, train, and follow program X, but does he ever finish it?

When things get done, we get paid. So lay out your plan for your teams and stick with the plan. There will be bumps in the road and there will be chances to slightly change course, but stick to your plan. To steal another line from Dave Tate, I remember a conference a few years back when Dave said that people fail at a program and they want to throw away the entire thing. Remember, lifting is only three things—mental, physical, and technical. If you have a technical breakdown, fix that and move on. Don't let your technical breakdown lead to a physical weakness and a mental derailment.

10. Be yourself. Your coaching personality should just be your personality on steroids (bad choice of words?).

I had many people describe me as a strange person (I think that's a compliment). I'm also a strange coach. I refer to my coaching style as "controlled chaos." I give the athletes more freedom than some other coaches. I want my athletes to tap their inner passion and drive. I don't want robots. I want free thinking, critical thinking, hardworking men and women. Some coaches approach this differently and that's fine. Just know that your style needs to be yours, not a knockoff of someone else's.

My friend, David Adamson, recently wrote an article for young strength coaches and he made so many great points. But the one that really hit home was this—don’t get stuck in one train of thought. I see this all the time with young strength coaches. Interns only know what they learned in class. Graduate assistants think the only way to train athletes is how they saw it being done in their internships (especially true when the internship was with a big time school). There’s more out there than the limited view of the classroom and a one-semester internship. In fact, these experiences don’t even scratch the surface. Keep learning and keep making yourself better.

I often get young coaches working for me who have this problem. Ask yourself this—if you're a young coach, what teams have you made better? If you've never been in charge of a team or made anyone better, you don't know what works, so learn from those around you while finding your own way.

I hope that I gave you some things to think about in this article. Take inventory of yourself, your staff, your library, and everyone around you every so often. Find ways to attack your weaknesses, while still keeping your strengths. While you're at it, share what you've learned with others. I meet new coaches every week, and I'm always amazed at how many great coaches I know in this profession. So let's keep on working together to make this a great profession to work in.