elitefts™ Sunday edition

Who We Are?!

Dave Tate recently wrote an article titled, "Who You Spend Time With." This was one of the best articles I've read in the past few years. I had this article on my phone for the last week so I could quote it. I printed copies and handed them out to my athletes. I even had the article projected against a wall in a classroom that I use next to my weight room. There were so many good points and ideas just in the first 200 words, that I felt it was my duty to delve further into it and deal with this article as a strength coach.

As I've said before, "By the Coach for the Coach" is for strength and conditioning coaches. I want to make you think about how this article affects each of us in our profession. In a recent article, I covered how we educate others, but now I want to discuss how we educate ourselves. As the title of this article asks, who are we?

Who are you?

At the beginning of Dave's article, he listed five points about negative people. This is a hard thing to do, but we all must ask ourselves, "Who am I? Am I one of the negative people? What are others' perceptions of me?" I was told this year that some coaches don't always feel comfortable approaching me about issues. This was a serious problem for two reasons. First, I try to be the most open, welcoming strength coach and person I can be, and second, my athletic director is the one who told me this. This isn't something you want your athletic director telling you. But this was a clue as to who I am. Clearly, I need to find a way to be more open and welcoming to people. We as strength coaches, often forget that we're support staff. We're there to make the athletes better, but we're also there to support the team, coach, and athletic department.

Now back to Dave's article. Dave mentions that negative people don't have the power to bring you down. Only you can do this. I couldn't agree more. Most of our athletes miss this point. They need to grow and mature before they can fully understand this. Here's the twist we have to deal with—what if people consider you the negative person? Remember, perception is reality! If someone thinks you're a negative person, he will avoid speaking to you. We, as a profession, have the cards stacked against us on this one. We live in a world where loud music, yelling, chalk, and all the other fun stuff comes out to play every day, but we need to understand that our world can look very unwelcoming to everyone else. That's why it's so important for us to find a way to welcome people into our world, so they'll talk to us and learn that we aren't negative people.

Here's a short story to illustrate my point. Once a year, I lead a group of people on a five-day bicycle ride from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Washington, DC. It all started with my dad and me needing an excuse to get away from everyone for five days and drink some beer. Now, once a year, we lead over 20 people for 340 miles over five days of bicycle riding on the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Tow Path. In order to do this ride, a $50 deposit is required to cover the cost of the bus that brings everyone back to Pittsburgh. Well, a random freshman at the school I work at—we'll call him Bill—and his father wanted to do the ride. Bill showed up in my weight room one day to give me a check for $100. When he showed up, I was at basketball practice. My assistant was in the weight room with a few linemen who were getting in an extra lift. I'm pretty sure that DMX was playing and the athletes were probably talking trash...then in walks Bill.


As we were riding to DC, Bill told me the story of him walking into the weight room. The way he told it, you would've thought Arnold and Lou were in the weight room competing over who looked better that day. I remember he told me, "Some huge guy walked over and said, 'What do you need?'" in a rough voice. Bill's response was, "I'm looking for Todd Hamer." The guy replied, "Hamer isn't here." Bill told the guy that he had a check for me. He left the check and then told me that he ran out of the weight room scared. The reality is Bill didn't feel welcome in our weight room. I'm not saying that every person who ever walks into your weight room must see flowers, but people's perception of us is much different than we think.

This story didn't in any way portray us in a negative light, but I'm pretty sure that this kid didn't consider us to be positive or intelligent people. We've all seen the commercial, "I pick things up and put them down." This is how the world perceives our world. Some might say, "Who cares? This is our world and we like it like this." But let me ask this—wouldn't it be better for everyone if we could let the world know that we aren't just meatheads, that we're people who are educated and positive?

Think about the truly great people in any walk of life. I tend to think of Abe Lincoln, Henry Ford and Albert Einstein. What made them special at what they do? They realized how the world was interrelated. None of them compartmentalized the world. I forget where I read this, but I read a story about Henry Ford that is pertinent to this topic. Ford took a beating in a Chicago newspaper, which said that he was uneducated. He then sued the paper. During the trial, the attorney for the paper began asking Ford questions such as "How many men fought in the war of 1812?" and other history or scientific questions. The idea was that if Ford didn't know the answer, he clearly wasn't educated. Ford finally stopped the lawyer and said that on his desk he had a bunch of buttons. Each button called a different expert in a different field so that he didn't have to clutter his mind with dates and facts. Now, I understand that I may not have nailed this story exactly as it happened (because I can't even remember the book that I read it in), but you get the idea. Ford knew that he didn't know everything, but he was the leader who took charge and led his company to be one of the biggest in the world.

A colleague asked me the other day to describe myself. So often, we say, "I'm a strength coach, blah, blah, blah." My answer was that I try to be a renaissance man. I'm a musician, a competitive lifter, a student, an avid cyclist, a hiker, a coach, a wine snob, and I'm sure a few other things (good and bad). The question is, who are you? Are you the negative person? Am I the negative person whom you're trying to avoid? Do your athletes, coaches, and administrators want to come see you, or do they dread the time spent with you? Want to find this out?

Here's a trick that I use. Have someone videotape you coaching your athletes and then take some time alone to review the video. This is very difficult to do because you will have to address your own weaknesses. I personally hate doing this because it makes me realize how poor I can be at communicating what I need people to do.

Now that we've looked at who we are, let's find a way to make people perceive our profession as forward thinking and welcoming to new ideas and thoughts. The only way we can make our profession better is to make others respect our profession. We must find ways to gain the trust and respect of those we work with and for. How often do we see a school where the faculty is mad at athletics because they see "wasted" money? If we endear ourselves to our administrators, our schools, and ourselves, we may be part of the solution in dealing with these issues—not part of the problem. So let me ask one last time—who are you and who are we?


I want to end this article with a recent e-mail that I received from an athlete of mine. He sent it to me directly, which is, to me, the biggest compliment any of us can get. It's an essay he had to write in order to receive a scholarship. Also, notice how Bob Youngs had such an influence on him even though Bob only visited campus for two days.

"When I visited XXX University on a lacrosse recruiting visit in the fall of my junior year of high school, I left the campus knowing that XXXXX was where I was going to spend four valuable years of my life. What I didn't realize but now appreciate is that XXX University offers every student an opportunity to be as successful as he wants to be. Everyone is exposed to an environment that promotes success. It leads students to ask themselves, “What do I want out of this experience?” The University forced me to answer this question for myself, thus leading me to find motivation inside that I would never have found at another institution. The common denominator for the reason why XXX University has been such a large influence in my life is that I have been surrounded with people who are successful in so many different ways.

I'm constantly asked by people who are unfamiliar with XXX University why I love it so much. My favorite answer is that it's almost impossible to find an unsuccessful person at XXX. I bring up the example of John “Tooch” Tucci, one of the groundskeepers here. I've never met a more enthusiastic, motivating, and genuine man like Tooch. He sings the national anthem before every home lacrosse game and his optimism is more contagious than a cold. He truly has dedicated himself to being the best person he can be. I don't believe that John Tucci ended up at XXX University by accident. I believe it all started with our president—Gregory Dell’Omo. I've been lucky to meet our president a few times, and I have zero doubt in my mind that the successful people I'm surrounded with are there because of a conscious effort to give the students an experience of a lifetime.

Another person who has greatly influenced my life is Tracy Gorrell, the assistant director of the Student Center for Success. She has been my professor and counselor for two years and I have had the privilege to get to know her well. The medical obstacles that Tracy has faced has put life into perspective for me. Her drive to take each day head on and continue to positively affect students’ lives every single day is amazing. Tracy’s passion has made her successful while also helping me on my journey to be the best person I can be. I don't believe that you could ever find a counselor like Tracy at another university.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The Tipping Point about the importance of “connectors” to changing a culture. For me, Todd Hamer, head strength and conditioning coach and Colonial Leadership Academy chair, has acted as a connector at XXX University. He has exposed me to so many people through the Colonial Leadership Academy who are true examples of success. In our first meeting, Bob Youngs, author of Extraordinary Resolve: Six Months for the Rest of My Life, spoke about one of the greatest achievements I've heard about—his fight against cancer. Bob wasn’t successful because he made millions or was famous. He was successful because he found something to live for—his family. Coach Hamer’s words of inspiration, his wisdom, and his ability to motivate have created a great experience here at XXX.

The hardest part of this essay was limiting it to just seven hundred words. I counted the number of people I know who have directly contributed to the environment here at XXX. Ninety-four people have had a direct and significant impact on the culture. I'm only counting people who I could give you the exact reason why that person is successful and why they benefit the campus. I'm sure there are hundreds more, but these ninety-four people have not only positively affected the institution but also my life. The university has changed my life because they have assembled a faculty and staff that create an environment that breeds success, thus motivating me more than ever."