elitefts™ Sunday edition

We Are Educators


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!”

— Rudyard Kipling


I'm proud to say that I may be the first ever to start an elitefts™ article with a poem. This poem describes to me what we are as coaches. We are educators who work for educational institutions. Our job is to make young men and women better.

This is written for all collegiate strength and conditioning coaches. As the title suggests, this is about education. Something that can often get lost in our profession is where we fit into the educational paradigm. I struggle with this often myself. To complicate things even more, our jobs are so diverse that we all have different job descriptions, certifications, and bosses. I answer to my athletic director, but I have colleagues at other colleges and universities who answer to coaches, athletic trainers, senior women’s administrators, other strength coaches, assistant athletic directors, and probably others I'm not aware of. On top of this, some of us work with some teams and not others, and some only deal with certain coaches. Some of us even have a number of different facilities miles apart and don't have any contact with the other teams, coaches, or athletes. These are the realities (as well as the hurdles) of our profession.

Because I started this article out with the title “We Are Educators,” I should probably explain who we're educating. Everyone! If you're a head strength coach, you must educate athletes, assistants, coaches, interns, graduate assistants, your administration, athletic trainers, and a multitude of others. Also, while doing this, we must be humble and learn from all these people. But for the purpose of this article, I want to talk about the strength staff. We all have strength staff, even if that "staff" is only one person.

Currently, I have two part-time assistants, one graduate assistant, five interns, and one student worker. Each of these individuals brings different strengths and weaknesses to the job at different times. I have members of my staff who are undergraduates, ones who have worked at other colleges, and some who just graduated from college (with a bachelor's or master's degree). Another college near me has eight full-time staff members and countless interns with five fewer sports to work with. So we both clearly have an important job ahead of us in regards to educating our staff.

Getting them started                 

I'm very lucky in my current position because the university resides near a large city with many students seeking internships. The downside is that every semester I have a new staff. I always have a group of hard-working employees, but they all move on to bigger and better things. That being said, I must educate them because I know that they will go on to other schools, and if I don't educate them, I will embarrass myself when they arrive at that new job not knowing how to teach a clean or how to train properly. So in order to educate my staff, the first and most important thing we do is train as a staff. Each week, I find time to set aside for “staff” workouts. I don’t care what everyone does as long as they train. This is a time to see each other in action, push each other, get new ideas, and grow together. Right now, I have an Olympic lifter, three former college football players, two competitive powerlifters, and always a few special guests. It's great to see an Olympic lifter working on his clean, a powerlifter watching between sets, and then the two of them discussing the lift after the workout. I intentionally don't tell the younger staff members what to do during these workouts because I like to let them see for themselves what goes on.

This summer, a very good college football lineman interned for me (he currently still works for me). He is bigger, stronger, younger, and not quite better looking than me (just kidding). In the first five to six weeks of his internship, I saw him training. He was strong, but he wasn't quite sure what he was doing when he trained. He had never heard of compensatory acceleration, GPP, or heaving snatch balance. He had trained very hard and had become very strong, but was still very green in his knowledge. Knowing all of this, I wanted to let him see some new things before I started to try to reinvent training for him. During this first five to six weeks, I didn't say a word to him about his training. I just let him train, watch, and learn. He eventually came up to me and asked if he could train with me. Of course, I said yes.

His first few days were rough because he had never done much of what I was asking of him. But he realized this and learned that there was more out there in the training world than he was aware of. In this situation, the key to his education was letting him see new ideas and letting him come to those ideas. I could have said to my staff, "This is how you will train." I know that works for many strength coaches, but I would rather have a person find a belief in the system than have them follow a system because I tell them to.

This example is just one small illustration of how to teach your younger staff without forcing your way on them. Training is an important part of how we educate, but that education should be well rounded, and training is only one piece of that equation. Taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the college or university you work for is another.

The university I work at hosts a speaker series in the Pittsburgh region. This week, one of the most influential authors in my life was here to speak—Michael Pollan. Michael Pollan wrote about many topics ranging from nutrition, to the environment, to society. For years, I've read his work and was even fortunate enough to exchange a few e-mails with him when I had an upcoming presentation. I was able to find a way to have my entire staff attend at least a portion of his on-campus lecture. In addition to this, over 20 of my student athletes attended the on-campus lecture. This wasn't required, but it was something that I told them was important. Michael Pollan's on-campus talk was mainly about nature. He touched a little on nutrition, but it was still important for my staff to be there. Think about this—if your athletes know that you, as the educator, are also a student, how much more respect will they have for you? None of us have all the answers. If we aren't pushing ourselves, our staff, and our students to educate themselves, we're doing a disservice to ourselves, our athletes, and our employers.

So far in this article series, I've barely touched on performance training, and there's a reason for this. As a profession, we generally do a good job at making our athletes stronger, faster, and leaner. However, we tend to struggle with getting outside of ourselves. This year I won an award at my university for distinguished achievement. When the university president announced my name at the awards ceremony, he said, “When you think of a strength coach, you think of loud music, yelling, and chalk. We have all that and so much more.” This was the biggest compliment I could have ever received. What it meant to me is that while the training and yelling (coaching) are very important to our jobs, so is getting outside of ourselves and making our staff, students, and colleges/universities better.