If you don’t know how to play the political game in collegiate strength and conditioning, you will have a very stressful, frustrating, and potentially short career as a strength coach. There are five groups of people in athletics that a strength coach has to work with—other strength coaches, athletes, sport coaches, administrators, and athletic trainers. If you’re looking to further your career, you had better know how to approach each one of these groups.

Strength coaches

Let’s start with the strength coaches. This is arguably, along with the athletes, the easiest group to work with. For the most part, any problems that develop among a staff of strength coaches are from a lack of communication. These problems are easily fixed. For the most part, politics are not a real issue here, except for an assistant/graduate assistant who may be making some concessions in program design to please the head strength coach. This can be a learning opportunity for the assistant if he keeps his mind open.


Next are the athletes, and like the strength coaches, this could be one of the easiest groups to work with. This is where you get to coach and help athletes. Yes, there are athletes who will push the limits of what they can get away with, but for the most part, athletes want to get better. You may just have to push them a little.

Where this group will get difficult is when you have to treat the athletes in a manner that the sport coaches want. Some coaches want their athletes disciplined to the extreme, some want them babied, and some want them pushed to their physical limits. And there is always someone watching whether you think they are or not. So don’t try to treat the athletes in a manner that is not approved by their head sport coach.

Sport coaches

Sport coaches tend to be very sensitive and don’t like people who disagree with them. They also don’t like to change. So if they did something thirty years ago when they were playing, then that is how it has to be now. It doesn’t matter that we now know that what they were doing back then is actually counterproductive. It only matters what they like.

The strength coach’s job is to find a way to get done what needs to get done while also keeping the sport coach happy. If you don’t do what they want, they will throw a fit. So you will have to compromise your own philosophies. Over time, if you get results, you should get to do more of what should be done and less of what the sport coach wants. However, each coach will be different, and some may not ever acknowledge that you know what you’re doing. Others will be more open. Some will give you a clean slate after they’ve worked with you for a while. A few will give you a clean slate from the beginning, but this is rare.

The key here is finding out what the sport coach wants. This seems like an obvious answer, but it isn’t. Having the athletes in good shape and able to perform isn’t always what’s important to a sport coach.

Here are three real life examples of coaches who I’ve dealt with in the past.

Coach #1: She wants her athletes to be disciplined. It doesn’t matter how fast or strong they are but rather that they never get out of line.

Coach #2: He wants his athletes to run. And when they are done running, run them some more. Speed work and strength training aren’t important. These aspects can be replaced with a distance run.

Coach #3: He wants the program to be well designed to ensure optimal results. He likes the scientific aspect of strength and conditioning.

If you’re working with football or basketball, you have got to learn how to play the social game as well. Many of these coaches judge your performance not only by results but also by how much they like you. Guess what—if they don’t like you, you aren’t getting results. If they do like you, you’re getting results. This sounds completely absurd, but it’s the truth. Just like other sport coaches, these coaches are very finicky. The difference is they hold your job in the palm of their hands.

Like it or not, you’d better learn to suck up to the sport coaches if you want to be successful. I know this isn’t right, but it’s the truth. So if the head football coach wants you to do the 225-lb rep test at the end of every upper body workout, you might want to think about doing it even if it’s not a very smart thing to do.


Administrators are a good group to make friends with. Like football and basketball coaches, this group can determine the future of your career. Even though most of the time you don’t work directly with them, they do talk to the sport coaches on a regular basis. If the sport coaches like you, chances are the administrators will at least know who you are. Of course, an occasional chat at a game or around the athletic department will be in your favor when it comes to getting recommendations.

Athletic trainers

In my experience, athletic trainers aren’t too hard to work with if you’re willing to go with the flow. I’ve worked with trainers who like to do all the rehabilitation themselves and then send the athlete to the strength coach when he is completely healthy. Other trainers progress the athlete to a certain point and then let the strength coach continue rehabilitation more aggressively. For the most part, I don’t see that this is a big deal. And from my point of view, I would rather keep the athletes away from the training room and in the weight room. So I don’t mind finishing up someone’s rehabilitation. A strength coach should be knowledgeable enough to do this without any problems.

Athletic trainers suffer a lot of the same stresses coming from the sport coaches as strength coaches suffer. So these two groups tend to relate very well and can be a good source to vent about subjects that can’t be discussed with others or that others may not understand.

Well, there you have it. Being a strength coach entails much more than just your job. It consists of dealing with the idiots in your own profession and playing the political/social card with the other groups that you’re working with. You’re all on the same team, but it doesn’t always seem that way.