July 31, 2018 marks the date on which I blew my whistle for the last time. Just one month shy of 17 years of coaching, I have decided to step away from strength and conditioning to pursue a new career. While many people have urged me to remain in a related field, or even to return to coaching in the future, my new career choice is taking me in an entirely different direction – regardless of the many risks that come along with it.
Despite stepping away, I still have a great love for strength and conditioning. There was never a moment that I didn’t love coaching, even during times when my frustration and anger levels were boiling over. Unfortunately, I think the things that drove me away are the same things that drive many other coaches out of the profession.
How This Came About
There is actually a history here, and something I think young coaches getting into the profession need to think about. In 2013, I did an interview with Hank Mc Donald (Hawaii) and Chisan Jones (UTEP), during which one topic that we spoke about was retirement as a strength coach. I stated that I couldn’t see myself coaching until retirement age; this is actually something I struggled with. I honestly couldn’t see myself coaching up into my sixties, or quite frankly, even my fifties. But, when is the right time to quit something that you have a deep love for, in order to make a major life change? Little did I know, only five years after that interview, I would decide to step away.
Not long after taking the position that would end up being my final coaching role, I discussed what would be next with my wife. We decided that we would not make another move for coaching. She had moved at least halfway across the country three times for me, and I had made a few similar moves prior to us getting married. Every time, the move got harder – so this position had to work out, or I would change careers. The entire point of this move for us, even before that discussion, was to make things better for our family. Two years in, not only had things not gotten better, they had actually gotten worse – which will be explained throughout this article.
During the interview, I was told that I would not manage this position as a normal strength and conditioning coach. It was supposed to be structured very differently, which would allow me more time to spend with my family. However, that is not how it turned out. During those last two years, my views of the role of a strength and conditioning coach evolved and solidified. I tried, to no end, to hire some sort of assistant coach, but that never came to fruition. As any head strength coach knows, being able to create a new, paid position on your staff is no easy task.
As others began to get involved to “help” solve the problem, the waters just got murkier and murkier. The way I viewed the decisions that were being made was that I would be of minimal value to the program, and the athletes were being placed in a bad position. It was time for me to step away.
While this was not an easy decision for me to make, at the same time, it really was not that difficult. I had a meeting with our AD about a month prior to my resignation. I told myself going into it that, depending on how things went, it may be time for me to look at making a career change. That evening after our meeting, I was in shock and did not know if I could actually step away – but I also knew that handling my job in the way our administrators wanted was far below my own personal standards, and something that I did not think I could do. That evening was rough – as I usually do with important decisions, I decided to sleep on it. This does not always provide an immediate answer, but it allows me to emotionally calm down and think rationally. When I woke up the following morning, the answer was clear: I was done. And, I was comfortable with that.
The emotional aspect of this was, to say the least, difficult. My entire identity revolved around being a strength coach and a powerlifter. Not going to the weight room every day to work with athletes would be something very new to me.
I did not tell the athletes that I was leaving until we finished the last football workout. After I spoke to the team, the head football coach also addressed them. Afterword, they all came up individually to shake my hand and tell me thank you – that was very hard. I received many texts from athletes on other teams for which I was very appreciative, but they were not all easy to answer. I am not great at relationships, but I definitely care for the athletes with whom I work. Telling them goodbye was not an easy thing to do.
For my entire career, I rarely had dreams about coaching. I thought about it constantly, but rarely dreamt of it. For the first two weeks after my resignation, I had dreams of coaching nearly every night. At the time of writing this, it’s been a month and a half, and I’m still having those dreams.
It was hard stepping off the field for the last time, walking out of the weight room for the last time, closing my office door for the last time. But, going to work the next morning in a completely different profession and starting over from the bottom was not hard at all; this was the right time for me to move on.
One of the biggest things that drove me away from coaching were the hours. I was fully aware of the fact that there would be 80-hour work weeks when I first began coaching. When you are young and love what you do, 80 hours per week is not an issue. But, as you get older, things change.
If you are a strength coach with multiple teams, you are going to work long hours. If you have multiple teams and also work with football, then you are going to work longer hours. If you are the only strength coach at a school with 10 plus sports, including football, you have to find a way to just to get by. This is where my problem was – I am not the type of person who considers “just getting by” an acceptable way to live life. I tried to change, but struggled with the idea of providing a program for the athletes that was substandard. You can only decrease the quality of the program so much before it is no longer worthwhile.
My typical week consisted of being on the floor coaching for about 35-40 hours. All programming, updating, and producing workout sheets was on top of that. I tried to do this in the most efficient way possible, but I still ended up putting in an additional 35-40 hours in my office working.
My typical weekday started at 6:00 AM and ended between 8:30 and 10:00 PM. I refused to work on Saturdays, but put in considerable time on Sundays as well. I did all of my programming in my office; taking work home just did not seem feasible to me.
As I said previously, a goal of taking this position was to make things better for my family. I could have stayed at UTEP and been fine, but one of the things that I began to see as my daughter got older, is that she could not be involved in many things because of my schedule.
The entire two years at Missouri S&T, I was unhappy with how much I was able to see my family. My daughter was typically in bed when I left for work in the morning, and in bed before I got home. My wife was close to the same, although sometimes she would wait up to see me only before going to bed shortly after I arrived home.
This past May, my family went on vacation for the first time since my daughter was born (eleven years). One of the major reasons we have not taken vacation is because of the lack of available time – either I have teams to work with, my daughter is in school, or both. This year, we had a three-week window to get in a vacation. We all needed it – desperately. I would like for us to do more of that, but we need more freedom in our scheduling to do so. It doesn’t necessarily even need to be vacation; we just need more quality time to spend together.
There is a tremendous amount of politics in collegiate athletics. You are going to have this in nearly every job, but to me it seems that strength coaches get the raw end of the deal. We have multiple bosses who all think that they know how to do our jobs better than us. Although we only have one direct supervisor, we have to answer to administrators and the head coach of every sport with which we work.
This was not a major deciding factor in me walking away, but it definitely increased my frustration level and pushed me out the door a little quicker in those last few weeks. Once I made known the type of hours I was working, it seemed that everyone had a “solution” to make my job easier. I do not want to criticize any of those coaches, because they were honestly trying to help, but most of the solutions presented were not realistic resolutions. They would either not make a difference, or would significantly decrease my effectiveness with the athletes and teams.
I will not go into details, but there was a meeting called with all of the head coaches that made it clear that the problem was not going to be resolved in a manner that I felt would be beneficial to the program. Once I saw this, it was my time to step away. If I could start over and do things differently, there are things that I would change. But, even with changing those things, I still cannot see it creating a big enough difference, without making changes that significantly reduced the quality of the program.
No Professional Advancement
Unfortunately, I found myself in a position in which I could no longer advance my career without relocating – again. At the same time, I was in a situation in which pay increases were not being awarded, and would not be awarded any time in the foreseeable future. At no point throughout my career was I ever upset about my paycheck – that wasn’t why I was a strength coach. But, when you are pushing forty and see no chance for professional or financial advancement, you begin to question why you are working in that capacity.
This was not important to me when I was younger, but as I got older, things changed. Being on the floor coaching takes a lot out of you – especially when you are an extremely introverted person (as I am). So, if down the road I wanted to stay in collegiate strength and conditioning, but move up to a non-coaching position, I would have to relocate to a new school that would offer an assistant AD position that was over strength and conditioning. Again, relocating was not going to be an option for my family – not to mention, those positions are hard to come by.
My Life Was My Work
As I have gotten older, I have desired more freedom. I have really gotten to a point in which I do not want to have my life be dictated by my job. This is something that I haven’t completely figured out yet, but know that it is not possible to obtain while being a collegiate strength and conditioning coach:
Can’t get away for the weekend because I have teams. Can’t go see a movie tonight because of a game. Can’t go on a date with my wife because I have too many programs due for next week. Can’t go see my daughter’s concert because…
The list of things that you can’t do just goes on and on because of spending too many hours in the weight room. Anyone in athletics will tell you that it is not a nine-to-five job – but, most have time to get a break. Sport coaches have an off-season and summers, which do not demand as many hours. Administrators do not have functions every single night that they have to attend, and also have a lighter workload during the summer. Strength coaches that work with multiple teams, on the other hand, do not really get a light season. About a month over the semester break in December and January, and a few weeks in May, is all a strength coach gets as a “lighter load”. The rest of the year is full go. For me, everything in my life revolved around my work, and this is something that I needed to change.
It's Time to Move On
Being a strength coach at the collegiate level is not for everyone. It takes a unique person to endure the rigors of the collegiate strength and conditioning world. I loved strength and conditioning, and I loved coaching. But, as time goes on, things change; what I was immersed in for 17 years is no longer for me. I have the capacity to continue coaching, but there are now other things that are more important, and it is time for me to devote my attention in that direction.
It was not politics or low pay that drove me away; those were simply annoyances that grew as my focus turned to more important needs. The need to give my family more time and attention outweighed my love for strength and conditioning, and I did not see a way to change my situation without giving up coaching. I do not know what my future holds with regard to strength and conditioning, as I still have a desire to be involved, but coaching is not in the foreseeable future. For now, it is time to move in a new direction.
Collegiate strength coaches find themselves in situations similar to mine every year. There comes a time when a coach has to understand his priorities. Sometimes the thing a coach has devoted his life to begins to fall secondary as the people around him rise to priorities. Each coach will have to face this battle in his or her own way, and find how to make the best of their own personal situation. For me, it is time to help my daughter with her homework.
Header image credit: alexskopje © 123rf.com
David Adamson was the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Missouri University of Science & Technology from 2016 to 2018. He took this position after spending nine years as the Assistant Director of Speed, Strength, and Conditioning for the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). He has been involved in coaching at the university level since 2002, including stops at Virginia Commonwealth University and Arizona State University.