When the stars align it is a beautiful thing. Everything you are doing seems to work. Players are getting stronger and faster. Coaches are happy. Players are motivated and are bringing it every day. Teams seem to be winning each time they compete. The weight room was actually cleaned without you asking, the new equipment you ordered arrived early, and the equipment manager just gave you and your staff a ton of new gear. Utopia. Guess what? This never happens. In this profession, all of those things may occur, but they will be spread out throughout your entire career. You must learn quickly to take the good with the bad. You must enjoy the good when it is here, and find a way to deal with the challenges without them eating you alive.

LISTEN: The Podcast with Jay DeMayo — Mark Watts on the Field Today

Being a strength coach is not what it used to be. I don’t want to sound like some old bastard who walked to school uphill both ways in the snow barefoot. I am not saying it was better, but it was a lot easier. You worked out your players, did everything you could to make them stronger and faster, and their coaches prepared them for their perspective sport. You tried to improve the best you could with what information was available — no bells and whistles. Hard work and sweat equity were paramount, the integrity of the workout being the most important thing that there was. Our most important job was player development, period. If an athlete was not getting better, he was just not working as hard as the other guys. The pressure was on the athlete to perform and work up to the standards set by the strength and sport staff. You were hired because the coach and administration trusted you to do your job, and do it the right way. I guess I am saying it was pretty much black and white. Not much grey at all.

Being a strength coach today is 50,000 shades of grey and the only black and white is that there will be a new shade added tomorrow. Guaranteed. I am not complaining, just letting you young pups know that this is how it is, and you better be adaptable in what you do and how you do it, or you will be left out in the cold. I do not know when or how this phenomenon happened, but it is here.

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Let me show you an example of how things were compared to how they are now. You are sitting in a staff meeting and the head coach asks you why Johnny and Billy are not getting better (the only two kids on the team who aren’t). You simply tell the coaches the truth: they are not committed or working hard enough. Their position coaches call them in, tell them to start working harder, get on the same page as everyone else, and the case closed. Athletes understand what is expected of them, and really understand the team concept. The grind is a lifestyle, not a hashtag.

Now take the same situation today. You are sitting in a staff meeting and the head coach asks you why Johnny and Billy are not getting better (the only two kids on the team who aren’t). You simply tell the coaches the truth:  they are not committed or working hard enough. Here it comes:

“What are we doing in the weight room?”

“I just read they are doing this and this at this school."

“He comes from a bad home.”

“He had to make up a test.”

“My friend who coaches at this school says…”

“He just doesn’t like lifting.”

And on and on and on and on. Two kids with issues, and everything you and your staff does is questioned. Those same two guys always find a way to get out of practice, never play in a game, and usually never graduate, or better yet never get past a year. At least they are consistent in their lack of commitment and work, but remember the weight room is the first place they will blame.

For years I could not figure out why until I read a great quote that said the weight room is the only place you will not get rewarded if you do not work hard. You can try to talk to the weights, lie to them, reason with them, and give them every excuse in the book. You can try it all, but 45 pounds is still going to be 45 pounds, no matter what you say or do to it.

So the weight room becomes the only place in the program where they cannot hide. No excuses are accepted so they have to complain and try to get out of it because the iron is not buying their bullshit. Some coaches are okay with this, and try to get athletes to lift with smoke and mirrors, but you can dress up a workout all you want. If you want to get them stronger, sooner or later you are going to have to break out the heavy stuff and get after it. That is when you are going to sink or swim. If enough players or sport coaches do not like the strain or the grind, they will just replace you with someone who will make workouts fun again, and the cycle continues. Those who say “that doesn’t happen here” are either lying or have a great head strength coach who hears all of this trash in staff meetings, but keeps it all to himself and shields his staff. How many times have you seen your boss come back from a staff meeting happy? Honestly? And it may not have to do with anything with the weight room, but strength coaches are a different breed deep down inside when it comes to coaching.

MORE: The Evaluation of a Strength and Conditioning Coach: A Process-Based Profession in an Outcome-Based System

Athletic trainers have their hands tied, and have to err on the side of caution because you never know when a player’s injury is really serious and could cause long-term harm. Assistant sport coaches have recruited them, so they will never admit they made a mistake on a player. It must be our fault. Head coaches deal with more headaches than the president, and they pick the easiest battle to win because most of their day is spent trying to fix things that can’t be fixed.

Strength coaches used to be judged on a simple formula: you get out what you put in. What are strength coaches judged upon now? Wins and losses? Strength gains? Speed development? Injury prevention? Draft picks? Accountability? Or are they just friends of the head coach and help him fix his headaches? There is no clear definition, and as Mark Watts has written in numerous articles, there is no criteria, which means there is no clear assessment of what makes a bad, good, or great strength coach.

All that I am trying to say in this article is to make sure you see all sides of the coin before getting into this noble profession. There are great things about it that you can’t get anywhere else, but you must learn to navigate the grey if you are going to have some longevity in this business. There is no magic formula to do this. Just stick to what you know best and always do what is right. If you firmly believe what you are doing is helping to develop kids the right way, keep doing it.

My criteria? The good ones always find a way.