If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’ll know that I haven’t been coaching full-time for the past couple of months. Having this free time was awesome, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities that so many have made possible for me this summer.

Before I go too far into this article, I want to thank the many people who supported me this summer: J.L. Holdsworth, Casey Williams, Tim Kontos, Rick Canter, Mark Watts, Ted Perlak, Zack Reed, Mary Beth George, Mike Rankin, and many others who all helped me during the summer as I decided my next move.

RECENT: Rules for Interviewing

As with my past few articles, I’ll continue with the theme of what I have learned. The beauty of having a life-changing event is that I can now reflect on what I did, what I didn’t do, and what I learned from the experience.

Taking Over a New Job

Many of my articles have covered this topic, and so a quick search on this site will give you many lessons about the best way to take over a new job. I started by reaching out to the person who was there before me. I’m very lucky in my current position because I have the utmost respect for my predecessor. I also inherited a staff. While there was one open position on this staff, the other four positions were in place when I was hired. Knowing that my predecessor worked well with people before I came on board is very helpful. I owe a huge thank you to Matt Johnson, who left this place better than he found it.

When I arrived, I received a packet of information from Matt with everything I needed to know, from how to order gear to where the passwords were for the iPads so that we could get our tech rolling faster.

The next big lesson I learned when I took over my current position is that no one is perfect (not even me!). I often see strength coaches take over a team or school and mention how they needed to fix things. I can honestly say that nothing needed fixing when I took over.

I met with the basketball coach, and he asked me how the team looked. I said, “Wow! They look great. They’re just too weak!” Now find me a school where the basketball team is strong from top to bottom and I’ll be impressed. My predecessor had clearly done a great job teaching these athletes how to lift. My job was easier—just continue this work.

Sprinter running on track

My previous employer was in a suburban setting and had about 4,000 students. In contrast, my current position put me in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the country with 25,000–30,000 students in 27 sports.

My job is to find where I can make an impact, so I started with the athletes—this is the easy part.

After that, I just walked the campus and showed up randomly in people’s offices. My goal was to make sure that I had some face time with everyone I needed to know. Too often, we lock ourselves in our weight rooms and assume that we’re too busy to be out and meeting people. Through my adventures, I have also found my secret coffee shop. I suggest always finding an unpopular coffee shop so that no one knows where to find you. The key here is not to hide from work but to sharpen your saw when you need a sharper saw.

Attending My First Meetings

I’ve been asked dozens of times, “What do you ask a coach when first meeting with him or her?” For me, one important question is “How can I help you succeed?” I’ve ranted on this before, but it needs to be repeated. When I ask this question, I expect a clear answer.

Too often in our industry, before we’ve even seen the athletes, we talk about what programs we’re going to use and how these programs need to be implemented. For example, I met with our water polo coach and he asked me what I knew about water polo.

I said, “Not much, Coach, but I want to learn from you.”

His response was, “Good. You don’t need to know much about my sport. I want better athletes. Can you handle that?”

I said, “Yes,” and we got off to a great start.

I had a similar conversation with the gymnastics teams. I’m far from an expert, but I believe that these coaches appreciate my honesty and the fact that I’m willing to learn from them, instead of telling them what I think I know.

The interesting part about all this is that I learned that my water polo coach has more education in exercise science than I do and worked with a good friend of mine at his previous job. If I had come in with my guns blazing, he may have crushed me with his knowledge of the Krebs Cycle or some other weird science. So I chose to be humble with my coaches and teams.

Perception is reality during a first impression. I’ve been slapped in the face innumerable times with this point. I’m not afraid to smile when meeting a new coach, staff member, or athlete. I’ve seen too many strength coaches talk about “rules” in their first meeting. I don’t have rules—I have expectations. Those expectations start with my own constant improvement!

Final Thoughts

Remember there aren’t any perfect jobs. I really like the people I work with at my new university. I very much respect and follow the leadership set by my supervisors. But as with any relationship, don’t forget that there will be bumps in the road. The key is to always remember to grow trust and respect each other.

I’ve already had experiences here that I would’ve handled very differently 10 years ago. I’m not sure if I have grown or if I’ve just changed my worldview. Starting over has taught me to see the world from a broader perspective.