I've been involved with elitefts™ as a columnist for a few years now. Before I was a columnist, I was someone who read the site every day. I was a strength coach who was trying to make my athletes better, and elitefts™ was the only site out there putting out good information for people like me. I can always tell who the early elitefts™ guys are because we all mention reading deepsquatter.com prior to finding our way to elitefts™.
Even before I wrote for elitefts™, my wife was working for Dave on a part-time basis and doing work for others in the industry through Dave's referrals. I can't lie. It was cool when Louie called my wife for the first time when she was editing one of his books. It was also awesome when I was able to read early draft versions of Bob Young's book (my wife edited that as well). I can honestly say I worry every day that I will never be able to pay back to elitefts™ what Dave and the company have given me. However, I've concluded that the best way to do this is to pay it forward every day with my athletes.
I'm very proud of what we do in my weight room, and I'm also proud of the people who have worked for me and what they have, and are now, accomplishing since leaving me. But one thing made me rethink this pride.
Most of you have heard of Dean Smith. The Dean Dome is a famous little gym somewhere in central North Carolina. I was lucky enough to work for the University of North Carolina (UNC) for about 18 months. This was the only time in my career that I wasn't a strength coach. I'm very happy that I was able to work at UNC's School of Nursing, and I learned a lot about diabetes and the history of the southern states. While at UNC, I wasn't a huge fan of the teams, but you can't work at UNC without seeing and hearing Dean Smith's name everywhere. It's a cult following!
This week, I was very sad to hear of Dean Smith's passing, and it made me think of how I want to be remembered as a coach when I depart this land for good. While thinking about this, I heard an interview with John Feinstein. If you don't know who John Feinstein is, you should. John is a writer and he covers sports from many different angles. During the interview with John about Dean Smith, John told a story that changed me as a coach. The story went like this...John was interviewing Dean and mentioned how some clergy members in Chapel Hill talked about how Dean would go to lunch with black patrons in the segregated south. Dean did this despite the restaurants clearly not wanting to serve black patrons. When John brought this up, Dean's response was amazing. He said, "I wish you wouldn't have brought that up."
John said, "Why? You should be proud of that."
Dean replied, "Never be proud of doing what's right. Just do what's right."
This statement floored me. It hasn't left my head for a few days now. How often do we ask for a pat on the back for everything we do? Dean didn't even want a thank you for standing up against injustice.
We work in an extremely competitive environment. I know of at least ten people who would trip me and kick me down to take my job. I had an intern, who was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, tell me that a guy spoke to his class and claimed he was the Director of Strength and Conditioning at my school. I had never heard of the guy, but after some digging, I found out that he taught an abs class on my campus at the student recreation center.
I deal with competitive athletes, coaches, staff members and others. Some of these people are competing to make me better, and some are competing to try to defeat me or take my job. Knowing that there is as much competition as there is around me, it's hard to not take some credit. If an athlete adds 30 pounds to his squat, I want to say, "Look what we did! The athlete and I came together and made this happen!" But after listening to the story of Dean Smith, we haven't done anything. Adding 30 pounds to an athlete's squat isn't really that difficult. We have the weights, we have the time, and most of my athletes have the will to work. Remember, these aren't powerlifters. Powerlifters will fight for a 5-pound PR. Athletes are generally 100 percent green to the weight room, even the ones who had a "speed guy in high school." We're generally starting with a beginner or, at best, an intermediate lifter. So to put it into perspective, that 30-pound increase was great, but anyone could have done that.
Back to Dean
What is the point of all my rambling? We need to make these kids better at everything they do and be humble about it. We only point people in the right direction. As I was realizing this, I remembered a podcast I listened to with Joe Ehrmann. Joe said something (and I know that Mark Watts listened to this, too) that personifies a strength coach—are you a transactional coach or a transformational coach?
Dean clearly was a transformational coach. Dean didn't use his athletes like pawns in his game of chess. He worked on improving the athletes in all facets of their lives. We all could talk about or write about Prilipen's chart and the force-velocity curve and use big words that only Bryan Mann could spell (I mean Dr. Bryan Mann...he's pretty smart). But if all you're doing is using your athlete to tell the world what you can and have done, you won't be remembered as a powerful influence.
I remember reading Coach Fitzgerald (the head coach of football at Northwestern) saying, "I would rather be fired as a football coach then fired as a father or husband." I couldn't agree more, and if I ever meet Coach Fitzgerald, I will thank him for that statement. He is another example of a leader who is trying to transform the lives of his family and his athletes.
A good friend, great coach and former intern said to me recently that we don't work in a field that works well for people who want families. I pray every night that this isn't true. I hope that I still have my job in five years, and I hope that I'm still humble enough to not tell you everything we've done and every success we've had. I also pray that my family is stronger than ever (and my squat is more like Casey Williams' squat). I also hope that some of what I'm doing is helping not only my athletes but everyone who has contact with me whether it be personally or through the interwebz (ala Clint Darden). The only way that I can achieve all this is to be more like Dean Smith, Coach Fitzgerald and Joe Ehrmann. The more I can learn from men like this, the better, stronger, smarter and richer (in life) I will be.
Good luck to all of you and pay it forward.