When I played high school football, one of our assistant coaches was this really big, built dude with a shaved head, a goatee, and lots of tattoos. This was twenty years ago, before being a really big, built dude with a shaved head and lots of tattoos made you look like everyone else. Back then, not everyone looked like that, so he was different.

This guy was one of our defensive coaches, and he also handled, for all intents and purposes, our “strength and conditioning” needs. Looking back on it, he had no f-ing clue what he was doing, but at least we had someone in the gym to spot us—and, at least to an extent, to motivate us, since we were all trying to get bigger.

What was unique about this particular coach was his approach on game days. Instead of wearing a polo shirt or a team windbreaker or jacket like the rest of the staff, this coach stood on the sideline wearing a tee shirt with the arms cut off almost to his nipples, and a pair of those creepy old Bike coach’s shorts that were so tight it was uncomfortable to look at him. Even late in the season, when the temperatures dropped below freezing and we’d occasionally be playing in sleet and freezing rain, this dude would be out there wearing this getup.

And you know what the remarkable thing about this was?

It didn’t motivate us at all. Not one little bit. In fact, it totally backfired on him, because instead of trying to emulate his “toughness” on the field, pretty much all of us thought he was a f-ing moron, and we all made fun of him.

Anyone who coaches football on any level, whether it’s as a strength coach, a positional coach, or a head coach, has their own approach, so take this for what it’s worth—as MY opinion, and nothing else. This post was motivated by a video that’s making the rounds of two collegiate strength coaches breaking paddles over each others’ backs before a Division I football game. I saw that, I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and it helped me kind of quantify my approach to what I’m trying to do for my team in the weight room.

For me, it’s about situational awareness more than it’s about motivation. I used to coach on a staff with a former D-1 running back who was VERY highly regarded as a player. He was a better college player than I was, and he knew the game inside and out, so I tried to learn a lot from him as a coach. During one game, an hour before the game even started, one of our players (who wasn’t exactly known for producing) was walking around the parking lot screaming and jumping around like he wanted to fight someone. He was evidently trying to pump everyone up.

The coach I’m talking about walked up to him, backed him up to one of the buses, and said, “Shut the f**k up. I hate f*****g studio gangster shit talkers. You’re not even on the f*****g field yet, f*****g studio talker.”

I don’t typically shut kids up when they’re doing stuff like this, because everyone gets ready for games in different ways. I was a “happy” player. When a song I liked was playing during pregame, it wasn’t uncommon for me to start dancing to it and screwing around with my teammates, and if I saw someone I knew in the stands, I’d wave at them and make faces. I didn’t hit DEFCON 1 until just after they finished singing the national anthem. At that point, I wanted to fistfight everyone in the building, but I was pretty loose and relaxed until that point.

Conversely, I knew some very, very good players you couldn’t even have a conversation with the night before the game.

To the strength coach, the way I see it, none of this should matter. Our job is not to provide bullshit “motivation” and phony psych jobs by making asses out of ourselves and trying to act like cartoon characters. Rather, our job is to assist our coaching staff in forming a direct line of awareness that starts with the first step of the practice day’s warm-up, and ends with the player finishing a play with a complete and total emphasis on absolutely perfect execution. Here’s what I mean by that:

The other video that inspired this post was one I saw where a D-1 strength coach was giving a tour of his school’s brand new, very expensive facility. During his tour, something he said struck me as being kind of odd. Paraphrasing here, he said, “The athletes love this facility so much that they want to keep it clean. They put all their weights away and leave everything the way they found it. In the old weight room, you’d see stuff lying all over the place.”

I found this a little weird, because in my experience, you’re not just overseeing training programs as a strength coach. As I said, we’re creating that direct line of awareness, which means you’re emphasizing, day after day, a complete and total attention to detail. What this means is that in addition to getting your athletes faster and stronger, you’re conditioning them, rep after rep after rep, to toe every line in the right place, to touch every line when they run, to complete every rep with perfect form, and to do EVERYTHING in a way that can be described as COMPLETELY PERFECT.

What I’ve learned about football in nearly 30 years in the sport is that EVERYTHING counts. Every single thing you do. If your athletes don’t toe every line the same way, and they start cutting corners and relaxing when it comes to that concept of “being absolutely perfect,” they’re going to do the same exact thing on 3rd and 9 with a minute and a half left in the game when you’re down by three in the playoffs. As coaches, you need to BREED “perfect,” so you know it’s there for you to call upon when you need it.

And to me, policing the weight room after team workouts is part of that process. If a strength coach is amazed that his athletes are volunteering to clean up after themselves and make the weight room look like they were never there, how is he creating that “line of awareness” that extends directly into practices and games? He’s not. He’s simply lifting weights, which, to me, means he’s only doing half his job.

Long story short, part of my job is motivation, but it’s a different type of motivation. It’s making sure they’re perfect, not making sure they head-butt lockers and scream. I’m not a cartoon character. I’m a coach. I teach, and I create a seamless line that runs from my weight room all the way through to the defining plays of our team’s season.

Whether I’m right or wrong, I believe that if you don’t see your job from that perspective, you’re not really doing it.