Sixteen seconds left. His grip starts to loosen along with his mentality. His facial expression displays his lack of confidence, his belief that he can’t do another rep. One finger at a time releases from the bar. His fatigued body comes crashing down on to the platform. The clock continues to count down. At this moment, he has given up. He has accepted failure.

But that’s not how it works here. That isn’t how champions are made. When the situation isn’t in your favor and the cards are stacked against you, winners don’t collapse under pressure. No. Instead true champions rise above adversity. True champions make that game winning shot. True champions get that final out. True champions push to grind out one more rep. True champions break to build.

As strength and conditioning coaches, we break our athletes down both physically and mentally. Our programs induce strength gains through muscle fiber disruption and microtrauma with intentions to improve performance. We break their poor movement patterns and muscular imbalances by addressing weaknesses and using corrective exercises. We implement open sets to incorporate all out efforts. Within failure, we don’t allow our athletes to accept defeat or bring negative emotions to difficult situations. We break them of all their bad habits, whether it’s exercise technique, nutrition, or their character and attitude. We must push our athletes out of their comfort zone and into unknown territories that they never believed they could reach. We hold them accountable for all their actions big or small. We put them in uncomfortable and pressure situations. We make them work to build confidence. We ensure that the intensity levels are always high. We push our athletes to lock out that extra rep or two. We are constantly trying to fire our athletes up. We are breaking them to gain mental toughness.

After breaking a new athlete into the Quinnipiac culture, I quickly realized the importance of mental toughness and motivation. The athlete expressed negative emotions every time the training got a little harder. I thought that through providing motivation, teaching work ethic, creating an environment with high intensity, and demanding perfection I was helping the athlete get better the best I could. However, while the athlete was breaking into this uncomfortable situation, Brijesh Patel, the head strength and conditioning coach, taught and showed me what I was totally forgetting.

We must instill motivation within our athletes and create mental toughness, but we can’t always break without building. Just like the muscle structures must recover and regenerate in order to get stronger physically, we must pick up our athletes mentally as well. We must break to build. We must guide them to find confidence within themselves. We must show that we care about them and not be in their face through every movement, repetition, and set. We must make our athletes overcome what is holding them back from success. We must make them feel like they are in control. We must make them believe. We must celebrate their great performances and promote a short-term memory of their failures. We must create a culture of confidence, focus, resiliency, and composure.

We need to find that fine balance between breaking and building our athletes. That is the art of a strength and conditioning coach. We must break to build.

“When you’re playing against a stacked deck, compete even harder. Show the world how much you’ll fight for the winners circle. If you do, someday the cellophane will crackle off a fresh pack, one that belongs to you, and the cards will be stacked in your favor.” –Pat Riley