elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Know YA—this is a phrase we use quite often in the weight room. It's an acronym for "know your audience." It came to mind as the topic for this month's article after I exchanged some emails with Dave Tate about how we communicate with people throughout our lives.

Think about it this way—do you talk to your boss the same way that you talk to your husband/wife? Do you speak to the pizza delivery driver in the same way that you do to your lawyer? I hope you don't! As a strength coach, do you speak to your trainers, coaches, and administrators in exactly the same way? Again, I sincerely hope not!

Primary audience

Your primary audience is who you're speaking directly to at any given moment. My primary audience for this article includes strength and conditioning coaches and probably some people on the fringe of that profession. Before you begin speaking, you must Know YA (primary). How do they want to be addressed? Ask yourself, does my football team and volleyball team want to be addressed in the exact same way? The answer may be yes or it may be no.

I must give you a warning here—while know YA is important, remember that too often we assume that we know YA and we don't. I can't give the exact reference, but I recall a story that Dave told about being a business professional and how someone assumed that he was a meathead, not a small business owner who knew his stuff. Anyone who has ever seen Dave's library knows that he has read a ton of business related books. So, while trying to know YA, be sure that you aren't just making assumptions.

As strength professionals, it's easy to assume that all football players will be weight room guys. As many of you know, this is very far from the truth. We can't speak to our football players in the same manner that we do our training partners, or they will just break down and stop working. Know YA!

Know that for most of your football team, lifting is a means to an end. Now, on the other side of that coin, realize that your volleyball team may be hardcore lifters. I've had a golfer become a powerlifter, and my field hockey goalie is competing in Olympic weightlifting (this is the same girl who broke her tooth doing her first clean). The point is, know who you're addressing and speak to him or her at his or her level. But actually get to know them. Ask questions after the lift that have nothing to do with lifting. This will help you know YA (primary).

Julia Ladewski, a team elitefts™ member and professional powerlifter, gave a Strength and Nutrition seminar at the Ohio State University.

Secondary audience

In many cases, the secondary audience is more important than your primary audience. As a strength coach, your primary audience includes your athletes or coaches, and generally we're prepared for them. But your secondary audience is a whole new issue. The secondary audience includes anyone else listening to your words and watching your actions.

In my opinion, this is where we, as a profession, break down quiet often. How often do administrators walk by your weight room? What are they hearing? Do they understand the context of the words and of your actions? Here is a difficult question to ask right now, but ask it anyway—if I videotaped your workouts, found your worst moments, and gave that video to your athletic director without any context, what would he or she think about that video and you as a professional? That is your secondary audience.

Recently, I visited a friend of mine (a Division I strength coach). We were discussing this exact topic and we started talking about max out day. I know athletes who are just like competitive lifters. They want slapped and yelled at prior to any big lifts. But what if your head coach or administrators didn't like that? How would you, or do you, effectively communicate what you're doing and what your job is in a professional manner when all they see is you yelling?

Always know YA (secondary) because quiet often, these are the people passing judgment—good and bad—about you and your job.

Code switching

We use code switching whether we know it or not. Without giving a textbook definition, code switching is speaking differently to different groups of people. When you address your administration asking for a larger facility, you speak in a tongue that you think they will respond to.  When you speak to your athletes on max squat day, you code switch to that tongue.

In my job, the easiest way to describe this is we use our inside voice and our outside voice. When we leave the weight room, we must code switch to a different voice because our secondary audience just increased significantly. When we're at a 6:00 a.m. conditioning session, we code switch to make one hundred athletes hear us and respond to what we're trying to accomplish.

Ohio State University students were Julia Ladewski's primary audience.

I heard a great example on NPR of how presidents use code switching. They played a recording of George Bush speaking in Washington, DC, followed by a recording of him speaking in Texas. In the recording from Texas, Bush uses more of a Texas twang when addressing people from his home state. Abraham Lincoln is another great example. In history books, Lincoln is sometimes beat up because, when he was running for president, he avoided and tried (failed but tried) to get his people not to mention freeing all slaves. He only spoke (or asked his people to) about not adding new slave states. Anyone who knows the history of Lincoln knows that he wanted to end slavery, but he knew that he couldn't get elected on that platform, so he code switched how he delivered his message. Here's one more presidential example. I heard a recording of Obama tell a hot dog vendor, "Nah, we straight" when asked whether or not he wanted his change. He wouldn't say this in a cabinet meeting, but when speaking to a vendor on the street, he code switched.

Some could argue that code switching is unethical. I disagree because we all do it whether we want to or not. Why not use it to your advantage? The risk here is that if you don't know YA, code switching can backfire. This is where it all comes together. If you don't know who you're speaking to and you try to "dumb down" your response, you can easily insult someone. If you reach too far, you can lose your audience because they may not be experts in the field that you are. So first and foremost, know YA.

Another risk with code switching is appearing that you're being fake. In the presidential examples above, I used a republican and a democrat to make my point. I'm sure some people thought, "Oh, there goes Obama trying to act like he's from the streets." I'm sure others thought, "Look at Bush acting like he's a hardworking Texan." If you code switch too often and people notice, it may come off looking fake. In another article, I said that your coaching personality should be your personality on steroids. Don't change who you are, but if you know YA, you can change your approach to each group that you're speaking to and hopefully win friends and influence people (yes, I stole that).