By the Coach for the Coach: Rules for Being a Strength Coach

TAGS: school pride, career in strength and conditioning, todd hamer, education, training athletes, strength and conditioning

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

"Hi, Coach Hamer! My name is Billy Guns and I want to be a strength coach!

I'm in the kinesiomovement club at State University and I've read Louie while doing Eric Cressey's warm up. I'm so excited.

I know you're a well-connected coach in the profession, and I know what you do. I want to work for you."

This is a phone call/email that I receive quite often. While it's nice to know that there are young, passionate students out there who are ready to jump into this pool we call strength and conditioning, too often these students become duds.

With this in mind, I'll save the up-and-coming strength coaches some time by giving them my rules for being a strength coach. Understand that these rules are mine and mine alone. I know other great strength coaches who don't follow my rules and are very successful. This is where the art of coaching comes into the picture.

1. Never hit snooze.

This is simple to me. My alarm goes off at either 4:30 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. (on the weekends, I usually walk my dogs between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. without setting my alarm). I see this alarm as the day inviting me to be great. All the day is asking in return is for me to rise to my feet. If my apathy is so great that I can't even summon the strength to rise out of bed, how can I be ready to train people or train myself? Once I find out that one of my staff is a snooze hitter, I start calling and texting to make sure he or she is answering the call of the day.

2. Read books outside of strength and conditioning.

If you've read anything I've written, you know that I live this! We are educators and we must be intelligent. You can't be intelligent without your knowledge and education running the gamut of subjects. Do you think your athletes will respect you more when they realize you're more than just a meathead? With this in mind, get a library card and use it!

3. Diversify yourself.

The word diversity is thrown around today as often as 35-pound plates in a commercial gym. What is it and why is it important to us? To me, diversity is what we do. I have somewhere between 200 and 400 student-athletes enter my weight room to train each week. Some are from other parts of the world, and some can see their houses from the stadium. If we want to improve ourselves as strength professionals, we need to be able to talk intelligently with each of these athletes. Look back at rule number two. Be more educated and you will make a more positive connection with the athletes.

4. Train.

This has been said a thousand times and shouldn't have to be said now, but train and train hard! Now here comes the big twist—understand that if you're a strength coach, the odds of you becoming a great lifter are slim. Most great lifters work so that they can lift. I had this conversation at the Learn to Train 6 with a few great lifters (some of the best ever). Ask yourself this—would you quit your job so that you could have more time to lift? If the answer is yes, then don't be a strength coach.

As a strength coach, you may be training and have a coach, athlete, athletic trainer, or any other of the hundreds of people you deal with enter the room with a need to speak with you now. I'm not in any way saying that you can't be a great lifter, but the odds are clearly stacked against you. Name the great lifters and you will find that most aren't coaches.

5. Your athletes' training is infinitely more important than your own.

This goes back to number four. Training yourself is of the utmost importance, but at the end of the day, your job is to make your athletes better. So oftentimes, your lifting will suffer because your athletes' lifting will come first. There are days when I only have 45 minutes to train and I have to just do my main lift and get out. Accept this or realize that you don't care about your athletes enough.

6. Be the thermostat, not the thermometer.

I love this one and I think I stole it from Pat Ivey (I apologize if it was someone else). This basic concept truly changed how I look at coaching. We must set the temperature in the room, not just notice if it's hot or cold. Any time I visit another coach, I base my thoughts about what I see on one thing—who has control of the room. Are you, as the coach, setting the tone?

 

7. Train any lift that you coach.

In our weight room, we use Olympic hybrids as well as powerlifting and even some kettlebell work. If I want to effectively coach all these lifts, I had better be able to do it myself. I know that there are some coaches who are Olympic lifters or powerlifters and they train those lifts hard. That's great. The problem is our job is to make our athletes better, so if you're a powerlifter and you plan on using the snatch in your program, do some snatches. You don't have to become Pyrros Dimas, but you had better be able to demonstrate the snatch and overhead squat with some level of proficiency.

 

8. Have pride in your place of employment.

I'm very proud of the university I work for and of what we have accomplished there. I'm not an FSU or Miami fan, so I don't expect those strength coaches to be a fan of my school. I once had an athlete enter the weight room, look at me, and say, "You lost this weekend, coach." I was confused because we had won. My response was, "No, we won." The next sentence blew me away—"No, coach, I mean Ohio State beat Penn State"

I couldn't understand what this statement had to do with me (because I didn't even know that they had played that weekend), and then it hit me. He was trying to talk trash about him being from Ohio and me being from Pennsylvania. While I love good trash talking, I will never talk trash about things that I can't control. So have pride in where you are and what you're building, not what others are building.

I forget where I heard this, but remember that every town has two things—a highway out of town and an airport. If you don't like where you are, leave. If you want to leave but can't, leave.

9. Be an educator.

I've been over this many times. We are first and foremost educators. Give your athletes the gift of education! This will give them much more in their lives than knowing how to bench press will.

10. Look good.

I stole this from Maryland football—tucked and tied! We always enter the room tucked and tied. As I tell our athletes, we're going to work and, if you show up for work in an unprofessional manner, you clearly don't respect your job. With this rule in place, it's important that the strength staff be the example of this rule. Anyone who works for me must enter the room tucked and tied.

I've seen people come in at 5:00 a.m. with their shoes untied and then we must have this talk. I have heard all the excuses—I like to tie my shoes here or I was running late (never say this). I don't care about your excuses. I need staff who are stewards of our policies. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Looking good also means caring about your appearance. When I worked for Tim Kontos, I was young and stupid. He made me shave every day, and I hated that, but it taught me to look good when I got to work. Go back to rule number six. You can't set the temperature if you look like a boob.

11. Be awesome.

I stole this one from Harry Selkow. I had the honor of coaching alongside him earlier this year. One of the guys we were coaching wasn't finishing his last rep. This sent me into a tangent about a TED talk I had heard.

Basically, a study was done where researchers had people either sit folded on themselves or standing in a victorious stance for two minutes. They found that the people standing in a victorious stance had higher testosterone levels. This is useful for us because now we know that being awesome does make you awesome. So in all things that you do, take pride in yourself, your lifts, your knowledge, and your life. This is being awesome. Now make your athletes awesome.

12. Be humble.

Once you've mastered awesome, be humble. Be proud of what you've accomplished but also respect what others have done. Understand that not everyone has taken the same road as you, and some roads have been easier and some harder.

I was at a Pirates game this weekend and they had a giveaway. The woman who played the game was six months cancer free. She played the game and lost. She won the consolation prize (a T-shirt), but all I could think about was how they should give her the main prize (a winter coat), too. She had been through too much to not get a free coat. Then they gave her the coat. The lesson was that you will never understand all the struggles of another, but you can still show empathy for others. Understand that your choices and decisions will affect those around you and everywhere around the world.

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