elitefts™ Sunday Edition

As I mentioned in last month's article, we must listen more than we speak. With this in mind, I'm lending my article to another friend this week—John Farr.

I met John Farr at the CSCCa five years ago. At the time, he was an assistant strength coach at UCLA, and I had a few questions for him. Like most coaches in the collegiate setting, he was more than happy to answer all my questions and help me with some issues that I was having. If I remember correctly, he even gave me his free beer ticket so that I could have two beers (maybe he was trying to get me drunk?).

John is no longer a full-time strength coach, and as Tim Beltz says, "Do we know anyone who retires from this profession?" This is important to think about. How can we work to improve this profession so that we can make a true living? After speaking with John, I think he has some advice that we should all take note of.

TH: Tell us about yourself and what led you into this industry.

JF: I actually started working as a personal trainer after the bottom fell out of the music industry in the late 90s. After working with more and more athletes, I decided that this was going to be my new career. I did some research about what was needed to coach at the college level, and I went back to school. I completed my masters degree in biomechanics while working as a high school strength and conditioning coach and a teaching associate/assistant strength and conditioning coach at California State University, Northridge.

After graduating, I was lucky enough to work as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at UCLA under one of the giants in the field, Doc Kreis. I worked under Doc Kreis for the next three years and learned a tremendous amount from him about strength and conditioning, the art of coaching, and what it takes to win championships on a consistent basis, which is what we did while he was the head strength and conditioning coach there. During this time, I also started doing clinic presentations for UCLA Extension. That eventually led me to teaching courses for them, which I still do today.

TH: I know that you're currently teaching. Can you tell us about your daily job duties?

JF: Right now, I teach all my courses in an online format, which means that I don't actually have to go to campus that often. I can teach from my office. I honestly think that I have the easiest commute in Southern California!

I teach biomechanics, human physiology, and a new course that we're starting in the spring of 2014 titled the "Biomechanics of Injury." When I'm teaching a course, the main daily duty I have is to make sure that any questions from students are answered as soon as possible and that any weekly class activities, such as discussions on any relevant video topics, are updated and generating some debate among students. This is all tied together with the virtual lecture that I give each week. It may not sound like as much "hands on" work as a strength and conditioning coach has, but constant daily research has to be done to keep the courses up-to-date. Medical technology is constantly evolving, thus changing the way that we look at the human body. This is especially the case in gene expression.

TH: Mark Watts loves to quote Tim Beltz and say, "Does anyone know a strength coach who retired?" Being on the other side, why do you think our profession chews up so many people?

JF: Strength and conditioning coaches are some of the hardest working people that I know. The hours are long, and the salaries are relatively low. The perception of the field isn't good either, meaning that the perception is that anyone who works out should be able to do the job. It's also seen as a low academic level job. The opposite is true though. Education about the human body is a huge component.

Burn out is a major factor in this field with the number of hours that coaches put in every week. People often said to me that I had such a glamorous job as a coach at UCLA, getting to be on the sideline at the Rose Bowl and other key games. But when I told them how many hours game day meant for me, they were shocked. This was in addition to all the hours that were in a normal work week. I think people would be amazed at how low the salaries are. In these economic times, that is also a major factor in the high turnover rate of coaches in this field.

TH: What are the biggest mistakes you see in our profession?

JF: This field isn't about just yelling and screaming at athletes to run the extra sprint or get the extra rep. Knowledge about the human body from a number of different aspects such as physiology, biomechanics, motor pattern behavior, and sports psychology is critical to the success of any athlete/team. It's the job of the strength and conditioning coach to put all those factors together to produce a successful program. As strength and conditioning legend Johnny Parker put it, this is a teaching field and just being a screamer isn't teaching.

There is a time and place for everything, and learning how to use the right motivational tool for the right situation is where the art of coaching comes into play. Having just one approach to motivation or training will guarantee stagnation and decline. The program must continue to evolve. As Doc used to constantly remind us as a staff, "If we're not going forward, we're going backward. There is no standing still or maintaining."

The other big mistake I see is the lack of transfer of training to the sport. By that I mean that often times a program may be inserted into the overall program simply because it is the current trend or fad. This ignores the basic tenets of training movement patterns that are relevant to the given sport and also ignores the transferability of certain exercises for different levels of athletes. A highly experienced athlete needs a different program than a relative newcomer, as the transfer of certain exercises to the sport or position within the sport changes as the athlete gains more experience and competence at that movement pattern. These changes need to occur as part of a complete development program and philosophy, not just by inserting the latest fad.

TH: What are the biggest assets that you've seen in our profession?

Steve Goggins, Scott Yard and Mark Watts discuss the evolution of the market economy in the southern colonies. Yard cuts off Watts and says, "'...Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth?' You got that from Vickers' "Work in Essex County," page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter?" Goggins adds, "My boy Scott is wicked smaht!"


JF: The biggest asset that I can think of is the improvement of facilities and equipment. Weight rooms used to be dingy rooms that were tucked away in some corner of a building, and the athletes had to make do with old equipment that was often dangerous to one's health! Weight rooms don't have to be like expensive health spas, but they do have to have the necessary up-to-date equipment to allow the strength and conditioning coach to do his job. There is something to be said for using a Spartan approach, but ultimately the success of the program depends on the strength and conditioning coach having the tools to do the job.

TH: I know you've worked with some very successful teams at UCLA. What's your secret?

JF: Using the KISS principle and always striving for transfer of training to the given sport. I was very fortunate to have some great people around me at UCLA from whom I could learn and discuss training ideas. The one thing that I emphasized to players and coaches alike is that success is all about work. Without it, even the greatest talent in the world will only be mediocre.

The lifting programs were relatively simplistic and were meant to give the athletes the tools to perform. The real work was done in applying those tools to constantly improve the motor patterns needed by the athlete for his/her position or sport. I always reminded the athletes and coaches that it's better to be really good at a small number of things than average or mediocre at a large number of things

TH: Seriously, what would you teach a younger you and why?

JF: The one thing that we all wish for! The one thing that I would teach a younger me is to realize that everyone develops at different rates both physically and mentally. For some people, the light bulb goes on a bit later. They may not understand the desire to win that other people have until that happens.

TH: Any final thoughts?

JF: To be successful in this field, or any other, you have to be a "searcher." You have to constantly search for ways to improve your program. At the same time, you have to have the educational background to conduct your own "smell test" to avoid just going with the flavor of the day. To reference the "greed is good" speech from the movie Wall Street, you have to be greedy for knowledge in order to evolve. If that happens, your program will go forward, not backward. There isn't any standing still!

TH: Thanks, John.