Jack Hatem is one of my greatest mentors. He taught me many lessons, but the ones that stand out most are the ones that he didn’t only talk about, but also lived. Jack is the head football coach at Denison University, one of my good friends, and my daughter’s godfather.
He taught me to be consistent and that it is not about me. It’s about the players and there are three things you always take into account when it comes to coach-player relationships. These lessons carryover in life as well.

1. Value all people

Treat everyone with respect and they do have a value regardless of how evident or important that value is. Treat every single athlete in the weightroom the same. The same expectations, the same attitude, and give them the same energy. Whether they are trying to break the 300-pound barrier in the clean or the 100-pound barrier, they are an important part of your program simply because they are in your program.

2. Praise all Effort

If athletes put the effort toward every task you give them they should be recognized for it. Regardless of the task, effort is effort. Whether it is achieving squat depth, or grinding out another rep. High quality effort MUST be praised in a sports performance setting. It is the one aspect that every athlete controls besides their attitude. High effort is a conscientious choice that is made by the athlete and is a direct reflection of commitment. Recognize it as such.

3. Reward Performance

All of your athletes have value and their effort should be praised. But the bottom line is always performance. Not everyone gets to start or make all-conference. Not all lifters will get on the record board.

It’s great if your starting mike linebacker has great technique on the bench press, but if his bench press is 205 for two reps it doesn’t matter how awesome his technique is.

We have all witnessed the athlete struggling hard to finish their conditioning. Breathing heavy, face grimacing, last in the pack and all of his teammates cheering him on. Cheering him as he doesn’t make his target times.

What about the athlete that puts 25 pounds on their squat? What if it is in one eight week training cycle? Great effort. Great results. What if it is in four years? The effort could look awesome during the workouts. Let’s say she tries really hard and does everything she is told. But if the testing is valid and reliable and she added 25 pounds from her freshman to senior years, should that be rewarded?

One of the reasons that I became a college strength coach in the first place as because there is not a lot of subjectivity. 200 pounds is 200 pounds, to quote Henry Rollins. The stopwatch and the weights don’t lie.

Even when there are two athletes fighting for the same spot, everything counts. Effort and attitude are paramount but there are factors that have to come into effect. Effort is effort but you need to be able to make tackles, make free-throws, make your pitches, and basically make plays.

Reward your high performers. Praise the kids that try hard, but reward performance.

Anytime you give a man something he doesn’t deserve, you lessen him.

Coach Hatem used to talk about this all the time. In the days of the entitled millennial, nothing ruins a young person quite like giving them something they didn’t earn. It is all too often that publicity, fame, power, second chances  (I could go on), are given to people that shouldn’t have them. The results are painfully evident.

Make sure that your athletes, your interns, your coaches, everyone, has earned everything you give them.