I am meeting with a high school football coach about training the coaches and possibly the football athletes. Do you have any suggestions on how I should approach this: coaching, programming (specifically for football), key educational points.
Your suggestions and advice are greatly appreciated.
I received an email from a CrossFit coach who was seeking some advice following reading the 5 Fallacies series on High School S&C. Like many with whom we interact, he has an opportunity to introduce strength and conditioning to an inexperienced sport coach. Taking on a new team, no matter the sport or level, is a big career step with high potential. This subject appears every weekend at our CFFB seminars, is an active topic of discussion on the Power Athlete forum, and has been discussed at length on Power Athlete Radio Episode 43. Increasingly, strength coaches are presenting themselves to sport coaches and teams. While Power Athlete wants to ensure you are prepared to run the strength program, you must first seize the opportunity to earn the team.
The sport coach and strength coach relationship is an interesting dynamic, especially the first meeting. Sport coaches who value the weight room’s carryover to performance go all in with their strength coach. However, this symbiotic relationship doesn’t happen overnight – it must be earned. Guiding sport coaches without S&C experience to this revelation is a daunting task, but one worth the fight.
Sport coaches and corresponding situations vary. This article provides an array of approaches to bridge that gap, convey value as a strength and conditioning coach, and subsequently earn respect in the weight room.
Step 1. Establish Expectations
First, nail down the sport coach’s expectations. Each situations is unique, so the initial meeting is crucial for learning keys to succeed with the athlete or team. Identify their expectations of a strength and conditioning program, you as a coach, and roadblocks or doubts from their end. Whether working with a team or on an individual basis, establish the sport coach’s vision for the athlete’s valuable time.
If approached by an individual or small group, reach out to their sport coach. They know the player(s) better, and can help guide performance improvement where it matters most, the field. Coaches delineate the limitations for each athlete. Fixing them will identify you as a valuable coach who helped eliminate hindrances upon returning to practice. For example, if a coach says his linebacker cannot turn and run with tight ends or backs from the backfield, this illuminates limiting factors a one on one assessment will never reveal. From here, build around these sport-specific limits to improve the athletes’ performance. Perspective should not be limited to numbers and times.
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The sport coach either establishes a system in which the players must fit, or builds one around the players’ strengths. With the coach, identifying the systems helps pinpoint specific adaptations to drive during training. If their system is built around their best athlete’s strengths, it is best to play the injury prevention card during the initial meeting. The program should be built on reaching the full potential of the athlete’s strengths while addressing limiting factors and, most importantly, keeping them on the field.
Establishing sport coach expectations helps build a program, but more importantly, this small act provides an opportunity to display your expertise by introducing value-added deliverables (injury prevention, quickness, COD) sport coaches may not have even considered.
Step 2. Set Goals
Set a personal and professional goal for yourself prior to meeting with a coach. Taking on a team is a commitment of time and energy. Establishing goals maintains focus while meeting, and more crucially, 6 weeks into training daily at dawn. This maintained focus will not go unnoticed.
Examples of goals include:
- -Use working with third stringers as a jump-off point to full team S&C responsibilities.
- -Convince the coach to invest in a team-wide summer S&C program based on Spring training success.
- -Expand custom S&C program implementation from one team to all sports.
Once set, establish objectives to assist in promoting strength and conditioning as a necessity for a successful athletic program. Changing a culture starts at the top: the coach. Begin this training culture kickstart by changing the mood of your coach. If they do not value a strength and conditioning, then the athletes will follow suit.
Research the team’s past seasons. Check the box scores, and see their 4th quarter output throughout the year. Find out if key players spent more time injured than on the field. Identifywinning programs that have strength coaches. Ask questions that make coach question if their team could have done better. If done correctly, this will make them a more receptive audience, and eager to hear your solution.
Present the solution by combining their expectations with the ‘how’. Introduce strength training as a means to challenge posture and position, smart conditioning that takes their sport into consideration, and injury prevention through mobility and stability focused warm ups and cool downs. In other words, accomplish the coach’s expectations using smart, effective training protocols.
Personally, one of the biggest goals I’ve successfully used with sport coaches is ‘Coach-ability’. Athletes increased body awareness in space helps fine tune sport movements. Also, their solid base level of conditioning allows them to be more attentive and productive on the field.
Feel free to use that one, but understand how it works. I turned a desired, intangible expectation coaches look for into a skill that I can teach in the weight room.
Step 3. Use Your Craft
Show Off Your Experience
Experience is more attractive to most sport coaches because they can identify and relate. Within sports, a mutual respect exists among those that shed blood, sweat and tears into the game. These coaches have based hundreds of coaching decisions off of their past experiences. Demonstrate how you can improve their program based off your sport and weight training experiences.
Establish a Middle Ground
The sport coach’s craft is the sport. Your craft is developing athletes to allow for the coach to more with them. Sometimes the road they pave for their team isn’t the best for building strength, power and speed. Grab this opportunity to prove your craft. Educating sport coaches in effective practices demonstrates communication, physiology, and program design skills. This also shows ability to constructively communicate views on the athletes practice experiences.
Not all coaches want a ‘yes man”. If their goal is improved field performance, they will listen. Discussing practice and weight room activities, and their interplay, establishes a connection essential for on field success. This builds a trusting relationship and demonstrates an understanding of our next step, empathy.
Part 2 will discuss connecting with the team, communication strategies, and securing the sport coach’s investment into a strength program. We always enjoy hearing approaches, successes, and experiences Power Athlete Nation had within the sport coach/strength coach dynamic. Please share and help the other coaches learn.
MS, CSCS, SCCC, CHES
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Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.
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