In the first installment of How to Approach a Sport Coach, we explored the dynamic relationship between the sport coach and the strength coach. As with most careers, social intelligence is key. To be a successful strength coach, you must effectively communicate, listen and have a handful of ways to say the same thing. The initial meeting with a sport coach is the most opportune time to initiate this dynamic, show off your social intelligence, and establish a mutually beneficial connection.
Coaching is a very rewarding profession, for both sport and strength and conditioning. One of my former colleagues summarized, “Very few other jobs you can take someone where they cannot take themselves.” With this high emotional reward comes a high emotional risk, especially on the strength and conditioning side. Often the greatest obstacle in a strength coach’s efforts comes from the emotional drain experienced in dealing with the resistance from the very sport coaches and administrations they are trying to help.
The principal problem in the S&C arena is the tendency to force regimens onto athletes or teams. Misreading a coach’s expectations and the state of the team causes confusion, conflict, and worst of, a missed opportunity to build something in the weightroom. Smoothly navigating these conversations with the sport coach provides more time to focus on investment in the S&C program, implementing programs to address limiting factors, and the ability to help a sport coach build a winning culture. This article builds upon the previous 3 steps established in Part 1, while providing steps for building a dynamic relationship with the sport coach and seizing the opportunity to implement a strength and conditioning program after the initial meeting.
Step 4. Vision and Empathy
Vision and Culture
The expectations established with Step 1 lead to a new opportunity: discussing the coach’s vision, philosophy, and culture. Great leaders have great vision. Vision is a combination of experience, expectation, and commitment to creating a specific environment. Diving deeper than the coach’s expectations, vision has belief and emotion. Stirring the coach’s emotions and getting them to share this vision will allow a connection to their cause and the opportunity to present the benefits a strength and conditioning program provide.
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An old proverb goes, “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.” No sport coach wants to walk that lonely road. Coaches build their coaching staff with like-minded individuals to create a consistent, unified culture for their players. The strength and conditioning coach does not push a culture, they build and fortify a culture. Vision is only talk until action is applied. The weightroom is action. It is the opportunity to not only develop strength, power and speed; but also mental toughness, leadership, and a sense of empathy and connection among the players.
Empathy and Connection
Empathy is understanding a person’s condition from their perspective. Query the coach’s vision and the culture they have built (or are trying to build). Before earning the team, you must connect with the sport coach. Seeing their perspective will illuminate opportunities for you to outshine other strength and conditioning coaches. The weightroom is the key. Any strength coach can bring size to a small team and strength to a weak team. You are capable of bringing mental toughness, leadership, and ‘do it for the guy next to you’ attitude no other coach can.
Step 5. Help Them Identify With the Weightroom
These steps are building off one another just as the flow of the initial meeting should go. Progressing from pinpointing their expectations to connecting with their philosophy. We focused on relating to the sport coach’s perspective via questions and answers. The resulting information can now be applied to helping the sport coach identify with an S&C program, as well as the person who will lead it.
A pivotal piece to the inter-coach dynamic is speaking in mutually understandable terms. When presenting solutions or explaining how your weightroom activities will fortify their culture, use terms they already expressed during conversation. “Posture and Position”, “Introt and Extrot”, and “compensatory acceleration” mean nothing to most sport coaches. Use positions, bio-markers, and terms they will not only understand, but want to improve upon.
- -Challenge the linebacker to maintain a low pad level and tackling position in the weight room.
- -Challenging the OT’s proper internally rotated leg position in weight room decreasing his likely hood of externally rotating his leg, and stepping in the bucket on the field.
- -Compensatory acceleration teaches the athlete to be explosive off the ball no matter if they have an TE blocking them or a free path to the QB.
Repeated Code Words
Focus on the value words to connect your points with their expectations, getting them to identifying with you. Once common terms are identified and the sport coaches have an understanding of key words like “posture and position”, create further value by explaining how weightroom positions carry over to the field. Whether if it’s a quarterback or a defensive linemen, the body positions are identically challenged. Finding common ground between their familiar sporting arena and the weightroom will help them relate to you, bring strength and conditioning to their program, and you as the one to do it.
Step 6: Seize the Day
Nearing the close of the initial conversation with the sport coach, identify a persuasive moment. A dynamic conversation expressing expectations, vision, and connections between the field and the weightroom should challenge previous notions regarding S&C. When the coach’s mood and beliefs are on the move, this is the persuasive moment. Go back to the beginning of the conversation and discuss solutions for their expectations and reiterate ‘how’ you will accomplish their goals.
Most coaches on the fence will revert back to road blocks, or reasons they have not implemented a strength program. We mentioned earlier that belief and expectations create and enhance moods. Take advantage of the positive moment after expectations and goals, and pinpoint road blocks (time, resources, funding). Group them and provide simple solutions unique to your skills and knowledge. Even if the solution is not a full plan, the simple speech may ease the coaches decision and keep them focused on all the positives brought with a strength and conditioning program.
Social intelligence is another hurdle to climb in this industry, and one that determines success more often than simply understanding of exercise science. The first conversation with a sport coach is ripe with opportunity, especially developing a connection with the head coach. Effectively appealing to the coach’s character, emotion and logic should be a personal goal set prior to the meeting. Prepare questions for the coach to help identify each of these, and be ready to connect terms mutually-comprehensible between strength and conditioning and their arena.
Sporting seasons are long grinds. Sport coaches want someone who shares their vision, is relatable, and can effectively execute their responsibilities. The coach cannot confirm your abilities until after bringing you on board, so the initial meeting should focus on vision and relating to the coach, while addressing the coach’s expectations using smart, effective training protocols, and expanding their perspective on strength and conditioning.
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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