Strength and conditioning is an incredibly unique industry in that each individual measures experience in their own special way. Coaching experience then becomes a difficult term to define. Some of the most common attempts at defining include:
- Time: how long a coach has been in the industry.
- Resume': letters behind the name or time spent with big name programs/coaches.
- Athletic Career and Abilities: a great athlete must be a great coach, right?
- Propositional Experience: assumption that a program or method that worked for one athlete will work for all.
Judging experience in the above ways is a trap! Time is an interesting measurement in that the number doesn’t show competency or progress. No matter how much we want experience to work like strength or speed, there is no time milestone that makes a quality strength coach.
It is necessary to expose yourself to as many perspectives and disciplines as possible, but a long resume' does not make the coach any better or worse than the next. Reading the material and taking the tests only shows dedication to the craft. I instead judge their practical application (or lack thereof).
Spending time with big time programs and coaches doesn't always translate to pupils either. I've worked at the big times and with the big names. What I observed, recognized, and absorbed was different from the guy next to me. Our respective experiences varied greatly. The only thing in common was the name under which we worked.
Often, great athletes do not make great coaches. Teaching individuals requires a capacity to work within a wide range of intelligence and learning disabilities. The patience required to work with the lower end of the athletic bell curve is not often comprehended by athletes who could learn movement so easily in their youth. For example, Ted Williams's career as a batting coach and Michael Jordan's time as a coach are left off their storied successes.
A propositional approach is a major trap I’ve witnessed in my travels. It benefits neither the "good fit" nor "out of place" athlete. As discussed in ‘Injury Prone Athlete?’, this approach limits athletic performance: the "good fits" never develop outside of the cookie cutter (wasting talent), while the "out of place" athlete gains no traction. Additionally, it blunts the development of a strength coach. Instead of finding ways to adjust for individual athletes, the solution is simply (and blindly) increasing volume and more work.
Experience : Journey
The coaching experience journey is built from lessons learned from failures along the way. The difference between experienced and inexperienced is being able to adjust per reflections and previous outcomes with athletes, teams and coaches. I take solace in the fact that with each failure, comes a bit of experience to recognize a situation, a bio-marker for injury, or opportunity to earn respect in the weight room.
This article will reflect on my coaching journey and present several optimal situations to recognize, understand, and utilize to accelerate experience and expand opportunities.
The term ‘coach’ was developed as slang for a teacher that “carries” a student through an exam. Most associate the term ‘coach’ with athletics, without realizing those who coach, teach. Mark Watts of Elite FTS said it best, “Coaching is teaching. Teaching is motivating people to learn. Don’t become an S&C coach because you love training, but because you love teaching.”
A strength coach shouldn't carry anyone. Instead, they identify and overcome that which limits on-field performance, and develop body awareness to call upon the increased strength, power, and speed as needed. Teaching is developing an independent athlete who knows how to move and understands their bodies. This will take them farther on the field than any big number or workout time.
Developing your Voice requires molding your acquired knowledge and practical application into words, delivery, and presence. Each coach’s voice, like their journey, should be unique and true to themselves.
Philosophies evolve over years, understanding of programming and application changes weekly, and knowledge of the human body increases daily, but a coach’s voice is the constant. The ability to command a room, unite athletes of various backgrounds to a common goal, and selling every rep, sprint, and task as a step towards the promised land is no easy task. It takes time to develop.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Over the years working with an array of sports at nearly every level, I have tried innumerable times to deliver a message with the best of intentions, but failed. Miserably. Luke and I often debate over what matters most in delivering the message: the information, how and when it is delivered, or the presenter.
Based on my many communication failures and arguments with Luke, here is a list of optimal times for a coach to grab attention and practice developing their Voice, delivery, and teaching skills.
Pre-Warm Up Warm Up:
This is an optimal time to make a personal connection with your athletes. Athletes are more willing to listen and buy into a message if they feel connected to the one delivering it. Build pre-warm up warm up free time into your schedule and encourage athletes to come early to foam roll, attack individual limiting factors, and get their chili hot.
Take this time to joke and learn about their lives outside the weight room. Get to know the athlete. Ask what they’re studying, how big their family is, or what they did this past weekend; anything other than training or the sport! Developing a personal connection with an athlete will clarify your message, not by the value of your words, but from the athlete listening more intently.
You knew this was coming. The purposes for warm ups have been beaten like a dead horse on Power Athlete, but why stop now? A coach's voice needs practice, just as an athlete needs practice to develop athleticism. Warm up is the perfect time to practice commanding large groups, and deliberately, powerfully and succinctly communicating. While connections with the athlete established during the pre-warm up warm ups are the investment, the warm up is the time to cash out.
This relatively low-stress time during the training session allows you to capture the athlete's attention, deliver cues specific to warm up movements to be used throughout the session, and my personal favorite, huddle the group to deliver the purpose of the training day.
The huddle represents the most important coach/team moment during competition, and integrating this pre-training has several benefits:
- The huddle reminds the group WHO they are training for, i.e. mutual accountability.
- The huddle provides time to deliver the purpose for the training session, i.e. WHAT they’re training for.
- Most importantly, stating HOW you want them to approach the session. Develop your motivation voice, the inner hype-man, the ability to get a group to attack week 10 of a 3x5 linear progression with intensity in-ten-cities!
“Oh Captain, My Captain!”
Coaching isn't all load music and rowdiness. Remember, “Coaching is teaching.” Closing out each session with a huddle is a grand opportunity to change gears and practice teaching a lesson or educating your athletes. Training purpose was delivered pre-session, now challenge the athletes to make the connections between the movements and the purpose.
When first implementing this strategy, toss up softball questions, “where would you see this on the field?” Challenging athletes to make these connections goes a long way not only for program application, but also execution of the movements for skill transfer. Investment from athletes comes from understanding, and understanding will defeat the head down, eyes closed, blinder-like ‘do work’ focus that plagues programs at both high school and college levels.
Coaches do play favorites. While an unfortunate reality, it provides a grand opportunity for a new coach or a lower assistant who doesn't have the opportunities to huddle a team.
Motivation and teaching opportunities are everywhere! Look for athletes not getting a lot of attention from current coaches - usually the walk-ons, freshmen, or the upper classmen that have been dogging it for years. Every athlete is unique in their abilities, their training history, and their origins. Talking with different athletes allows you to communicate, empower, and develop your social intelligence, which is necessary for conducting a large group of individuals.
It is easy to coach those that want to be coached. Seize the challenge of coaching difficult athletes. Don’t be afraid to fail. Worst case scenario is they remain weight room wall flowers. Best case, you bring the best out of these athletes and help them open doors for themselves after other coaches had written them off.
Firmness of Purpose
Sport coaches value the weight room for many different reasons, but they would easily trade an hour working sport skill over lifting. I’ve seen this at every level. A strength coach must be selfish, and not because someone is taking away from your hype-man time. I mean selfish for the athletes and their development. Stand up for the weight room time as an investment into attacking limiting factors, injury prevention, and developing body awareness with coachability.
Once you find your voice, embody your message and training philosophy, and don’t let anyone stand in your way. Don’t confuse this with arrogance. This is ownership of not only your time, but also your belief in the value and power that can be developed in the weightroom.
The strength coach leads this effort. Ask for less and that is what you’ll get. Ask for more time in the weight room, pre-practice warm ups, and post-game cool downs and you’ll send a message of worth. Even if the coaches turn you down, they’ll respect your confidence, and that will eventually pay off when they realize they need more from their athlete’s athleticism.
EMpower Your Performance: Motion Creates Emotion
“Acknowledging one’s failures and mistakes along the way, and learning from them. The difference between experienced and inexperienced is being able to recognize when faced with a similar situation, and make an adjustment based off reflections and previous outcomes with athletes, teams and coach.”
This definition of experience I wrote down after three different colleges said I didn't get a position because I lacked ‘experience’. What these rejections forced me to do was not seek ‘experience’, but pursue excellence, find folks who could answer questions I couldn't, move and work with coaches in other parts of the country. Most importantly, I had to create opportunities from everyday coaching situations to develop my coaching ethos.
Experience is time well spent. Experience is absorbing different perspectives from books and coaches, and developing your own. Experience is learning where and why athletes succeed on the field, and why others do not. Experience is practicing application and adjustments for different athletes and different sports.
It must be sought out and created. Seek it. Take it. Experience it.
BLOG: Power Coach: Connection by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: Injury Prone Athlete by Tex McQuilkin
PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio Epsiode 62: Mark Watts
BLOG: Warm Up Reflections by Tex McQuilkin
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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