4 Career Tips For The Aspiring Strength Coach

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Being an intermediate level coach is both a blessing and a curse. 

On one hand, you’ve probably outlasted most of your peers, and you’re still putting in quality work. 

But on the other hand, if you’re serious about the coaching game, you’ve probably realized you’re nowhere near where you want to be!

The intermediate period can take quite a while to go through. After 2-3 years, it’s not really fair to call you a beginner or “new” coach anymore, but at the same time, it could take many years (if not decades!) to get to an advanced or elite level.

If you’re an intermediate coach who’s serious about getting to the next level, here are four pieces of advice I think will greatly benefit your future growth and development.

#1 – Get Serious About Your Science

As a young coach, I honestly didn’t care all that much about the science behind training.

At least not at first.

I had a science background from my undergraduate and graduate degrees, but even still, that wasn’t enough to get me where I wanted to go.

When it comes to the sciences, the fact of the matter is you never know enough.

My good friend and business partner Bill Hartman is one of the most educated and intelligent people I’ve ever been around, yet he still dedicates time every single day to shore up his science foundation.

What I would suggest is picking one of the following three areas to dial in on:

  • Anatomy,
  • Biomechanics, and/or
  • Physiology

Learning all three at the same time might be tough, so I’d recommend starting with anatomy first.

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I tell our interns that if you know muscle origins and insertions, that’s all fine and dandy. But at the end of the day, it’s about understanding the relationships and how everything works together that’s most important.

As you better understand the underlying science of training, this will give you a stronger filter as a coach.

In this day and age of instant information on the Internet, if someone is a good writer or communicator, it’s easy to assume they know what they’re talking about.

But I think we all know that’s just not the case!

By shoring up your science background, you’ll have a better understanding of what really works, why it works...and when someone is just spouting off at the mouth!

#2 – Apply the Plus, Minus, and Equals Approach

I first learned about the Plus, Minus, and Equals approach from Ryan Holiday in his book, Ego is the Enemy.

However, the approach was really introduced by mixed martial arts champion and Coach Frank Shamrock.

The premise is simple: Everyone should strive to learn from someone better than them, to find someone of equal level/skill to compete against, and to teach someone who is less skilled than them.

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The plus person makes total sense – why wouldn’t you want to find a mentor? Someone who has been where you’re at? Who has dealt with the same struggles as you?

In my life, this was Bill Hartman. He’s a curious guys that has always asked great questions, forces me to think for myself, and pushes me to be the best coach I can possibly be.

Having a mentor can help fast-track your progress, and furthermore, help guide you in your development as a coach.

And while having a mentor is great, I think there’s a ton of value in giving back and teaching others. At IFAST, we have an internship program where each week, someone from our staff gives an in-service on a specific topic (i.e. coaching the squat, the deadlift, core training, etc.)

By doing this, not only do the interns get better as coaches, but we actually improve our own understanding of the topic as well.

Last but not least, finding someone of equal skill level should challenge and motivate you to continue pushing forward. I don’t know about you, but I’m a pretty competitive dude – and I don’t want someone to beat me!

By applying the plus, minus, and equals approach to your coaching, you surround yourself with people who will help you get to the next level.

#3 – Focus on Depth of Learning

When you’re first starting out as a coach, you need to be a generalist.

You need to know a bit about strength training, power development, speed mechanics, etc.

But there’s only so long you can stay at superficial level. At some point in time, you have to start drilling down and asking the tough questions.

For the past five years, I’ve made it a focus to get better at programming and coaching speed and agility exercises. And to do this, I started with an online mentor in Lee Taft, who gave me a framework for how this work should be done.

In my case, I read every article Lee put out there.

I bought all of his DVDs, so I could learn more about his system.

And I’ve brought him to my gym on numerous occasions to teach us about his coaching system.

But if Lee was my only resource, then I would only be able to execute his system, versus understanding the bigger picture for myself.

So once I got comfortable with Lee’s work, then I made it a goal to widen and expand my own world.

Now I’m reading guys like Charlie Francis, Derek Hansen, Nick Winkelman, and Boo Schexnayder.

I think if you want to get really good at something, it helps to have one person who you trust and rely on to get you started. This person gives you a system to build from, and a filter to pass new information through.

Once you have those pieces in place, now you can begin to widen your scope, pull from multiple resources, and synthesize the pieces you like into your own training system or philosophy.  

#4 – Challenge Yourself

Finally, as an intermediate level coach, you absolutely must continue to challenge yourself.

After you’ve done this for a few years (and outlasted more than a few of your peers), it’s easy to start getting a big head about yourself.

In my best Master Yoda voice: “A dangerous time, this is.”

The second you start to think you know everything, you absolutely, positively must check your ego at the door.

Like I mentioned above, find a mentor. Someone who has already been through a lot of the trials and tribulations and can help mold and form your education.

But it can go much further than that as well.

I’d suggest seeking out coaches and our trainers who are within driving distance and asking to shadow for a day.

Check out their programs, watch how they interact with their athletes, and ask questions if possible. (And yes – you might have to pay for this. It will be worth it! Just exposing yourself to new ideas, or new ways of thinking, is worth the price of admission.)

Furthermore, consider reading a book, attending a course, or even hanging out with a coach whose ideas you know you don’t agree with.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Mike – why on Earth would I do that?”

Easy - because if you get too set in your own ways, you fail to challenge your own thought processes.

But here’s the cool thing: When you open yourself up and expose yourself to new ideas, one of two things happens.

  1. You listen with an open mind, think things through, and decide that you haven’t changed your mind. This process has stiffened your spine and strengthened your resolve. Or
  2. You listen with an open mind, and see things from a different perspective and viewpoint. Even if you don’t 100% change course, you now have a newfound respect for why this coach does things in a certain way, and you can take this application and use it in the future.

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At the end of the day, putting yourself in a box and only exposing yourself to people and coaches who think like you will stifle your growth and development.

Actively seek out coaches with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and approaches. You’ll be a better coach because of it.

It's Time To Learn, Grow, and Evolve

Like I said up front, it’s not easy to be an intermediate level coach.

Whether it’s dialing in and focusing your study, finding a mentor to learn from, or starting to educate young coaches yourself, as the saying goes, “What got you here won’t get you where you’re going.”

But if you’re serious and respect the game, you’ll realize that that’s okay. Think about the big picture of where you’re going, and understand that being a great coach is going to take decades.

But in the short-term, don’t let that intimidate you. Use each and every day to learn, grow and evolve.

The coaching world needs you. Now go do some great work and be the best coach you can be!

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About The Author

Mike Robertson is one of the most highly sought-after coaches, consultants, speakers and writers in the fitness industry today.
Known for his “no-nonsense” approach to training and brutal efficiency, Mike has made a name for himself as a go-to resource for professional athletes from every major sport.
Mike is the President of Robertson Training Systems and the co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFAST) in Indianapolis, Indiana. IFAST has been named one of the Top 10 Gyms in America by Men’s Health magazine three times in the past six years.
Mike currently coaches a handful of professional athletes during their off-season, and is the physical preparation coach for the Indy Eleven professional soccer team.

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