When I began training athletes from my parents' garage, their backyard, and the local playgrounds, describing the “methods” I implemented as “raw” would be an understatement. It was free weights, stones, bodyweight, hill sprints, jumps, tree logs…
The hill sprints went up the hill in the woods that led to the water towers. The barbell I had was from Costco, while others had high-end barbells. Stones found at the local playground with worms and bugs stuck to the bottoms of them? Yes, please!
To be honest, the more I “learned” about training, the more I would catch myself doubting and questioning what I was doing - even with the great results these athletes were getting. Was I following a “proper” program design method? Was I following a specific system of periodization?
It’s easy to wonder if you’re on the right track when you find yourself traveling the solo path while you see the majority traveling down a different path.
Here and there in my early years as a coach, I began forgetting that results count first and foremost. In a landscape of coaches who were writing articles and sharing photos of their training in a high-end gym with a polo shirt on, I feared I HAD to be just like them.
I thought I had to get that $10,000 functional trainer if I were going to be a “real” strength coach.
Fast forward through the many fads and gimmicks I’ve seen since going all in as a strength coach in 2002, I realized that even the coaches at the highest levels, such as the D1 and pro ranks, all come back full circle to the basics: the basics of training, nutrition, lifestyle, gut-busting hard work, a great atmosphere, and being obsessed with chasing excellence.
On the flip side, I feel it is a good thing if you are constantly asking questions and seeking better training methods. It means you care to get better. It means you care about the athletes. It means you want to find the way to get even 1% better to make a bigger difference.
The place you don’t want to end up is sitting in your ivory tower, degrading everyone else, and proclaiming how great your method is... as if there were no other methods of training.
Believe it or not, I still hear coaches degrading the utmost basic trait: getting STRONG. If I look at any Olympian or pro athlete, or any great high school athlete…they are ALL strong.
Getting strong takes guts. You must be ready to go to war against a barbell. You must maintain technique while struggling to finish that last rep. You need to start thinking about those Monday morning squats on Friday morning.
That’s right. It’s called: “Get Obsessed.”
In a society that shuns winning, I tell parents and athletes (with NO hesitation) we are training to WIN. Not just winning in athletics, but winning in ALL areas of life. A strength coach who understands that TRUE strength goes beyond the weight room is a coach who understands this is much deeper than sets and reps.
It’s not about conjugate or concurrent.
It’s not about triphasic or block periodization.
It’s about changing lives. If you’re not changing lives as a strength coach, then you are not doing your job.
The training method will change according to many variables, here are just a few of these variables:
- The sport the athlete is focused on
- How long the athlete has been training for/training experience
- Training age/biological age
- Weak areas
- The mindset of the athlete (what motivates the athlete, athlete buy in, mentally tough or weak?)
- Does the athlete need more speed/strength/size?
Some of the high school athletes I work with are so untrained, they need to go on a basic bodybuilding program in regard to sets and reps. The building of muscle alone will boost their performance. All this talk of plyometrics and this or that method mean nothing in these situations.
Some athletes are emotionally fragile, so these athletes need to go through short challenges that develop strength of mind AND body.
Other athletes need to develop self-confidence. When you are training them, you need to give them feedback to boost their confidence. Their increased confidence will equate to improved sports performance and, most of all, improved LIFE performance.
Some athletes... you can’t help them. You try and try and try. Maybe their parents pull them out of the program. “Too busy” is the common phrase although there are ALWAYS kids driving 45 minutes each way with a 4.0 GPA making it work, right? RIGHT! (The kid watched one too many videos by Coach YouTube, and they don’t buy into anything their favorite internet coach says isn’t the way to train.)
Guess what? It’s ALL your fault. Every athlete you can’t help...we must own this as well. It’s not easy but if you wanted easy, being a strength coach is not on that list.
At the end of the day, I don’t care how cool my program looks on paper or on YouTube/Instagram. And, as a Coach who runs a part of my business on the internet, the truth is, deep down, I WANT those views, those likes, shares, comments, etc.
But guess what I want more.
I care about RESULTS. I care about REALLY changing lives. Results on the scoreboard are awesome, but results that build champions in all other areas of life let me know if I am really doing my job as a strength coach.
In the weight room and in training as a whole, there are some basic laws of success that come with results, and I keep coming back to these basics:
- Hard work & intensity
- Proper technique
- The basics of free weights, bodyweight, sleds, sprints, jumps, and throws
- Mindset development (training must develop mind AND body)
- Attention to details & commitment to excellence in ALL areas of life, not just the weight room
While speaking at the recent PLAE Summit, I picked up on the above commonalities from all the speakers. In my earlier years, I remember waiting for these coaches from the pro ranks to share some “secrets” that would blow me away...
...But time and again, it was the relentless pursuit of excellence in the basics and the laws of success. The amateur seeks the fads and gimmicks. The expert knows the power will always lie in the basics.
Another thing I picked up on from the coaches was their attitude. I could sense a mile away that they created a culture of excellence in their weight room. I could see that although the title of “Strength and Conditioning Coach” on the surface means helping athletes get stronger, bigger, and faster...all these coaches created a culture that built integrity in the athletes, teaching them how to be GREAT in all areas of life, not just athletics.
Culture in the weight room is key. You want to create a culture of such high standards that those standards carry over into all areas of the athlete's life.
I am less impressed with winning athletes who struggle to have good grades, struggle to make solid life decisions, and struggle to live a life that views their commitment to excellence beyond sports. Being great in ALL areas of life, not just great where and when it is convenient for them is the sign of a champion.
If as a coach you GENUINELY care about the athletes:
- You WILL aggressively seek out information
- You will have high energy when coaching, even when you’re tired, stressed, or going through tough times
- You know it’s all about the athletes, so you will keep your own stress in your back pocket and pour your heart and soul into changing lives
- You will KNOW the difference between impressing others with flashy social media posts vs. producing powerful results that speak louder than your words
A favorite quote of mine is: "Your actions speak so loudly, I can not hear what you’re saying." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
As a coach, I don’t care about the accolades. I also can experience and understand both sides of coaching, from the independent sector as a gym owner myself (3 locations in NJ) to the D1 college level.
But as a business owner, I have to showcase our work on social media because this is where people are. Whether I like it or not, people live on their phones. People see our information, and I always tell others, “Ask me how easy it is to operate a business that is based on hard work, consistency, and never quitting.”
In case you’re wondering, it is HARD. So many people quit as soon as things are not convenient for them. As I always say, convenience and excellence are NOT found on the same road. I will not sacrifice what I believe in or lower my standards to attract half-hearted athletes.
The only standard is excellence.
At the college level, I get to show up and do ONLY what I am there to do: COACH. Those kids are there. I get a consistent training environment with them all through the year.
But at my own gym, athletes constantly come and go. Up and down with results like the yo-yo effect. News Flash! You can NOT get stronger, faster, more explosive, more confident, etc. when you STOP training. Believe it or not, people still don’t understand this. You have to teach people how to be tough, how to push through, and how to be dedicated during difficult times.
In both scenarios, results count. As an independent gym owner, I stick to my guns and refuse to dupe parents by selling them fads and gimmicks. I tell them the truth:
It’s going to take hard work both in and out of the gym. Consistency is key; without it, there are no results. You get out of the training what you put into the training, along with how dedicated your child is to living a champion lifestyle.
These laws of success will never change.
As a coach, you can always go back to these basics. They work from the youth level to the pros. I challenge you to have only 1 standard: Excellence. Changing lives is the minimum effective dose.