This is the second installment of this series and believe it or not, I had a tough time syphoning this idea down into a solid point. I had to sit down with my wife, who is also a coach, and brainstorm the fluff away until I came to a cohesive, pointed thought: Passion.
My first article in this series was about relationships. This one is going to lean on the first idea a ton. Relationships are the foundation for success for any strength coach. Those connections provide the platform for your athletes to experience the “want” to train hard, but it’s the passion for the weights that has to live inside you.
When I was in school, I never needed a coach to bark at me to push or a teammate to urge me to work harder. It was alive in my DNA. Unfortunately, I never realized that I was one of the few, and not the norm. It took me to graduate college and move into coaching to learn that loving training is not a natural thing.
Where It All Began: The Muscle Magazine Era
I can remember the moment I fell in love with weight training. It was in the mid 80’s and I was at the grocery store with my mom. I couldn’t have been older than ten. I was walking down the magazine aisle looking for the new copy of ‘Mad Magazine,’ and stumbled across an issue of ‘Muscle and Fitness.’ Inside were pictures of Lee Haney. For those of you who aren’t avid bodybuilding fans, Lee was an 8-time Mr. Olympia from 1984-1991 and to a ten year old, he was a god. Massive, ripped and a man amongst men, I became obsessed with him and all things building muscle.
From that moment on, I became infatuated with bodybuilding mags like someone my age would have been about comic books. I read everything I could get my hands on and read each issue from cover to cover.
Once I was “old enough”, I started lifting weights and never looked back. I trained nearly every day through my teens and wanted nothing more than to be “ugly big”. You know, like side show freak, muscle bound to my ear lobes, so big it would actually be ugly. I was so dedicated to that idea that those words are stitched into my letterman’s coat. I had a small crew of friends who shared my sentiment and we lived to lift. We had our silly routines that almost always included bench pressing daily.
We were going to kill ourselves getting as large as possible, no matter what.
When I moved onto college and college football, my love for training never slowed. We would train with our team and do the workouts our coaches would give us, then many of us would wander over to the student weight room for round two. Again, I had a couple of friends who wanted to be superhero strong and we would grind day in, day out.
Trial By Fire: My Transition to Coaching
Like any new strength coach, I entered my first job with my hair on fire. My entry into the business was an unusual one. I went from being an intern at the school I played for, to head strength coach at a university 2000 miles away.
I wasn’t given a real transition from player to coach like many do. Most entry level positions are a series of grad assistant positions, to assistant coach and then eventually to head coach if you are lucky. I worked an internship for four months, and was thrusted into a head position immediately. No, it wasn’t because I was such a great coach… it was more of a function of need by the new university.
What I quickly learned was not everyone shared the same love of training that I did. It was heartbreaking, dumbfounding and impossible all wrapped up into one quasi-nightmare.
I coached as hard as I trained in college, and I was puzzled that the kids that I coached weren’t as passionate as I was about what we were doing. How on earth were we ever going to win if these kids didn’t live and breathe this stuff?
The truth of it was, we weren’t going to win.
What Makes A Good Strength Coach
What I’ve come to learn is that there are two types of strength people out there. The first, the group I lump myself in, are the strength coaches who get into the profession and love weight training themselves. They have a similar story to mine, they have moved thousands of tons of weights over their lifetimes and would trade places with any one of their athletes for a young, healthy body in a flash.
The other group is more of the science driven group. They have considerably more interest with the how things happen than experiencing those things themselves. To those of us more meathead coaches, these folks are basically imposters and we typically find ourselves ignoring any of their ideas. It’s a hard truth, but it’s still the truth.
Fortunately, I have gotten out of my own way and allowed their ideas to infiltrate how I think.
Regardless of the group you align yourself with, what makes a great strength coach is one who loves being in the weight room. We get up thinking about training and we lay down at night planning the next day’s lifts. We see the world through an iron lens, only caring about ways to get stronger and perfecting our craft. Most every other aspect of life takes a back seat.
Unfortunately for some, that includes relationships with our loved ones. I burnt through one marriage before learning my lesson, then made the wise choice of falling for someone who had been an athlete in college herself. The hope was she would understand the drive of a coach, and thus far, she does.
You have to love it.
It has to be part of your make up.
The reason being is, it’s going to be a grind- the whole time. We get plugged into a team and then we devote an entire year to getting that team prepped for a handful of chances to win. I can look each of you in the eye and say with complete candidness, I hate losing with all of my being. I would rather be punched in the stomach than walk away taking an L. It’s the worst. We spend so much time with these kids, we work insane hours with no days off and we devote our souls to the chance at helping create a champion.
The Unfortunate Truth: Not Everyone Cares As Much As You Do
The hardest thing to come to terms with, one that I haven’t even fully accepted almost 20 years later, is our athletes and sport coaches aren’t as passionate as we are. In fact, I would say most of the athletes themselves are considerably less devoted to winning than we are. They are wrapped up in being young, being social and having the college experience. And that experience has nothing to do with weight training. Even the winning part, especially nowadays, is far down their list of priorities- which kills me.
When it comes to coaches, my experience is a large percentage of them either don’t fully trust us, or, like their athletes, they are actually not as devoted to winning in the manner we are. Perhaps it’s because they don’t put in the level of time face to face with their kids like we do- and if you are a sport coach reading this, you don’t spend as much time with your kids than we strength people do, in totality, over a calendar year.
Along with some of their responsibilities that we strength folks don’t have to deal with. You know, keeping kids eligible, academics, recruiting and such. I’m lucky, my head football coach trusts me completely. He knows I know what I’m doing and stays out of my hair. He’s probably my biggest supporter, and for that, I’m incredibly lucky.
The more I read this, the more I realize how much of a downer this has become. Don’t let it be. First off, feel good about how much you love what you do. There are millions of zombies waking up for work each day who go through the motions and hate their jobs. That’s definitely not us. I love my job. I love the people I work with, I love the university I work for and I love the kids who I get to train- even the ones who are unlovable, if you know what I mean. I get excited about learning new stuff, writing effective programs and watching my kids succeed.
I have to come to terms that most of the kids I am going to work with aren’t as passionate about them getting strong as I am. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I want them to thrive. I want them to taste the joy of lifting up a championship trophy. There’s nothing like beating a rival or winning a game that you have to win to advance on to the playoffs. There’s nothing better than being under the lights on a Friday or Saturday night.
Keep The Passion, No Matter What
So the takeaway from this is less about me hamming the passion point again and again, and more about you keeping your passion stoked. What these kids need is someone just like you. This generation wasn’t raised like most of us were. They know a world of playing sports without a score being tallied. They know an athletic world where the powers that be, in an attempt to not hurt feelings, doesn’t give out an MVP or is given a prize for losing. They are forced into an existence where being in the gray area is where the PC police has forced them, so they don’t learn the bliss of winning or feel the pain of losing. It’s not programmed in them.
So it’s our job to fight the good fight. Winning matters. In fact, winning is the only thing that matters. Back in the day, the cumulative want to win created enough momentum to do the job. As the days of that reflex being neutered continues to pervade athletics, it’s up to us to carry the torch. I know I’ve had to face the fact that in many situations, I’m the only one who would die for this sh!t. The good news is, I’m still here- and one will do.