As you get older, it’s natural to reflect on your early days, especially when it comes to your career.
From 2000-2002, I was an intern/volunteer/assistant strength coach at Ball State University. There, I got my feet wet as an aspiring strength coach, and absolutely fell in love with the job.
Looking back, I can’t help but cringe at all the things I did.
For example, every athlete I trained back squatted (yes, even our overhead athletes).
We created ridiculous ab circuits to make sure their cores were strong.
And the conditioning was used more as a tool for punishment, versus performance enhancement.
But strangely enough, even early on, I felt like I was successful as a coach.
Perhaps most importantly, I felt like I made a difference in their performance – both on and off the field.
So this internal dialogue and self-reflection has led to one simple question:
If I was such an idiot when it came to programming and coaching early-on, why were my athletes successful?
It’s a really profound question if you stop and think about it.
After all, we all start somewhere – and as far as I know, no one started off day one as an elite coach.
As a coach or trainer, two things we do regularly are write programs, and coach our clients and athletes.
But within coaching and programming, there is an art and a science to each.
My current belief is that as we get better and better at the scientific and technical side of our work, it’s easy to become disconnected from (or even outright dismiss) the artistic and beautiful side of our work.
Now we have data and sports science to tell us everything we need to know about our athletes.
Except at the end of the day, we have to remember that athletes aren’t a number or a reading – they’re real, live human beings.
So with this really long intro, I come back to our title:
How can you become a better coach right now, today, without learning any new tricks with regards to the science of programming and coaching?
Here are six things I feel made me a good coach, before I knew a damn thing from a technical perspective.
1 – Make Workouts Fun
When it comes to coaching, I’m a very observant person.*
(*My wife would probably disagree on several other areas of life, thus my specificity here!)
One thing our current crop of interns at IFAST does extremely well is make the training sessions fun.
I can’t go more then 2-3 minutes without seeing one of the guys high five or fist bump a client.
And you know what? If you’re getting high fives and throwing knuckles, chances are you’re having some fun too!
When I was starting out, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, so I did my best to make training fun for the athletes.
Let’s be honest – whether you train athletes or average every day people, many of them don’t like (or want to be in) the gym.
You don’t have to be a clown or create ridiculous, random workouts, but if you can make training more fun, I guarantee your clients and athletes will get more out of every training session.
2 – Upgrade Your Training Environment
If you’ve been on the Internet the past couple of days, chances are you’ve seen this video. And if not, take a few minutes and have a look:
Now we can debate until we’re blue in the face as to whether these guys are too hyped up (see: The Bell Curve of Lifting Arousal). But if you’ve ever lifted anything heavy in your past, chances are you can’t watch this video and not get a little hyped up!
I mean seriously, how much fun does that look like?
How awesome is that training environment?
To upgrade your training environment, I firmly believe it all starts with music. (Side note: this also goes hand-in-hand with making training fun).
Every winter I prep for the return of my MLS soccer guys, and know that artists like Skrillex and Tritonal are coming with them. These guys are true pros, but the right music ensures I get some amazing training sessions out of them.
When the Indy 11 comes in now, we’ve been going with the Hip-Hop Barbeque station on Pandora. They’re going to push some decent weight, and then they’re going to show me their latest dance move.
Quite simply, find a station that your clients and athletes enjoy and find motivating, crank it up a bit, and get to work!
3 – Connect with Your Clients and Athletes
When I was getting started, I really had no business coaching people from a technical perspective.
Yet in a manner of weeks, I would often have these very same athletes coming to me for training advice.
I have one immediate thought: Because they knew I cared about them, and had their best interests at heart.
I’ve always been a people person, so this comes somewhat naturally for me. I want to know what’s going on in people’s lives, how they’re doing, and what drives and motivates them.
Think about your own clients or athletes for a minute: Do you know why they train with you?
Do you know what motivates them?
Or perhaps even most importantly, what keeps them up at night?
I think most good coaches do this, in some form or fashion. And the natural evolution is from that of athlete-and-coach to mutual friendship.
I’ve seen this time and again in my own life. The athletes whom I’ve invested the most time and energy, and who have had the most profound impact on me, are now people I would also consider close friends.
There’s no replacing the human element of coaching. You may not wake up a better technical coach tomorrow, but you can absolutely, positively, make the conscious choice to connect with your clients and athletes on a deeper level.
4 – Have A Burning Passion for What You Do
I’m 15 years into my career as a physical preparation coach, and I can say one thing with absolute honesty:
I don’t think there’s ever been a day when I didn’t want to go to work.
Sure, there were certain days in there that were harder than others. When I moved to Indianapolis, I had a client M-W-F that I had to be up at 3:45 am to take.
Yes, that’s right – 3:45 am!
By the time I showered and drove to his house, I was right on time for his 4:55 am appointment.
So that wasn’t easy – but oddly enough, I was still excited about it because I knew I had the chance to positively impact this mans life.
In Loren Landow’s interview on the Elite FTS podcast, he says something simple yet profound:
“If you don’t wake up Monday morning fired up for work, there’s a problem.” – Loren Landow
The fact of the matter is we get paid to help people achieve their goals. Whether they’re athletic, physique or health based, we get to see the impact we have on people every single day.
How many other professions can say that?
(Plus – never discount a job where you can show up in what amounts to your pajamas. My daughter is still trying to figure this one out.)
Al Vermeil (one of our keynote speakers at this years 2015 Physical Preparation Summit, and the only man to win rings in TWO professional sports) has been at this 55 years, and he’s still passionate about showing up to work each day.
Every day, take a moment to reflect on how awesome your life is, and how privileged you are to get to help people and live a life of service.
I guarantee you, this will take your passion for your job (and this industry) to the next level.
5 – Educate Yourself
I’ve beaten myself up about my lack of technical knowledge early-on, and rightfully so.
But behind the scenes, I was doing everything in my power to learn and get better.
From Tudor Bompa to Mel Siff to Yuri Verkoshansky to Istvan Balyi, if it was training related, I was going to read it.
This can go a long way with your athletes, too. I’m reminded of a story my good friend Joe Kenn told me a while back about his first year with the Panthers.
One of the guys asked him a question that he didn’t know the answer to, and Coach House was honest and told the guy he didn’t know.
But then House did something cool: He got on the phone and found someone that did know the answer, and then texted his athlete to let him know the answer.
How cool is that?
Not only was he confident enough to admit that he didn’t know the answer, but then he took the next step and went out and sought out the answer.
With our industry rapidly growing and evolving, there’s no way we can know everything.
Sorry – just not going to happen.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t do our damnedest to get better. Carve out 30 minutes to an hour every day to learn and educate yourself on your craft.
(And if you don’t think you have time, remember, Patrick Ward is up at 4:30 am every morning to get his reading in!)
Most importantly, remember that continuing education is about the journey, not the destination.
You may never know it all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a heckuva lot along the way!
6 – Believe in Your Athletes
If I had to single out one specific trait or “thing” that I did early-on that was the key to my success, this would be it.
I have always believed in my athletes.
I don’t care how good they are right now, how injured or beat up they are, doesn’t matter.
I look at someone and I know that wherever they are now, they can be better.
And this has been true whether we’re talking about high school kids, college athletes or even pros.
It’s a shame, because so many people, even at the highest levels, don’t really, truly believe in themselves.
I feel as though it’s my goal to envision what they are capable of, and then help them see that vision and believe it themselves.
I don’t care if you are the worst technical coach in history, if your athletes know that you believe in them, they will do anything not to let you down.
Still, to this day, I’m working to become a better technical coach.
I still read programming, coaching and training material every single day.
And perhaps most importantly, I’m still out there coaching – and loving every minute of it.
But don’t forget that no matter how technically proficient you are, there are tons of little things you can do to upgrade the human side of your coaching.
Now get out there and coach someone up – the world needs you!
All the best