Monday, January 14, 2019

Strength Coaching

I have been coaching since 1989. That is sorta a long time. Strength coaching the whole time. In college. Well, two years in high school in Florida. Actually, Florida football is just like college. Anyway, in all this time, I have been engulfed in strength and conditioning every day since I started. Actually even before that, but let's just say it was when I started coaching.

"Engulfed" means that most of my day is spent reading about strength and conditioning or talking about it, going to seminars or coaching or watching videos, or basically just being involved in it all day. It's a passion and it has never felt like work for a second.

Most strength coaches are the same way. They found a kinship with the Iron many years ago and their love for it knows no bounds.

The problem is, the best strength coaches that I know got so fed up with the meddling from the know-nothings (most coaches and administrators) that they got out of college coaching and went into business for themselves.

There are some issues that should be addressed when it comes to the profession.

Strength and conditioning coaches are a hard-working bunch. They work ridiculous hours for usually very low pay and rarely does anyone realize what goes into all the planning and organizing. And there is no off-season. Just go. And summers are getting shorter. And people say that comes with the territory. No, it doesn't. Who decided that was what was needed? To work 16-hour days because they are "grinding". Do you mean, "not efficient?"

Not sure how any of this became okay to do. Maybe when Dick Vermeil started sleeping on his couch or some dumb thing. But it shouldn't be that way. Hell, some of these big football programs have 3-4 coaches for every position. Some strength coaches have 200-300 athletes by themselves. C'mon, man. Yeah, let me give up seeing my family and make 44,000 as a head strength coach somewhere with 10 teams to coach and the football coach bringing you ideas that he saw on the Internet or written in the sky somewhere.  And some bumbling administrator who lifted a weight back in 1982 and feels like that gives them all the expertise to tell you how to coach your athletes.

People have no idea what goes into being a strength coach.

For some strength coaches, there are so few of them and so many teams that they have to work long hours just to "accommodate" sports coaches. Nobody else does that, except Athletic Trainers, who are also a dedicated bunch.

 Let's say that it is for a football team. You have 100 athletes or more. You have 1-3 strength coaches to help you. You have an hour to train them. You can have a basic template for the workout, the squats and cleans, and the benches. But you will also have 30 kids or more who need adjustments to their workout because of injuries, or they are post-surgery, or their physical therapist said this or said that, and the PT said that you should NEVER squat again. I love that one. How do you sit on the toilet or a couch? Oh, you squat down? What if you drop your keys? Oh, you squat down. Do you mean back squat, front squat, lunges, step ups, etc? So you adjust on the fly, you do your best and you hope everything turns out okay.

I used to love it when we would have interns come in and they would have all these grandiose ideas on how athletes should train and this long, periodized program that their professor who never played a down in his life said was the end all be all of training. That would be great in a perfect world.

Here is the reality of being a college strength coach: It is a Tuesday night in late February and the lacrosse team is coming in at 7:30 after practice. You have their program typed up and you are waiting for them to arrive. At 7:27, you get a text from the athletic trainer that reads,   "FYI, the coach got mad at the team tonight for not hustling and they just did 4, 300-yard sprints." You had a heavy leg workout, including squats and deadlifts for the planned session. So you rush up to your office and make the changes, heavy on the upper body, light on the legs. and you better have the knowledge and expertise to have the volume just right so that the athletes can still recover for tomorrow's practice session. That's the reality of what goes on.

Then there is the issue of the "get back coach."

I believe that I am one of the only strength coaches in the country who wouldn't do the job of a "get back coach", the guy who is in charge of keeping players back from coming too close to the field during the game, thus risking a sideline penalty. Also included in the job is to keep the coaches from going onto the field during the game. So a grown freaking man can't control themselves and has to have a babysitter pull them back on the sideline? Give me a break. So when I started back coaching the football guys after a 2-year hiatus, I told the head football coach that I was not, under any circumstances, doing that job. And I didn't. Shoot, they have 20 interns and operations guys standing around, anyway.

The problem is, strength coaches love it too much. They love it when a kid goes from weak to strong or from slow to fast. Or tells you that you changed his life somehow. Most of the time it's about teaching them discipline and to push through the hard stuff. And you get to know kids because you were with them nearly every day for 4 years and saw them grow up from a scared little kid to a man or woman. It's pretty cool. And then they come back with their kids to see you in a few years and you can't believe that this little kid actually had kids.

Everywhere you go, there will always be someone who thinks that they know more than the strength coach.  Coaches and administrators now run the show at most places, actually telling the professionals what to do in the weight room when they have zero experience or knowledge. I always compare it to me walking out on the field and telling a coach that that drill is wrong and that they should do it this way or that way. Why did I never, ever do that? Because I don't know shit about your sport. And even if I did, I wouldn't say a word because it's not my place. I always knew to stay in my lane. The problem is that most coaches and administrators have such huge egos that they just can't help themselves. And god forbid if you are a big guy or have any muscle on your body. Then you are labeled as a meathead who trains all sports  "like football players".  Better to weigh 137 pounds, wear a visor and a collared shirt and carry a clipboard. He doesn't know a damn thing, but he looks the part! Better to show up and espouse the horseshit known as "functional training"  Oh, you mean, "easy training." Or if you are a female strength coach with any muscle at all. You are dumb and a meathead also. Credibility? Out the window with coaches and administrators.

 One time, I was giving an introduction to the weight program to a group of female athletes and was trying to explain to the girls that they won't look like bodybuilders if they lift weights. And the sport coach referenced my two female assistant strength coaches and actually said, " Yeah, you won't look like brutes like they do."  What I should have said was, "Yeah, and you won't be weak and small like Ms. Elliptical over there."

I have had administrators say that we need to have athletes with soft, smooth muscles, or to just train the top twenty percent of the athletes and ignore the others, or that doing ab work made them win a championship, or that they didn't win the championship because of the strength program one year. The funny thing is, when we got better athletes, we won the championship. Same program as the year before.  When I was designing a new weight room, I had an administrator ask me,  "Don't we need more machines for the female athletes? They don't use the power racks and barbells, do they?' No and "they" shouldn't be allowed to vote or drive either. Yes, actual questions. I don't see an end to this . As long as athletic directors are more concerned with image and "wellness"(their definition of doing yoga and feeling good about themselves. Doesn't it feel good to be strong and fast?) instead of focusing on getting stronger, faster and creating a suit of armor for the athlete, injury rates will continue to skyrocket and the coaches and administrators will continue to blame the professionals instead of looking in the mirror and blaming themselves for their meddling and lack of knowledge.

I had a mentor of mine tell me one time,  " I just agree with everything that they say and then do what the hell I want to do. They forget eventually anyway." I did that a whole bunch. I used to sit in meetings and say, "That's a great idea! Yes, attaching a baseball bat to the cable machine will definitely help their swing, good thinking!" and then my staff and I would laugh our asses off on the walk back to the weight room. After a while, it wasn't worth arguing about it, best to just agree and get a good laugh out of it.

Or the time a football coach called myself and the other strength coach into his office and said, " We need to start doing those Clings." We were like, "Okay coach, no problem. "  And then we walked out and looked at each other. "What the hell is a Cling?" we asked each other.  So we sucked it up and walked back in. "Uh, excuse me coach, we were wondering what Clings were." He said, you know, CLINGS! And he stood up and made the racking motion of a barbell on his shoulders. "OH! Cleans! Okay,  got it coach."

I had a football coach say to me, "I don't know what you did with that kid, but his mobility is so much better now, he can really bend now." I told the kid and he said. " Yeah, I couldn't bend because my back was killing me. I couldn't even tie my shoes." Then he had surgery, and voila! He could bend.

Years ago, after I got blamed for a football team having a losing season, I decided that I needed to spread the blame around a little. So I named one of my assistants as the "Speed and Agility Coordinator". I made the title up. And sure enough! We now had a specialist and that was so great for coaches who had their heads stuck in the sand. Everyone was clamoring to have the "specialist" train their team.

People think that just because they have touched a weight in their lives, they know all about the job. You have no shot of knowing what a strength coach knows. "Engulfed" is the word that I used before and it's true. Strength coaches are passionate and dedicated and educated. But what the outsiders just can't touch is the coaching for years, the experience. And they also can't match that most of us have lifted weights for a long , long time and hell, you learn a whole bunch squatting heavy for reps and you can't learn very much just talking about it or saying that lifting heavy is bad for you or that yoga(stretching and breathing) will make you an all pro because you never played a sport in your life or squatted a full squat. An actual full squat. And no, not a goblet squat. No, no, not a squat suspended from bands and no, not the leg extension while you are texting. And that's not a smith machine half squat. A barbell. Loaded up. Blood pounding in your ears. That type of squat. If you haven't done that, you will never get it. NO, no, that's not it. Fully loaded barbell, upper thigh below parallel. NO! Not p90x.

You just say that all the hard stuff is bad for you because either you can't do it or won't do it because you are scared to do it. But of course, all of them can say whatever they want to you but the minute you say something remotely blunt or really truthful, they run crying to the higher-ups that the bullies in the weight room are so mean and aren't willing to compromise.

I have seen it all! Fads come and they wither and die somewhere while the basics stay there, making kids better. Year after year.

And how about strength coaches, full of certifications and master's degrees and tons of experience are seen as support personnel? No, I am a professional, probably more educated than you are, and no, my job is not to pull a grown man back on the sidelines because he cannot control himself. My job is to train your athletes as I see fit, using the advanced degree, experience, and certification that I earned. Few see it that way. It should be just like the athletic trainer, the team doctor, and the freaking announcer. You are qualified to do the job. You were hired to do the job. Now, let them do their job. And you? Stay in your lane.

When I get together with other strength coaches and hear their stories about what goes on at their schools with the coaches and/or administrators deciding how the strength program is supposed to be run, we all shake our heads and laugh. No science is involved, let's just go by feelings. Like, I feel that this would work, it looks good, I saw this on YouTube, this pro does this, this pro does that, we should do this! Well, I did this in college when I played soccer in the 70s and it worked for me so it has to work now. Nope.  Like a famous surgeon that I know always says when the opinions of the uneducated just get too much to handle, " Here is the scalpel, you do it."

Would I recommend becoming a strength coach as a profession? Sure, if you want to get paid next to nothing and deal with all the bullshit that comes with the job. The best thing about the whole profession is that the kids get it. They get that you care for them and that you are trying to make them great. That's why you do it, for the kids. The funny thing is, in all the meetings(meetings suck and are useless), I never heard one of the administrators mention the athletes or what is best for the athletes. Who are we there for anyway?

All About Being a Lifer

What's a Lifer? Someone who isn't in to something for just a day, a month, a's for life. Whether its training or your family or your doesn't matter. You work at it, you build on it, you see the big picture . You don't miss workouts because it means something to you. You are like a Shakespearean actor- no matter what is going on in your life, you block it out when it's time to train. You walk into the weight room and all else disappears. Worry about it later.