My first full year as a college strength and conditioning coach was the 2017 college baseball season. I had worked in the private sector as a strength coach/personal trainer but had never been tasked with the responsibility of handling a full team. I quickly learned that it was a completely different animal than one-on-one or small group training. Designing a program for one athlete is hard enough but managing 30-40 different body types, goals, abilities, and personalities was a daunting task.
Now, halfway into my second season, everyday is still a learning experience but I have learned a few things that could've helped a younger me.
1) It won't Be Perfect
My first season I had the false idea that everything would always run smoothly and perfect all the time. I thought guys would always come in motivated, healthy, and ready to work each day. This is just not the case, at least in my situation. These are college athletes. Between classes, workouts, practice, and study hall, they've got a lot on their plate. Being flexible and ready for the imperfect situations is a must at the college level.
2) Simple is Better
As I mentioned, college athletes have a lot on their plate. After a day of mentally stressful classes, workouts don't need to add to it. Go the extra mile to make the workouts easy to read, understand, and follow. The athletes will appreciate this and you'll get the most out of them that way. Don't baby them, they're men, but make your program as user friendly as possible.
3) Not What, But How
Like a lot of modern-day athletes and coaches I learned a lot of exercises from following some of the top strength coaches and trainers on social media. There is nothing wrong with this but it is easy to lose sight of the main objective as your exercise repertoire grows. It's not always what you do, but often how well you do it. Better to do a few staple exercises really well than to do a hundred flashy exercises poorly.
4) They Don't Care How Smart You Are
When I say 'they' I'm referring to the athletes but really no one cares at the end of the day. At least not enough to listen to you brag about it and use fancy terminology all day long. The art of coaching is taking something very complex and scientific, like training, and making it easily digestible to the lay person.
5) They Do Care That You Care
While the average athlete has little interest in how much you know, most care very much about how much you care. Go out of your way to take an interest in them as a person. This can provide you valuable information about how to best convey your messages to them.
I know that you have your CSCS, CPT, CSAS, RFCG and every other letter in the alphabet listed after your name, BUT, no one knows more about your athlete than the athlete themselves. You can learn a lot by just shutting your mouth and listening.
7) Prepare to Make Mistakes...A lot of Them
This is a big one, no matter how well prepared, organized, and educated you are going into it, you're going to make mistakes. All across the board. There are countless programming things that I did in my first year that I changed this year and there will almost certainly be several more to make for next year. In addition to programming mistakes, you won't handle every situation perfectly either. Like anything, learn from the experiences and get better. Only a true mistake if it happens twice.
8) Watch the Games
Seems like a no-brainer but my first year I found it very difficult to make it to many games due to a busy work schedule. This year I made it a priority to make as many games as possible. Seeing your athletes in the gym is one thing, but observing their movements on the field is a great opportunity to learn.
9) Small Stuff Matters
My father always says, "Take care of the small things and the big things will take care of themselves." Though I got tired of hearing it as a kid, I actually love this quote. As a coach, letting small things slide is a slippery slope. If we can't be where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there, doing what we are supposed to be doing, we aren't going to get very far as an athlete or a program.
10) Enjoy It
It is an absolute privilege to have the opportunity to work with athletes. If you do not honestly believe this then you need to stop coaching right now. A strength coach can have one of the largest impacts on an athlete's development and that is a task that shouldn't be taken for granted. You could be in a cubical pushing papers but instead you're in sweatpants working with some of the coolest people in the world, cherish that.
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