All posts by Chris

I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH, NOT THE I HAVE A PLAN SPEECH

Collegiate Strength and Conditioning coaches and the world of business rarely cross paths. Selling memberships, packages, personal training, etc. is left to our private sector colleagues. While many collegiate S&C coaches are thankful to be void of such pressures, it does not mean we should turn a blind eye to the methods and philosophies of some of the world’s most successful businesses. I was recently made aware of a TED Talk by Simon Sinek (shown above). Sinek outlines a simple, yet brilliant, strategy to run a successful business. The approach is unique, void of technical jargon and full of psychological common sense. While being a valuable approach to business, it also speaks to many other industries. I found it to beautifully encapsulate the characteristics of a successful coach. Sinek sparks a new way to look at branding. As collegiate S&C coaches, we cater to a customer base of 18-22 year old women and men that want to know WHY well before knowing WHAT. With some minor adjustments, Sinek’s Golden Circle can be applied to strength and conditioning and, in turn, improve your coaching brand.

Golden Circle 2

The Golden Circle depicts how the strategy is set-up. Most individuals work from the outside of the circle towards the middle. Sinek contends that success most surely comes by starting in the middle of the circle and working outward. As an example, he explains how Apple has been successful, where other computer companies have failed. That example prompted me to re-think my branding approach, with the following being how I would now sell my program:

I believe training can be used to improve your ability to perform in your sport. I believe that consistently exposing your mind to a variety of physical challenges can not only transform you from a malleable metal to a diamond cut, but also prepare you to lead. Training denotes a mission, a tool that, if used correctly, can reduce your chance to experience an injury, allow you to reach your athletic potential, and negate the limiting factors of size, strength, power, speed, agility, mobility, and stability in order to fully unleash the skills that have earned you a position on this team. I will always put my passion first and make the sacrifices necessary in the continued journey towards coaching supremacy. As the benefactor of such coaching, I simply ask that you match this passion every day. We will sprint, push, pull, jump, throw, and build a team of those who will know nothing but to lead. I am your strength and conditioning coach, are you ready to get started?

 

QUESTIONS SHALL BE BANNED IN THE WEIGHTROOM

The old adage “the only bad questions are the questions never asked” does not hold true anymore. At 26 years old I find myself saying “kids these days” more often than I feel like a kid myself. The discrepancy in human psyche between an era that spans less than a decade is unfathomable. From kids in college down to the 9 year olds rockin I-phone 5’s, everyone seems to have questions. I remember as youths, we were encouraged to use questions to attain knowledge and expand our ability to think critically. Now questions are used to waste time, to lay the insurmountable burdon of problem solving on the next person. It is commonplace to question authority, to demand answers from figures that were previously respected in a way as to not warrant even a thought of questioning. Answers seem to be needed now in order to maintain this new definition of respect. The notion that something is done simply because it is asked of you has become more and more rare.

I say this not as an ignorant rant usually reserved for someone much much older. I deal with impressive youths all the time. I do say this because I believe if you question, you MUST be able to answer. Most of the individuals who question, rarely have good answers. Articulating a great answer to a question is uncommon now. Pride now comes from questioning, instead of having the drive, knowledge, or curiosity to seek or figure out the answer yourself. As if asking a good question gets you the gold star…o, wait thats what kids are taught.

So because of all this, I recently banned all questions in the weight room for a group of athletes. By no means was it to be malicious or to punish. It was to teach. To teach a simple fact, that sometimes you just have to FIGURE IT OUT!!! Figure out what the exercise is, figure out what “week” we are on, KNOW what is expected from a drill/exercise/training session, figure out how to push yourself, figure out how to find the will to grind out the last rep, figure out how to lead…figure out that those who ask questions are usually asking them to those who lead.

We must turn it around. As a coach, you ask the questions. Ask your athletes what the first thing they should think about prior to a certain exercise. Ask your athletes why they lost their previous game. Ask your athletes to articulate to the rest of the group what is expected from a certain drill. PUT THEM ON THE SPOT AND DEMAND AN ANSWER. We continue to lower the bar on expectations to get kids off the hook. In a text happy world, we are at least giving them practice to re-learn how to speak. If a kid does not give you the right answer, he or she is WRONG. The response is not, “well good job, you are on the right track, can anyone else help ___ out?” No…”you are wrong, NEXT.”

I may have not always had this mindset, but thankfully I was taught. We should not expect some of our youth to know exactly how to carry themselves as if experienced adults. Rather, we should take advantage of our positions as educators to teach the invaluable lessons not acquired in the regimented world of the classroom or in our praise happy society. These are lessons that can only be learned by providing an environment that continually challenges one physically and mentally, until there is no choice but to come up with an answer.

DEATH OF THE DE-LOAD IN COLLEGIATE STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING

 The term de-load, re-load, or whatever we are calling it these days, loves to be thrown around in strength and conditioning circles when speaking about programming. I pose that, as COLLEGIATE strength and conditioning coaches, the notion of de-loading should not exist. In the collegiate setting, strength coaches must plan around a schedule that rarely provides for several consecutive weeks of consistent training. Vacations, exam periods, competitive seasons, non-traditional seasons, etc. are scattered throughout the year. Also, our short 3-5 years with athletes includes portions of training devoted to developing the skills to perform the prescribed exercises (I say portions in a plural sense because we all know sometimes even our seniors need a refresher after a summer of “forgetting” to clean or front squat). This means that skill is a limiting factor versus strength or fatigue, and this athlete may not have the ability to perform said lift as we prescribe it.

As an example, I will describe the training schedule usually laid out for division I college baseball. This is a rough outline based on my experience and, of course, may vary based on setting and coaches.

  • I contend baseball has the least amount of time committed to off-season. Beginning in late August or early September, the only true off-season lasts until the middle-end of October
      • Training Time: ≈ 8 weeks
  • For us, the athletes were allowed a voluntary week prior to the beginning of fall ball. Attendance was great, but not 100%. Fall ball begins in late October and runs through Thanksgiving break. Depending on your coach and situation, training time may be diminished and sometimes choppy. Remember this is fall ball, where practices can get ugly and a couple of those training sessions may go by the way-side in favor of more practice time.
      • Training Time: 4-5 weeks
  • Thanksgiving break provides for, at times, almost a full week away from training
      • Down Time: 1 week
  • Returning from Thanksgiving break allows for a return to an off-season training schedule. Not for long, though, as reading days and final exams lead to a voluntary period within 2 weeks.
      • Training Time: ≈ 2 weeks
      • Voluntary Period: ≈ 2 weeks
  • Winter break sets in and my athletes are sent home with a program to be done on their own. We all know the reality of this situation, but hope for the best.
      • Winter Break Duration: 4-5 weeks
  • Pre-season begins upon return, with little time to attain peak performance prior to the first competition (For us this occurs Feb 15).
      • Training Time: ≈ 5 weeks
  • Season begins and, for baseball, that means an arduous schedule with little time to train. We do our best to implement an in-season program to maintain and continue to build the training qualities obtained throughout the off-season.
      • In-Season: ≈ 13-16 weeks depending on success
  • Summer break follows and we again hope for the best as we send them home with the best training program money can buy.
      • Summer Break Duration (Baseball): ≈ 16-20 weeks

I am looking at about 20 weeks of structured off-season training with my team in a year. The longest consecutive period of consistent off-season training is about 8-9 weeks. With such a schedule, I believe de-load weeks take care of themselves. I rarely look at my 4 week phase and think to significantly reduce intensity or volume on that 4th week. Before you start preaching to me on how to de-load, trust me, I know my options and how it is done. I am simply saying I really do not have the time nor do I believe it necessary to implement a planned de-load in this setting. I know every sport is different, but I believe this goes for most collegiate sports.

As I touched on before, skill can also be a limiting factor. Implementing a de-load week when an athlete has not perfected the lift is seemingly counter-productive. As I have said in previous posts, we are not dealing with professional lifters.

Lastly, and I believe most importantly, the term de-load should never be voiced to your athletes. A huge task for us is developing hard-minded, disciplined individuals, while we continue to battle the softness that is our current society. Why would we give our athletes another excuse to go less than 100%? Never will we ask our athletes to apply 70% effort. We must, on the other hand, ask them to apply 100% effort to 70%. All and all, percentages, periodization, physiology, and biomechanics should be unknown to the athletes. All they know is they must attack every training session, no matter what the tasks. All I know is I must coach every training session like a mad-man. No where in that mindset is there room for de-load.

 

Progression or Paralysis: My Experience With Putting Coaching Back Into Coaching

As a Strength and Conditioning Coach, there is something that you must realize very quickly. YOUR ATHLETES DO NOT CARE ABOUT STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING QUITE LIKE YOU DO!!! They do not think about training when they leave your facility, they have no clue why they warm-up with single instead of double leg hip bridges, they could care less about what a Cook squat is and will never recognize it on their card unless you remind them. You can spend a phase RDL to shrugging them all you want, but if you do not let them experience what it feels like to attack a bar, drop underneath it, and press it up, then your time will have been wasted. Why? Because athletes do not understand the concepts that we, as coaches, understand. I understand that A-Skips, B-Skips, M-Skips and Z-Skips can begin to instill the mechanistic concepts of sprinting. But why then, when my athlete goes to steal a base, does he look like the wacky, wavy, inflatable tube man?

I began my career trying to implement every trick I learned from my undergrad, grad, and internship experiences. Trust me, I have investigated the gambit of stars in this industry, and have nothing but respect for each of them. I learned that not every exercise, progression, and assessment need be applied to your team’s program. I found out very quickly that there are certain auxiliary exercises that are a valuable use of your athletes’ time, and others that are not. The reason is simple; many exercises that are utilized to correct movement patterns or form on a certain exercise are very coaching intensive. If you are utilizing your A2 and A3 exercises for mobilization work in between sets of front squat, with 40 athletes, then you will probably get the majority of athletes rushing through them.

We must understand that progressing most athletes can happen very quickly. I believe this for one reason: COACHING. I consistently tell my athletes prior to a training session that, on this particular day, we may not be able to attain perfection, but we will strive for it while performing every single rep. As a coach, I do not accept anything less. For instance, I believe that if we choose to squat, we will squat to depth. When I see an athlete miss his or her depth, it is addressed immediately and corrected. I will use my ability as a coach to evaluate if this is due to a limitation, faulty technique, laziness, or just a pure misunderstanding of the exercise. Most of the time this correction can take place in a matter of seconds. I do not need to take that athlete off the squat and KB goblet squat them for the next 4 weeks. I simply coached him or her and it lead to a near-perfect deep squat.

There are countless ways to progress athletes, taking them step by step through parts of the subsequent whole movement. But I’ll tell you this, when you finally say, “Alright, go ahead and perform the whole movement with weight on the bar”, more often than not that athlete will not perform how you thought. If you want your athletes to be good at something, have them do it over and over and over again. While they do it, you are there to coach and coach and coach some more. If you have 50 athletes in the room, you find a way to watch and coach every one of them.

Here are 5 things I myself have done a better job of after my first 2 years in the industry:

1. Map out your progressions prior to implementing them into your year plan

Performing this task may shed some light on what is needed and not needed. You hear it more and more now in S&C. Reduce your exercise library as much as you can (and in certain cases, your progression/corrective exercises). You know what the finish line looks like, now lets get there in the least amount of steps. Of course, this is determined by individual needs, but that deserves the attention of its own blog post to inevitably come later!!

 2. Decide what your expectations will be for each exercise

Exercises can be performed multiple ways. Right, wrong, or stupid, figure out what YOU want to get out of each exercise and how you believe it will be achieved. If you believe that a DB supported row should be performed with a solid base of support, flat back, retracted scap, and without a jerking motion, then make that decision.

 3. Situate exercises in a manner that allows you to give attention to all coaching intensive exercises

I utilize a lot of my time devoted to warm-up to perform many of my progression or corrective type exercises. Whether that is related to FMS scores, as a pre-cursor to have success in a subsequent movement, etc., it allows me to oversee the group as a whole, while also being able to control the tempo at which the exercises are performed. If combining several exercises together during the lifting portion of the training session, I will make sure not to combine 2 exercises that need my full attention.

 4. Coach every athlete like your hair is on fire!

Practical experience plays a role in how well this can be done. Put it this way, if you want to use olympic lifts, you should be able to get your freshmen to perform them pretty proficiently within 2 weeks. You already have your efficient, intelligent progression in place and the athlete knows what is expected. Now its time to hash out a few ugly reps, have that athlete feel out what is right and wrong (guided minimally by your progression and maximally by your coaching), point out the good and the bad, and end with a resounding “NOW YOU HAVE IT!!!”

 5. Accept nothing less than attempting perfection

ALWAYS be coaching and addressing right and wrong. When your athletes come back from Christmas break after leaving their winter program in their dorm rooms and they forget what a lateral lunge is, you will simply have to coach, coach, coach. There is an art to it. Know that there are times to take that athlete aside and use your knowledge to set them into the right position. Know that there are other times when that athlete looks terrible and the response needs to be “FIGURE IT OUT!!!!”.

Remember we are coaches, not magicians. All those great auxiliary exercises will not magically turn your athletes into the best at squat, med ball throw, pull-up, 5-10-5, clean, standing long jump, plank, or snatch. Progressions are there to be used when needed. After that, its all about the coaching.

6 Ways to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach in the Collegiate Sector

Strength and Conditioning in the Collegiate Sector is becoming increasingly more competitive each year. The reasons abound, as coaches in every sport now realize how important a reputable S&C coach can be to the success of their program. It is becoming standard for S&C coaches to be highly educated, have legitimate certifications, have hours of practical experience, and possess unique skill-sets in the fields of massage therapy, nutrition, and countless other modalities. I am lucky enough to, first and foremost, have a job, and secondly, have a job I absolutely love in the collegiate sector of strength and conditioning at the University of Southern California.

I am a rarity. I was not a collegiate athlete. I have not won, nor participated in a powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, strongman, or bodybuilding competition. I delved into the strength and conditioning world only after changing my major twice in college (pharmacy school could have brought in some serious doe, but I could not rationalize driving my BMW to CVS for work).

Once I got in, I got in….full force. I did everything right, because I had to. How could I be attractive to employers? Well, I will tell you exactly what I did to become just that.

1. Formally Educate Yourself

College is your chance to acquire the base of knowledge you will need going forward. Whether you major in exercise science, kinesiology, athletic training, or biomechanics, you must have a fundamentally sound scientific background to move forward in a positive direction. I have a B.S. in Exercise Science from the University of Connecticut and a M.S. in Strength and Conditioning from Springfield College. Although that has helped in gaining employment, I in no way believe this is the one and only path. I recommend you obtain an undergraduate degree in kinesiology, athletic training, sport biology, etc. Although exercise science may seem like the logical track, it can tend to be too broad in its subject matter. A good base of knowledge is indeed of great importance, but one must cater their educational experience towards the end goal of coaching athletes. Focusing on the sciences vs. spending credits in sport psychology, the art of coaching, and sport administration will be beneficial.

Your “coaching” classes come when you pursue graduate work by finding a top collegiate strength and conditioning program that accepts graduate assistants. The goal is to provide yourself with an environment that essentially allows you to be an extension of the Strength and Conditioning Staff. Springfield College provided me with a graduate assistantship that allowed me to control every aspect of strength and conditioning for the football, men’s basketball, and field hockey teams. That experience was the most valuable in regards to enhancing my coaching skill and developing my philosophy. Springfield College is not the only establishment that can provide this, although it is certainly a viable option!

2. Gain Practical Experience

Practical experience can come in many forms. More than anything else, these experiences will mold you into the coach you will inevitably be. I recommend you take some time and put serious thought when deciding what you end up getting involved with. I truly did not learn how to write and implement a program until I began getting experience outside the classroom in the collegiate strength and conditioning setting. I have had great and not so great practical experiences. Either way, you must choose what you get involved with based on the ACTUAL coaching opportunities allotted during the experience, whether or not you come out of it with a specialized skill, certification, or degree, and who then becomes a part of your network. I believe you should have at least 3 formal experiences prior to getting your first job in the collegiate setting. I believe 2 of those experiences should be in the collegiate setting itself. One at a higher level D1 program and another at a lower level, but both having coaches with extensive experience and network connections. The third experience should be in the private sector. Whether that be at a specialized performance training facility, physical therapy clinic, athletic training observation, etc., this experience will allow you to develop, or at least expose you to, a specialized skill not normally acquired in a collegiate S&C internship.

These experiences serve as your dress rehearsal for your subsequent job. Realize that you want to be a collegiate sector strength coach. Also realize that  this means you must address, command, and successfully run training sessions for upwards of 30, 50, even 100 athletes. Common sense tells us that if you have not been put in a situation that lends itself to you replicating this situation, then you are not ready to get paid by a University to train its athletes. If you find yourself reading this and have not yet learned how to use excel or have not ran a warm-up for a group of over 30 kids, then you need to get moving.

I was lucky enough to have been thrown in the fire during many of my experiences. You may be scared s!*#less, but it is the best and quickest way you will learn (and get respect).

3. Network, Network, Network

Everyone knows networking is important, but as I get further into my career, I realize how UNBELIEVABLY necessary it is. I will be honest, the importance of networking was part of my reasoning for starting this website. As a young buck in college, I sometimes looked around wondering how certain people were getting these great jobs. It was because they were salesman; they sought out people they had to know and made connections. Whether you are good or bad, if you know the right people, you will make gains.

My network has been established mainly from the educational institutions I attended and the internships I performed. I am extremely grateful to have been a part of the programs at UCONN and Springfield College, because of the extensive networks they have in the field of strength and conditioning. Passively networking based on your school affiliation is not enough though. You must be pro-active. Be comfortable calling or emailing every strength coach in the country (actually just call, people do not know how to speak on the phone anymore and its ridiculous…sadly, if you can speak on a phone it is almost a special skill these days). DO NOT ask if they have any internships and absolutely, positively DO NOT ask if they are offering paid GA positions or internships. Ask them their story, ask them how they did it, do not ask them for advice. People are always willing to talk about their own story, rather than try to give someone they do not know a life lesson. Once you have made a good contact, you can move on to expressing your goal of becoming a public sector S&C coach, and if they offer any internship opportunities or simply would allow a volunteer to come in and observe. Keep in mind that coaches may not, in reality, have the time for a random kid trying to get on the phone with them. If possible, go visit facilities or approach these coaches at conferences to establish the connection. Do not be that kid the staff talks about as the one that will not stop calling.

4. Acquire a Special Skill

Gaining employment in the collegiate setting means making yourself marketable. Being a collegiate athlete goes a long way when standing out, but even that has become increasingly commonplace or a non-factor when other things are considered. Acquiring a special skill or expertise in the realm of massage therapy, functional movement screen, kettlebell training, boxing, MMA, speed training, nutrition, etc. can be extremely valuable. I am not saying rush out and get yourself an RKC (you best believe I am NOT at the current $2,300 price tag), but be able to be that coach that others call on when they need advice in your area of expertise. If you can claim expertise in a certain modality that can be utilized by the strength and conditioning department, you may move to the top of the list of candidates.

5. Informally Educate Yourself

The passion I have for S&C was not always what it is today. It was not until I entered graduate school at Springfield College, did I realize the competition that was a part of the industry and how passionate these coaches could be. Prior to that, I would continually educate myself outside of formal schooling, but it was minimal at best. Being surrounded by young and hungry professionals, it quickly became commonplace for me to be immersed in some sort of reading material between classes or getting together with other students for a serious white-board session after coaching groups. Next to your practical experiences, this is the next best learning tool. The many friendly and not-so friendly debates you will inevitably have, will allow you to practice verbalizing your thoughts, philosophies and stances. If you are not reading everything, talking with everyone, and living the profession, then you will never be offered a seat at that table.

6. Be Ready to Provide Free Labor

Bottom line, you are going to have to do a lot of work for no compensation. Am I saying it is always fair or right? Yes and no. I have never been totally sold on the “I am going to treat you like s%$t until you pay your dues” notion. On the other hand, you must still know your place as an intern, work your ass off, know your stuff, and everything else will be taken care of. If you are good, people will notice. And NEVER quit an internship. If you have, put your planet fitness, 24 hour fitness, golds gym, curves, or equinox uniform back on, because coaches will find out.