8 Lessons Learned In The Field of Strength & Conditioning: A Coaching Reflection

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What was originally planned as a journal for myself, I decided to edit and share with the world. As the title suggests, the list below consists of lessons I have learned throughout the years in the field of strength & conditioning and coaching. Many of them were unexpected and hard to bounce back from. But all of them made me a better coach at the end of the day.

I am an introspective person and this reflects in my job as a coach. I’m a big believer that introspection is needed in the path to self-improvement. 2019 is my 6th year working as a professional trainer and coach. Safe to say, I am still very young with a lot more to learn. I’m positive that this list will grow as I mature. Anyways, I digress. Let’s dive into it.


#1 Specific periodization methods and programming knowledge will only take you so far.

You need effective communication and interpersonal coaching skills. Your ability to break down the complex into simple and understandable bits that athletes will learn and retain, is very important. This is not to say programming knowledge doesn't matter. To break down the complex, you must understand it. Exercise physiology, biomechanics, transfer of training, are all core components of building a good training program. What takes it to “great” - what takes it to the next level, is the coach’s ability to implement the plan to his/her athletes.

A particular book I recommend, that I’m sure many of you have already heard of, is Brett Bartholomew’s “Conscious Coaching”. Excellent read, and a great start to becoming more understanding of the processes behind navigating and influencing the people you work with.

 

#2 There is no such thing as injury prevention - only injury mitigation.

All athletes get injured, from the amateur rec-league level, to the highest levels of elite sports. The root cause of an injury can be hypothesized by a couple schools of thought: some believe it’s only a matter of inadequate recovery, others believe it’s purely biomechanics and that “perfect” textbook technique some how prevents injury.

Injury risk is composed of multiple interconnected variables – the interplay of adequate recovery in between training sessions, volume load management, psychological stress management, biomechanics, and sometimes just pure luck.

For a coach to say they can control ALL the possible variables and prevent an injury, is bullshitting you. The job of the S&C coach and physiotherapist is to MITIGATE injury risk. An analogy I like to use is martial arts sparring/striking sports – whenever you throw a punch or a kick, you are exposed. Being offensive while not getting hit is then, is a matter of controlling the variables where you can – timing your opponent, creating and breaking patterns, setting traps. Be the most offensive you can, while mitigating the risk of being hit yourself. This is what strength & conditioning is also about. Putting athletes in the best position to perform optimally, choosing the best exercises and training methods available, while reducing the chance of injury.

#3 Get used to walking the thin line all the time.

What exercises should I prescribe? How much variation is too much? Is this program too specific? Not specific enough? Should I be using more external and internal cues or should I let the athlete explore? How long should the taper be to ensure athletic abilities are peaked but the athlete isn’t too fatigued heading into competition? These are ultimately the questions a coach will have to deal with throughout their career.

The one thing I have seen drastic improvements in myself as a coach over the years, is the ability to make these hard decisions in stressful circumstances, and be confident with my choice. Improving athletic performance is hardly a linear path. One must know when to back off, and when to step on the gas pedal. Knowing what to do comes from a unique mixture of intuition and textbook-knowledge.

It is also okay to make the wrong decision, it is inevitable. Just let that guide your decision-making in the future.

#4 – Contentment will be the death of you.

The day you’re satisfied with where your knowledge at; the day you’re satisfied with the results your clients are getting, is the day you should retire. If you’re serious about being the best trainer and coach you can be, you require on-going self improvement. This doesn’t always mean trying to learn new training protocols, or racking up on certifications. This means using the puzzle pieces/skill set you already possess and rearranging them in a different way to solve an existing problem in a different perspective.

This can also mean improving your interpersonal skills, learning how to connect with your athletes, learning how to create buy-in so that your training program can be that much more effective.

 

#5 – Watch your athletes play their respective sports.

Take it a step further, play their respective sport yourself. It is sad seeing a coach that is fully disconnected with their athletes’ sport because I believe there are more dynamics at play than just “strength” and “conditioning”. In order to excel and become an elite coach, I believe one needs to go beyond a textbook needs-analysis. I understand this may be challenging for coaches who don’t “Specialize” and coach athletes from various sporting backgrounds. But to be the best, and to diversify your skillset, step up to the challenge. Understanding the meta of the game/sport, and the culture of the players, will undoubtedly improve your role as a coach.

 

#6 – The definition of “Elite” trainer/coach isn’t what I thought they used to be.

An elite coach is not always defined by the athletes they produce, but the quality of service and commitment they put into their athletes. Of course there is a knowledge and skill gap difference between a coach who produces great athletes, and a coach that doesn’t. But the type of high quality coaching I am referring to are the trainers and coaches give their 100% each and every day to connect with their athletes on a personal level. The ones developing kids and high-school athletes in silence. The ones that get forgotten by the public because they don’t work with a professional team or athlete. The ones that don’t get nearly as much attention because they don’t have controversial things to say on social media.

High level coaching comes in many various forms and the idea of success looks different to different people.

#7 – Treat your own development as a coach similar to a development of an athlete.

Widen the base before trying to specialize. Study nutrition, learn about the principles of physiotherapy, brush up on sport psychology concepts. Like I touched on earlier, there are more dynamics at play than just strength & conditioning. Human performance is an interdisciplinary matter. While nutrition and psychology may be outside the scope of practice, it is absolutely beneficial to be well-read in those topics.

Similar to many young aspiring strength & conditioning coaches, I started off wanting to train athletes and no one else other than athletes. I was not happy stuck training the general population, a population I saw as hard to teach and unmotivated to learn. I quickly retracted this negative, toxic mindset when I realized the learning experiences I received from working with so-called “non-athletes”.

Do the things you don’t want to do, to reap in the benefits you did not know existed.

#8 - Business and career development/planning is essential,

And I wish someone told me sooner. I am speaking with the private training sector in mind since it is the field where I have the most experience in. Passion for the science of training and coaching is a must, but in most cases, is not enough to take you to where you want to be. Become financially literate, marketing-savvy and building a strong network re skills that must be prioritized. The more I communicate with more experienced, veteran coaches, the more I realize the importance. This is something I am continually improving on along side my coaching ability. Definitely a work in progress.

Your own self reflection

Now is a good time to reflect on your own training and coaching journey. What lessons have you learned this past year? What are the biggest improvements you have made since beginning your career as a coach and trainer? What would you tell yourself if you could travel back in time 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?