Written By: Bill Gillespie
1 - You must love your athletes, family, and your god with all of your heart.
There are going to be plenty of times when your athletes are going to test you, push you and you will need to “out love them”. Even when you don’t feel like loving them. Many athletes have never experienced unconditional love, especially when you are asking them to do something that is very difficult. There is the misunderstanding that you don’t love them because you are pushing them hard but that is not the case. You are pushing them hard because you believe in them and you want what’s best for them.
The long hours and the emotional stress comes with being a great strength coach. You may think that you don’t have much time and energy for the people that mean the most to you but you must prioritize your time and energy and invest in your family. I’ve often been told when it comes to time spent with your family, that it’s quality over quantity. I heard a speaker say that if you were starving and you had a choice between one bite of the best steak in the world or two pounds of ground beef, you would pick the two pounds of ground beef! Our families are starving for our attention and we have to find the time to invest in our wives and children to give them the time that they need and deserve. You’re not going to receive any rings, special honors, or recognition for the time you invested in your family. In the long run you are going to really be glad for the time that was well spent with your family.
Growing in our faith is the cornerstone to our growth as leaders. Knowing who we are in our relationship to the universe is important. Knowing that the world does not rotate around us or our athletic program is something we must not forget. Pride comes before the fall and serves as a daily reminder that we serve something bigger than ourselves. This is a great reminder of how small we are and how big our God is.
2- Safety First!
I heard a speaker say that you must put safety first and then the productivity of your organization will have its greatest growth. I thought this over for a while and thought about how to apply this to strength and conditioning. Then, I thought about the drills and workouts that would ask my athletes to do. They had never seen it before and their first question was, is this safe? Is he crazy for asking me to do this? I wanted my athletes to know that they could trust me and that their safety was of up most importance to me. When I asked to do something “Crazy” they knew that I had their best interest in mind and I wasn’t about to risk them getting injured. Daily, I would make a big deal about safety. I stopped them if they didn’t have collars on the bar. I made a big deal if they didn’t have a spotter and I was always watching to be sure that they loaded the bar correctly. As we would begin a new exercise I would review all the safety issues and after a while I earned their trust because we were so focused on safety. Because of this we saw fewer injuries in the weight room.
3- You are the Head Coach when the head coach isn’t around
As the strength coach you need to know what the goals and objectives of the head coach are. You need to know his philosophy, and intention while supporting his goals and objectives. You must support him and his plans and not yours! It’s not your football team and the school is paying him a lot of money to develop a football team. It's our job to know what is important to him and what he needs to accomplish in the strength & conditioning program. We all know that as strength coaches we are going to spend more time with the team and our influence can make a huge difference in the success or failure of the team. If you expect 100% support from your head coach then you need to show him 100% of your support.
4- You are a character coach and a team builder
Because we spent so much time with the team, the character of the football team is a direct correlation to the character of the strength coach. You might have some really cool exercises and drills but if you are soft, cutting corners, and not very competitive it’s going to reflect on the team. The athletes are going to watch you and see your character. Because of your character, they are going to be able to grow into the athletes they should be and hopefully the adults they need to be.
You will need to recognize who the leaders of the team are and you are going to help them develop their abilities as leaders. You will need to take them aside and be a mentor to them. You will have to educate them on the leadership role the coaches and team need them to be.
You are going to need to know the short comings of the team and help strengthen the team by educating the team to be stronger in the areas that need developing. I would prefer to deal with our dirty laundry behind closed doors in the weight room than waiting to deal with it on game day in front of thousands and losing a game over something that should have been taken care of during the off season.
Hopefully you are able to develop the character of your underclassmen and by the time they are upperclassmen they should be ready to lead. It’s important to teach the underclassmen to respect the upperclassmen and the best example of this is in the NFL. The older players know exactly who has more years in the league and they are given more respect because of it. The NFL players have learned that for a team to have chance to be successful, the leadership of the older players is vital.
5- Winning is a by-product of hard work
Our goal shouldn’t be just winning. Yes, winning is great and yes, we should strive to win but what if you have a team that is so talented that winning is easy? You are holding them back by only pushing them to win! If they were pushed to achieve their potential then they would not only win but dominate! I have coached on several levels and many times we didn’t have the talent to have a winning season. In my 30 plus years of coaching, as a strength coach and some of them as an assistant, I only had to endure one losing season. There were many years that I had to sit down with my staff and tell them that this was going to have to be our finest year of coaching. That we were going to have to work harder than ever before and be as detailed as we could possibly be. We were going to have to keep our hands on the pulse of the team and correct problems before they became a problem. Yes, it was tough and emotionally draining and of course, it was never recognized. But we knew what we had given to the program and the players knew what we did for them. I have learned in my many years of coaching that if you can find as many details that lead to success and cover them as thoroughly as you can, winning isn’t just a by-product, it’s a foregone conclusion!
6- Support your program and coaches
It’s often said that strength coaches are coaches that couldn’t make it as position coaches. I considered being a strength coach from day 1 to be the highest calling that I could receive. I had no desire what so ever to ever be a football coach. I knew that my biggest influence was going to be a strength coach. I loved to watch the physical development and growth of the athletes in all aspects of their lives from the day they arrived to the day they finished. All of the coaches play a role in the success of the team but because we spend so much time with the team, strength coaches lay the foundation for the success of the team.
Don’t be wearing other college gear when you’re coaching at any level in college. Support your school and program. Let your athlete see that you are proud to be a part of the program even when you are off campus. They want to be proud of their team and by seeing that you are proud of the program you can help that school pride grow.
7- You are the Strength Coach. Not the football coach.
One of the greatest head football coaches that I have ever worked with told my strength staff that one of the biggest battles that we were going to face was that every football coach had lifted weights in college. They believed that they knew what they were doing in the weight room. So now, not only do you have to sell your program to the athletes but you have to sell your program to the position coaches. If your head coach supports you then your job will be a lot easier but if he doesn’t then it’s up to you to sell your program to the position coaches.
Show your fellow coaches that you are not competing with them to see who is the better coach. Explain to them that you support them and if they support you then it’s going to make your job easier to develop their athletes which in turn makes them look good.
With a new staff and the first game of the year I would stress to the coaches that if they ever heard anything negative on the sidelines from my staff, that I wanted to know about it. I would tell them that while most of my staff had played football in college, that it didn’t give them the right to undermine the play calling, player substitutions, or anything else that went on the field. We weren’t aware of the depth of reasons of why that decision was made.
Because you are the strength coach you don’t need to be competing with your athletes. I have been able to out lift every athlete that I have coached but I would never demonstrate that in front of them. I would never mention anything about my training to them. Many times, I had athletes that wanted to challenge me and I would simply say, “Do you want me to focus on helping you to get ready or would you like for me to focus on myself to compete with you?” As the strength coach you are never going to step on the field and your focus should be on the athletes. Now saying all that, during the school breaks, many of the athletes would ask if they could come watch me lift or join me for a workout and I would encourage them to come spend some time with me and learn how I train. It usually helped them to see the attention to detail and the intensity that I brought to my workouts. After spending time with me I would see them raise their level of intensity and attention to detail. When the team was working out, I have always been a big believer that the team alone should be working together to develop a winning culture.
8- You are a salesman and energy coach
You should never get comfortable with your job or think that everyone is buying into your program. You are going to have to sell your program daily to your athletes. They are going to be on the internet looking at what everyone else is doing. We know that many things that we find on the internet can great exercises and drills but the opposite is also true and many times our athletes don’t know the difference.
You are going to have to sell the team daily on the workout. You are going to have to create an urgency and purpose to why this is so important and help them understand that this workout isn’t just another workout. That today’s workout has a special purpose and it’s going to take their fill commitment and effort to be successful. You don’t have to be a “rah rah” coach because that is very swallow and after a short time the athletes will grow tired of the false hype. The purpose of why you are doing the workout has to be real and first and foremost, you have to believe in the workout. After all, you are asking your athletes to work with everything that they have and if they follow the program exactly as you wrote it, they will be rewarded with the progress that they are seeking. There can never be a workout that isn’t important.
You will need to sell your program to the coaches and administrators. It’s not about self-promotion but it’s a program promotion. Explaining why and what you are doing is going to help everyone buy into your program. It could help in the future with job security and career promotions. Educate everyone you come in contact with.
9- You are in charge of your career
It would be wonderful if we did a great job and the schools/programs took care of us but that’s not always true. In fact, in most cases the opposite is true. I have seen over the years, way too many great strength coaches who had given up their lives to help a program to be successful and the program drop them without much to show for their hard work. Many times we were told that it’s just business but honestly that was the first time that phase was used in our work career. My friend, the great strength coach, Joey Batson of Clemson U. Football, told me that we must protect ourselves. He suggested getting an LLC and developing some businesses on the side just in case you would have something to fall back on. We all are told how great we are and how lucky the program is to have us. We start to believe that we are the king of all strength coaches. Please don’t fall for the trap. Protect yourself and your family and take charge of your career, no matter how secure you might think that you are.
10- Find time to train yourself
I have a really hard time when I hear a strength coach say that they just don’t have the time to train. How are you going to look into the eyes of your athletes when they tell you that they just don’t have the time to train and you tell them that they are just going to have to find the time. You not be able to do everything that you want to do but you must find a way to do something. My mentor, Dave Williams, introduced me to training when you are coaching. He suggested every 30 minutes to do a set of pull-ups or push-ups. As the day went on, we would get 15 to 20 or more sets of pull-ups or push-ups and it only took a minute to do a set. It was a great way to get in a lot of work and we never stopped giving our athletes the attention they deserved. Staying in shape, finding a way to get the workouts done, and being able to relate to the team of what it feels like to grind will take you a long ways in the coaching world.