Love your athletes
The first and the most important rule to follow is to love your athletes. Often, the players will push you, test you and hate you for asking them to do difficult things. One needs to be in the zone of compassion. You need to make the athlete understand that you are pushing them hard because you believe in them and you want what’s best for them.
When designing a drill or programme, safety should always be taken into consideration. Executing a specific movement pattern may be effective, but it may not be safe in a specific range or load of angle or not pertinent to a specific skill. Both the strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches and the players should not be afraid to ask questions on safety and prevention of injuries. Trust is the key here. Neglecting simple things like loading a collar on to the barbell during the lifting can cause serious injuries. Reviewing all the safety features before entering the weight room is important.
Keep it professional
As a strength coach, you need to know the goals and objectives of the players and their head coach. You need to know their philosophy and intentions while supporting their goals and objectives. We all know that as strength coaches we spend a lot of time with a team and our influence can make a huge difference in the success or failure of the team. If you expect total support from your head coach then you need to show total support for his or her vision.
Because we spend so much time with a team, the character of the team has a direct correlation to the character of the strength coach. You might have some really cool exercises and drills but if you are partial to a player or cutting corners, it’s going to reflect on the team. The players are always watching you. They are heavily influenced by their strength coach in their growing up years. Mentoring a leader is different from being partial to the leader. Mentoring should make the team strong. Team shortcomings need to be analysed and the players, head coach and support staff should be made aware of them.
Avoid washing dirty linen in public. Team building is not about individual excellence, but embracing all facets with the same philosophy of work and goal to meet challenges that lead to victory.
Winning is a by-product of hardwork
The goal shouldn’t be just winning. Yes, winning is great and we should strive to win but what if you have a team that is so talented that winning is easy. If they were pushed to achieve their potential then they would not only win but dominate. We have to keep our hands on the pulse of the team and correct problems before they become a problem. Yes, it may be tough and emotionally draining to not be recognised for the efforts you put in, but you know what you have given to the programme and the players know what you 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!
Laying the foundation for success
It’s often understood that being the strength coach is the last resort in the hierarchy of education and qualification in India. You watch the physical development and growth of the athletes in all aspects of their lives from the day they arrive to the day they call it quits. All 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. Players should know that you are proud to be a part of the group even when you are off the training zone.
You are a strength coach, not a game coach
One of the modern day challenges for S&C coaches is that many skill-based coaches and head coaches have lifted weights and are involved in an active fitness domain. More and more past players are becoming S&C coaches. The difficult and challenging situation is for the strength coach to convince and sell the programme to the coach and the players. It would be easy if the head coach and the lead player support you in this programme. There is always some level of insecurity among fellow coaches that S&C may overshadow them. So the duty of the S&C coach is to dispel the myth and work towards the betterment of the team rather than for individual glory.
As a strength coach, try not to compete with your athletes. Even if you can out-lift the athlete, you should never exhibit your strength in front of them. Players often try to challenge you on your ability to lift or run for fun, but avoid the urge to prove your skills. Your focus should be on player development and not self-flattery. Having said that, players may sometimes ask you to assist them or join them in their regime out of sheer boredom or to increase the motivation during a session. There is no harm in joining them at that point and make the workout enjoyable. Team camaraderie can be built through teamwork. The final goal of the strength coach is to keep the motivation level up and get the desired results through a professional approach.
Be a salesman, but don’t oversell
The thumb rule is to never get complacent with your job or think that everyone is buying into your programme. The reality is you are going to have to sell your programme daily to your athletes and coaches. Explain the benefits and the purpose clearly and then expect their commitment to be successful. Never hype about one workout and its benefits alone. Soon, the players will get bored and one may not see any benefit at all.
Many players and coaches try to emulate what other players are doing in their fitness routine without analysing if it will benefit them or not. Programme promotion should not be confused with self-promotion. The main objective of programme promotion is to benefit the players and help them reach their goal. An open mind to learn and educate everyone you come in contact with will help you in becoming a successful S&C coach.
Take care of your career too
It’s a great feeling if we do a great job and the association/organisation takes care of us, but that’s not always the case. I have seen way too many strength coaches getting neglected despite giving their all for a particular team or organisation. It is a good idea to have back-up options without depending too much on a particular organisation to take care of your career goals. Accolades don’t always translate into contracts or longevity in the field. We have to be mindful and not fall prey to empty praises. Protect yourself and your family by taking charge of your career no matter how secure you might think you are.
Find time to keep yourself fit
I often hear a number of strength coaches say they just don’t have the time to train. It is important to demonstrate an exercise correctly to an athlete. One may really be pushed for time when training the team and may not be able to do full-fledged workouts, but finding 2-3 minutes of time in the middle just to do some simple exercises like 10-15 push ups or squats or lunges through the day will be immensely beneficial. It is a great way to get in a lot of work while still giving athletes the attention they deserve. Staying in shape, finding a way to get the workouts done, and being able to relate to the team on what it feels like to grind will take you a long way in the coaching world.