“…true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is to rule a ship.” (The Republic 6.488e).
It is absurd to believe that almost 2,400 years ago Plato would describe how I should go about my role as strength and conditioning coach. In his sixth book of The Republic1, Plato regards the “philosopher king” as the ideal form of government leadership; a concept that I now apply to coaching men. Upon entering professional baseball as a young strength and conditioning coach five years ago I was frequently told to “stay in my box.” Meaning, to solely concern myself with strength and conditioning and not matters that apply to other facets of the player’s day. As I have continued to grow within the profession, I have learned that this is exactly the opposite of what I want to do.
I believe that it is of utmost importance that we give as much effort as possible towards understanding a player’s day backwards and forwards. It is necessary to know how an athlete is doing both on and off the field because each will affect the individual as well as the athlete within. If we are to help these young men increase strength, speed, agility, or any other physical feature that contributes to their optimal athletic performance, then we also need to understand what affects them. We, as coaches, owe it to our players to try and optimize every opportunity possible to help them achieve their goals both in the short and long term. Such will include what affects them in a negative manner and what affects them in a positive manner (otherwise referred to as what ‘drives’ them). Some examples may be their current game statistics, frequency of playing time, nutrition, sleep schedule, and yes, their personal lives. The better we get to know, spend time, and truly invest ourselves into each individual player, the more comfortable they will be with being open to us. Without the players we are just people with stop watches and letters at the ends of our names. These players’ very presence provides an outlet for our passion.
You may notice that, while I am proposing the idea of a ‘philosopher COACH’, I have said little about the nuts and bolts of strength and conditioning. This is because I believe that we are coaches first and strength and conditioning professionals second. At minimum, we all have a degree and CSCS certification. Those two qualifications do not make us good or even adequate coaches. A mentor once told me that a program was only as good as the adherence to it. That advice seems to become bolder in my memory as the years pass. Anyone can hand a player a program and watch that player go through the motions. Not every coach, however, can elicit a full commitment from the athlete to each exercise in mind, body, and soul. I would imagine we are all striving for the latter. This does not and, hopefully, will never come to us just because we hold the title of Strength and Conditioning Coach.
Finally, in the fifth book of his masterful work, Plato makes a declaration that I view as holding significant relevance to the current state of our field; “…either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately.” (The Republic 5.473d). Thus, adhering to the origin of the word “philosopher” from the Greek philosophia, which means “love of knowledge;” it is crucial that we be diligent and invested enough to never be satisfied with our knowledge and abilities as coaches. We should always be attempting to quench the insatiable thirst for growth not only within the realms of physiology and related fields but also within the realms of our organization and those players and coaches who comprise it.
- Plato, The Republic. http://www.idph.net/conteudos/ebooks/republic.pdf
Morgan Gregory, MS, RSCC, PES, USAW, is the Assistant Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Cincinnati Reds.