The development of a strength and conditioning professional goes far beyond just possessing the knowledge needed to utilize the principles and theories of training in the design and implementation of effective training programs. Proficient and efficient programming requires coaching. In each strength coach’s background, there are coaches who have had a positive influence on his/her development. Because of these influences, we can’t help but look back and appreciate the fact that we are a sum of what each of these individuals has added to our life. Education as well as transformational coaching and teaching require an investment from both the mentor and the student. In the strength and conditioning profession, the ability to learn, re-invent and re-invest impacts our personal development as well as the development of our athletes and peers.
In my career progression, I have had numerous mentors who have provided not only continuing education in the field, but also underlying concepts and principles of transformational coaching that reach far beyond the x’s and o’s of program development and execution. What traits does a successful strength and conditioning coach need to exemplify for their athletes? The following outlines my beliefs and provides important takeaways from each of my mentors. I will also discuss what each lesson has meant to my development as strength and conditioning professional and my pursuit of transformational coaching.
Trait #1: Challenger. If we are completely honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that there have been many moments of weakness, failure, disappointment, etc. during our professional development. These moments were often accompanied by some variation of a pity party and a general feeling of apathy. Knowing what we know now, it was not without these moments that we were presented with the opportunity to grow and mature by the way we reacted and adapted. During my undergraduate experience at the University of Southern Maine, my first mentor, Victor Liberi, served as the metaphorical slap in the face during my moments of weakness which came in the form of laziness, procrastination and the resulting athletic performance inadequacies. Coach Liberi challenged me. He taught me that my biggest ability in making a change is to be an advocate for myself. The lesson was clear, but the method used was one of pure and long term investment. He dug into my life and showed me that tough love is still love and that being proactive is better than being reactive. These lessons not only helped me develop as a collegiate athlete, they also played an important role in laying the ground work of my professional development.
Trait #2: Influencer. The importance of being able to influence someone and ultimately affect their thoughts, beliefs and actions cannot be understated. As leadership expert, John C. Maxwelll said, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. How do you gain influence from people? You invest in them. How do you invest in them? It starts with giving them time.”
After earning a bachelor’s program, I did what many do to jump start their career; I interned. Interning is one of the most humbling experiences one can have, but it does not come without great opportunity. My first internship experience was with Mike Boyle at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in North Andover, MA. Coach Boyle has a reputation for being a calculated, progressive and thought provoking leader of both his peers and athletes. I had the undeserved opportunity of working directly under him with his elite professional and college off-season groups. The initial awkwardness that I felt due to my timidity and lack of confidence immediately came into question with Coach Boyle. He demanded investment. This investment came initially in the form of carrying around a notepad to write down everything we did and formulate any questions that I had about the day’s training session. If I came to him with an empty notepad and a blank stare at the end of the day, he assumed that that I thought that I knew everything already, or was not present in each moment. He was ready to share his knowledge and passion for the field, all I had to do was ask. His openness and willingness to share had a significant impact on me. He was present, paying it forward and he doing it in such a way to teach me what it means to be an influencer of others.
My time with Coach Boyle culminated with me receiving an offer of a Graduate Assistantship at Baylor University, but without my time with him I would not have been prepared for future success, not only in how I coach athletes, but also in how I design programs. He taught me a mindset of growth instead of fixed. A growth mindset revolves around seeking understanding, demonstrating poise in adverse situations and looking to others with more knowledge to help you learn and grow. Those with a fixed mindset don’t ask questions. They tend to go with the flow and compare themselves to others with less knowledge than they possess in order to feel better about their limited understanding, experience and professionalism.
Some of the other important takeaways from my time with Coach Boyle include:
- If you stop learning, you stop growing (Importance of continuing education)
- Do not try to fit square pegs into round holes (Athlete individualization)
- Stop adding without subtracting (CNS implications of training)
- Being progressive doesn’t come without resistance (Nothing worth having comes easy)
Trait #3: Teacher-Facilitator. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. This quote, from Roman philosopher Seneca reminds us that we make our own luck. I had worked extremely hard for everything I had ever been given, but I was still feeling extremely blessed. Dr. Mike Greenwood, in his role as teacher and facilitator not only showed me that luck isn’t just about being at the right place at the right time, but also about being open to and ready for new opportunities as they arise.
As I progressed from collegiate athlete and college student to an aspiring strength coach, the path was not always brightly lit. Opportunities often came in the form of doors closing instead of doors opening; however it was not without the effort of seeking these opportunities. I knew that if I was going to be able to continue my education and take the next step in advancing my professional career as strength and conditioning coach, I was going to have to be open to change. Little did I know that the next phase of my life was going to be acted out purely on faith and caffeine?
As I made initial contacts with many big schools across the US regarding opportunities for graduate school, Baylor University stood out for many reasons: 1) it had a Master’s program with an emphasis in strength and conditioning; 2) it provided numerous opportunities for involvement in team training; and 3) it was in Texas. I had never been to Texas, but I figured that anywhere that embraced George Strait and barbeque had to be a good place.
I was offered a graduate assistantship as an instructor in the Department of Health, Human, Performance and Recreation under the direction of Dr. Mike Greenwood. The GA position enabled me to pursue a graduate degree at little to no cost, and volunteer to work with several athletic teams in the Baylor Athletic Performance Program. I spent the early mornings (5:00 – 8:00 am) in the weight room, mid mornings (9:00 am – noon) teaching classes, afternoons (1:00 – 5:00 pm) in the weight room and evenings (6:00 -9:00 pm) in graduate school classes. As mentioned earlier, I was under extreme influence of caffeine. This experience was exactly what I wanted and I felt lucky to have been given the opportunity. Dr. Greenwood taught me many things. The following are examples of many things that that he shared and have been implementation in my own program:
- Be available (answer emails with lightning speed and always be willing to lend an ear)
- Advancement requires opportunity (give others the opportunity to grow)
- The profession of strength and conditioning coaching is very practical in nature, but very academic in origin (lay the groundwork in academics to seek understanding)
Trait #4: Role Model and Mentor. Coach Charlie Melton, Director of Athletic Performance for the Baylor University men’s basketball team has played one of the most vital roles in my development as strength and conditioning coach. Like many before me, I started out stocking the fridge and mopping the platforms, but this was the big leagues for me and provided the opportunity to continue adding fuel to my fire.
Coach Melton taught me that investing in others should be looked upon as an opportunity, not as work. He displayed his passion and purpose as a strength coach through his actions and his character. His passion, desire and dedication are the groundwork upon which he builds a program for his athletes leading to results and ultimately success. His formula for program development has more to do with his ability as a coach to display love and leadership for his athletes by focusing on complete development as opposed to just physical development.
Trait #5: Servant Leader. My first full-time strength and conditioning job was as an Assistant Strength and Speed Coach for Florida State University. The man that hired me at Florida State, Coach Jon Jost, had been at Florida State for 10 years, first as the Head Football Strength Coach under Bobby Bowden, then as the Director of Olympic Strength and Conditioning.
Coach Jost told me that the ability of a coach to transform his/her relationship with an athlete or peer from one of leader and follower to one of leader and leader is all based around the empowering of others. His role as a servant leader in my life and those of other’s was based around the belief that, “my success comes from your success”. He was adamant about building and maintaining meaningful relationships with his peers and athletes in order to show them what it means to be a leader. As John Maxwell said, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision”. This is especially true in the coaching profession. Coach Jost was my boss at FSU for four years, but not one time did I see him as a boss. He brought himself down to meet me where I was in my development to empower me and play a role of a peer supporter and an active investor in our relationship.
Trait # 6: Model of Consistency. Jim Rohn, a man many consider to be America’s Foremost Business Philosopher, said “Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.” His concepts of success were shared with me by 71-year old Mike Martin, Head Baseball Coach at FSU for 38 years and the third winningest coach in D1 baseball history. I had the good fortune to serve as the strength and conditioning coach for his team for four seasons. Coach Martin taught me that success isn’t just measured by your ability to win games and championships; it is also measured by your long term impact on the athlete’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development. History has shown that Coach Martin is not only a winning coach; he is also a transformational leader.
As coaches, we were all influenced by our mentors, some more than others. Regardless of whether our mentorship experiences were good, bad or indifferent, we should all be grateful for those who helped us and look forward to playing it forward to those with whom we work, coach and mentor.
Adam Ross, MSEd, RSCC is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Athletics at Dallas Baptist University in Dallas, TX. He was minor league strength and conditioning intern for the Houston Astros in 2010 and Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at Florida State University from 2011 to 2014.