The purpose of this article is to discuss six important traits strength coaches must continually develop in order to be a successful professional in a high school, colligate, or professional setting.
Build Relationships. As cliché as it may sound, relationships are the foundation to any partnership, especially in the fitness industry. Whether we, as professionals, previously know the clientele or not, the groundwork of relationship building must be put into place. In doing so, an extensive and in-depth conversation with the athlete or client should occur to discuss their fitness needs, and develop a sense of community with one another. This ground work is necessary so we can earn their trust.
Far too many times, I’ve seen Strength Coaches or Personal Trainers sit back with their heads buried into their phone or staring off into space as the clientele is exercising. We must remember that talking is greater than texting and that our personal and physical investment into our client is paramount when he or she is with us. We must continuously sell ourselves to the client and instill in their mind and body that we are fully vested into them. If we are not invested in them, then why should they be invested in our programming? Once we build a solid relationship, the physical results and mental benefits from training will be unstoppable.
Tip: Contacting your athletes or clients outside of their normal workout time will help keep their mind alert and promote positive lifestyle habits. It will also let them know that you are focused and concerned about their success, which will increase their efforts during training.
Instill Confidence. Before we attempt to instill confidence into our clients, we as professionals need to have an honest conversation about our own self-efficacy. If we doubt our knowledge, traits, and skills, then we are doing a disservice to our clientele. Believing and trusting in our own strength and conditioning skill is just as important for us as it is for our clients. We must exude confidence in our methods daily and believe in our programming.
As strength and conditioning coaches, we hold a position of power, influence and have a tremendous amount of involvement when physically and mentally training our athletes. Fortitude and directness exhibited by strength coaches and trainers will help athletes mature into improved versions of themselves. However, we must channel that fortitude and directness to create confidence and increase their self-efficacy.
Being stern without belittling, instilling responsibility for behaviors, and rewarding actions based on merit and not participation or entitlement alone will enrich the natural confidence that lies inside our athletes. In doing so, a winning atmosphere will be created during training sessions and carry over into their daily lives.
Tip: Harp on the “little victories” – Work ethic, mental state, program compliance, and physical success of our clients will change often. Focus on the activities done correctly and address the activities done incorrectly with critiques that they can apply. Knowledge is power. This will help instill empowerment instead of helplessness.
Be Accessible. Physical presence is overrated when molding the minds of athletes and clients. Any Joe or Jill can fill space, use oxygen, and offer poor assistance. However, being accessible goes beyond proximity. Being accessible encompasses our physical whereabouts and ties our mental investment into our athletes and clients. Every day we must have a game plan, a map, and a guide to the path that we are taking. Will situations change? Yes. Will we have all the answers? No. Nevertheless, we must be ready with or without notice to improve our athlete’s physical skill and knowledge. This is a journey that must be taken in unison. If not, failure is on the other end of the threshold. The more accessible we are, the more reliable we become. The more reliable we become, the more influence we possess. The more influence we possess, the more we see our athletes increase performance. It’s a win win!
Tip: Punctuality: Be early to workout appointments to ensure the plan of the day is implemented without issue. Ask the clients appropriate questions and make sure they understand what you are trying to convey. Always assume they know nothing! This will buy you more time to speak with them about how they are feeling and if any modifications need to be made for that day or for certain movements.
Be Preemptive. As fitness professionals, we try to mitigate any and all hazards when it comes to athlete and client safety. In addition, having secondary plans for our workouts or secondary workout locations due to inclement weather both fall under the same umbrella –pre-emptiveness. Being preemptive is a fundamental trait as strength and conditioning coach because variables that influence our training sessions are constantly changing. One day the athlete may be extremely sore and not wish to weight train or feel sick and will miss a workout session. Having secondary plans guarantee that your athlete will complete a successful workout. In doing so, it builds your credibility as a strength and conditioning coach, as well as keeps your athlete on pace with their outside competitors.
The athlete or client will suffer an immeasurable disservice if we refuse to alter plans and/or lose sight of the main training goal. Doing so requires an immense amount of extra work from us, but those extra steps toward preparation and preemption ensure the success of our program and keeping our athletes and clients on track. As we take more steps to be preemptive, we effectively train ourselves to act faster, smarter and with more reliability when situations arise.
Tip: Think ahead, be diligent and ask questions. Speak to other fitness professionals about their daily methods used to train clients and see what obstacles they have faced. The more you know the more information you have to make decisions on workouts and training progressions. Preparedness and preemption = Success
Be Zealous. In college football for example, the strength and conditioning coach is arguably the heartbeat, the pulse, the driving force, the attitude, and the swagger of a team. In other instances the strength and conditioning coach embodies qualities such as passion, honesty, determination, and zeal. When an individual or coach works on these qualities on a daily basis, they are in route to become a leader!
These qualities are impossible to develop by being passive and subdued. They are cultivated over time in the classroom, in the gym, and from spending time with mentors in the industry while training to be a strength and conditioning coach.
Leadership, being a pillar of the industry, is cultivated in several ways, but none more important than zeal. As defined, zeal is a quality an individual possesses who exudes a great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective. Our cause is our team, our athletes and our training program. We must invest into ourselves, constantly learning, updating our program, and paying attention to our players to gain a return from them. Enthusiasm becomes contagious and it spreads like fire! When we take the time to work on these qualities our athletes buy in and they are successful.
From childhood, our athletes are told that they can always control two variables: Their mindset and their actions. As coaches we must do the same and hold ourselves to the same standards. Coaches can only “fake it till they make it” for so long before they weed themselves out and become replaced by coaches willing to exhaust their efforts into the team. When we work tirelessly on our craft and cultivate the environment around us, we can have a never-ending positive effect on our program, our athletes, and everyone involved.
Tip: Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself these questions: “Am I doing what I love? Am I here for the right reasons? Am I working as hard and as diligently as I can? Am I putting the athlete’s needs before my own personal needs?”
Express Empathy. Occasionally the environment cultivated in a clubhouse, locker room, or gym can be daunting and uninviting. When athletes perform poorly or become faced with challenges, they may seek to express their feelings about those challenges. Those athletes will seek and look to receive advice from an individual to whom they can trust- including strength and conditioning coaches. In large part, we are working in a social environment, with different personalities, background, creeds, and tempers, all of which affect each other. We are an influential entity of the team with an immense amount of exposure to our athletes during a season. This exposure makes our influence extremely significant and provides an opportunity to gain their trust in a substantial manner, more so than time spent with them in the gym.
To capitalize on the time spent together, we must be empathic- not sympathetic- to our athletes’ feelings, needs, and interests. We must not coddle them and portray a false sense of reality when they are faced with adversity, however having empathy and compassion while relating our own experiences of failure and perseverance can empower them to exceed their previous limitations. When our athletes are challenged with tough decisions during their career, experience devastating losses, or physical injuries, we can help empower them to move forward and rise above the obstacles that lay ahead. A great American leader and President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “They’ll never really care how much you know, until they know how much you care”.
Tip: Truly listen to your athletes and clients. Invest your mind into their lives and soak up their story. Keep mental notes on their background and life. This helps build rapport and a greater sense of community. The more you know and understand your clientele, the more relatable and trustworthy you can be when they are faced with challenges.
Robert Reichert Jr., RSCC, Jacksonville Suns, Southern League, Miami Marlins