This next addition of, “Want To Be A Strength Coach?” is about remembering to be yourself. This may seem like something fairly easy, but in the realm of strength and conditioning when things always seem to be moving so fast, it is something that can often be forgotten or misunderstood.
Recently, I attended the PlAE Performance Coaches Summit at Noblesville High School. A lot of times when I attend clinics or seminars it is a reminder of how political the field of strength and conditioning can be. It’s a field that is all about networking and how your personality comes across to someone else. You never know when you could be speaking to your next boss at one of these things. I remember not too long ago when I had these thoughts whenever I attended a new continuing education event.
I have also begun reading Coach Brett Bartholomew’s new book, “Conscious Coaching,” where he describes in great detail the psychological and psychosocial aspect of coaching. He also goes into detail as to how important it is as a coach to be able to self reflect and have some deep introspection. Take a look at yourself and try to find the roots of why you do what you do, and why you act the way you act. Brett drives home that this is not an easy process and it’s going to be uncomfortable to look at the things about yourself that you don’t want to look at.
This is what has lead me to this post. A summit, a book and a little bit of introspection to remind of my own experience.
It’s Easy To Get Lost In The Mess
When beginning your strength and conditioning coaching career it is very easy to lose sight of the true meaning of where you want to go. This field can be very cutthroat so as a young strength and conditioning coach, intern, or student you are constantly looking at those above you. You have mentors, some good, some bad, and you are also constantly searching and learning the biggest names in the industry.
I remember this time very clearly when I was a student at Ball State University. I was very eager to become a strength and conditioning coach, and looking back, I was so clueless. I had no idea how to train myself (probably because I didn’t have clear goals for myself), nonetheless anybody else. More importantly, I couldn’t even fake enough confidence at the time to resemble a coach.
As a young aspiring strength and conditioning coach like I was at the time, it is easy to be very vulnerable. You want to succeed in the field so much that you will basically listen to anyone, read everything and take it as a matter of fact, and obey orders from someone because that someone has made it and you believe they have all the answers. While you always have to remember proper chain of command, however, you have to remember that just because you are young and don’t know anything, you aren’t any less worthy than that of strength coaches above you.
This is where I want to note that it is important to remember to be yourself.
Remembering To Be Yourself – In An Industry Where It Is Hard To Be Authentic
When first starting out in this field it is mandatory that you prove your worth by starting out completing unpaid internships and filling different volunteer positions. This is unlike most other fields, but if you want to grow in the field you have to be willing to work hard and show for it. Due to the popularity of the field and relatively small amount of positions open that’s just how it is.
In this time in your career it is actually important to know how to “suck up.” You’re not going to make it anywhere if you don’t know proper chain of command and don’t listen well to authority. While I don’t necessarily agree with blindly taking orders, at this time in your career you have to bite the bullet if you want to one day be in a head coaching role.
This is where I think it can be a confusing time for young aspiring strength coaches, and when I think it is so important to remember to be yourself, remember where you came from and why you joined this industry in the first place. Constantly taking orders and knowing you are the lowest hanging fruit on the tree is not fun. This is where you have to learn how to make fun out of the long grueling hours when you’re getting paid very little, or perhaps nothing. Take some time and do some reflection to understand your unique personality traits (another thing Brett Bartholomew talks about in his book) and learn how to exploit those in your position. Never “outshine your master,” which is Law 1 of Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power,” but use these unique traits to enjoy your position more fully, and stick out in the crowd of a flooded pool of interns.
I remember this time very clearly when I was a strength intern with the football team at Ball State. It was a very demanding time in my life. I was very young and dumb, just graduated college, and would do pretty much anything to get some experience in the college strength and conditioning setting. However, what this meant was that I had to constantly obey orders, had no say with the way things were done, and had to be responsible for a lot of the grunt work (i.e. facility/equipment management, etc.). This is how pretty much any internship position goes at the Division I level. As many others probably feel, I felt like I couldn’t screw up or my career would be at stake. Literally.
It was during this time when I realized I wasn’t being myself at all. I was perfectly okay with the typical intern duties and had a great mentor in Coach Feeley at the time, but I felt like I was going about the whole process wrong. I felt like I wasn’t in control at all. You obviously have to listen well to the coaches above you and do as they say, but I felt like I was being a robot. I felt like I wasn’t bringing any authenticity to the role itself when in reality I have a lot of cool past experiences to pull from. Because of this, I felt like I was a below average intern. At the time I was reading Robert Greene’s, “48 Laws of Power,” and one of the laws that stuck out to me was, “Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness.” The basic premise was that usually being bold and screwing up is much better than being timid, because you become more respectable out of boldness. “Everyone honors the bold; no one honors the timid” (Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power).
This was when I decided I was going to rewire the way I approached the remaining of the internship. During the previous part of the internship I was always second guessing myself as to if I was making the right decision, and in the chaotic environment of the weight room with 40+ football players you absolutely cannot do this. From then on I decided I was going to act out of instinct and no longer think about the repercussions of my actions. If I screwed up, so be it. I would rather get fired from this career for being myself than succeeding by being a robot.
My remaining time as an intern I may or may not have actually been a better intern, but I was in a much better frame of mind than I was before. I had always thought about the future in the industry and never got too excited because of how many unpaid internships you have to complete, how long it takes until you become the head guy, and how everything seemed like it was in someone else’s control. After reframing my mental approach I no longer thought like this. I was in complete control of my own destiny and no one else. If I meet one of those coaches who thinks he or she is above everyone because he or she made it, then they have to live with that, not me. I wasn’t going to waste mental energy on people who like to abuse their power and authority. I might’ve been young and dumb (still am), but I have something that no one can take away from me, and that’s ME. My own unique perspective and experiences that no one else has. I am my own unique being and I can use that to my advantage.
This industry can be brutal. I have been lucky enough to find a great position at Force Barbell where I haven’t had to climb as many of the hurdles that others have had to face. Remember why you are doing what you are doing, and be sure that it is meaningful to you. If you do some self reflection and can’t find a reason deep in your heart as to why you are in this field, then it is probably a good idea to get out. You might be able to fake it in other professions, but not this one. That attitude can be poisonous, and you are also doing yourself a disservice. If you have a solid reason then don’t ever let that go. Use that as your motivation and remember that your experiences are no less valid than anybody else’s. There is a fine line between obeying orders from those above you and just being a robot (like I had been). There is also a fine line between being yourself and not obeying chain of command because you just don’t want to do something. All I am saying that it is so important to remember your roots. Who you are, where you came from, and why you are doing what you do. That is something that nobody can take away from you. Hold those close and let that be your power and guidance in this industry.