How do we create an atmosphere of trust with our sports coaches and athletes that will allow us to move past the ingrained fallacies that prevent us from maximizing our sports performance efforts? It’s a universal problem that is systemic in nature and can be paralyzing to a program.
The list of challenges we face as high school sports performance coaches is long, from budget restraints to athlete attendance. To compound matters, each of us has individual situations with our own hurdles. It’s probably not a problem we can resolve completely, but there are roadmaps we can follow to foster a maximum level of trust possible with a high percentage of the coaches and athletes we serve.
Strength Coach to Sport Relationships
I once was told that rules without relationships lead to revolt. This single sentence has had a major impact on how I’ve dealt with not only athletes but also coaches over the last few years. Take an inventory of the good and the not so good situations you’ve had with people (not just in sports).
I bet we can trace a great majority of the issues directly to a lack of communication. The lack of communication likely resulted in a lack of understanding. And the lack of understanding undoubtedly prevented the development of a personal relationship between you and the other person. Each of you had rules governing the situation. And without a personal relationship, it was impossible for either side to understand how the other interpreted the rules, and this led to revolt.
Now put this same set of circumstances into a team setting with athletes. The adage “they won’t care what you know until they know you care” is an absolute truth. If you step into the room on day one and say, “I’m Coach so-and-so. I have three degrees and nine certifications. Here are the rules, follow them or else,” you will have trouble.
At this point, the athletes don’t know enough about the subject to care what you know. It’s our job to show them how a positive relationship with their strength coach will benefit them. What benefit do they really understand? Playing time. If you’re a non-sport coaching sports performance professional, however, you don’t have that control. That’s where the sport coach comes in—they have the control.
First, we must have a positive personal relationship with the sport coaches, and this starts with getting together with the head coach. The goal is to begin building a deep personal relationship with complete understanding. That’s not always easy, but it’s always necessary.The head sport coach sets team culture and rules. It's our role to support the culture within the arena of preparation, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
The head coach of each sport is responsible for the team culture and rules. Our role is to support that culture within the arena of preparation. The tough part is that not all head coaches foster a great culture. As tough as it may seem, it’s not our job to build that. It’s not our job to set rules for a sports program. Our job is to build a relationship with the sport coaches that will allow us to operate within the culture to the best of our abilities.Developing relationships with athletes takes time. Start with the head coach, the culture, and rules and grow from there, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
If we set rules for athletes or coaches without the initial steps of building strong relationships, we set ourselves up for revolt from all sides. Once we achieve that goal, our job gets easier. It takes time to develop relationships with athletes. If we can start with the head coach and the program culture and rules as our jumping-off point, we can grow from there.
Once you’ve built relationships with your coaches and athletes, you can start building trust. Trust that your prescription will make them better—not just that you’ll do what you think is best for them. This can be tough at first. As we know, habits are hard to break.
Most of the coaches and almost certainly all of the athletes we work with have a narrow set of margins when it comes to evidence-based sports performance. It’s our job to widen the margins so they’ll trust we’re making the best decisions. As we all know, everyone we are tasked with making bigger, faster, and more explosive has a bias about training.
How many times have we heard or seen a power sport team running laps or doing long runs that far exceed the time and distance needed to train the energy system their sport typically uses? They do this because someone they had a personal relationship with (and trusted) told them it was the way to train!
It’s the same with countless other things we see and hear. Much of what occurs at the lower levels of athletics is based on concepts of bodybuilding, powerlifting, and aerobic training. While certain aspects of these three things play into what we do to prepare for sport, we all understand that hypertrophy, slow-moving high-intensity barbell lifts, and steady-state running will not make up the bulk of what we need for transfer to sport.Our biggest challenge is to change the thought process of coaches and athletes about what will cause transfer to sport, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
Our biggest challenge is to change the thought process of the coaches and athletes about what will cause the transfer. Again, the coach is the key. Regardless of how close you are to the athletes, you don’t control when and how much they get to play. The coach is the main influencer. Despite the questions your athletes may have, they will buy into what you’re asking them to do faster if the coach already has.
So what steps do we take to ensure everyone’s on the same page? First, speaking from trial and error experience, don’t be too aggressive. The minute you begin talking to any coach (or athlete) in a tone that makes them feel insecure or less knowledgeable, you’ll be setting up the relationship to take a step back. Know your audience and give them enough insight to show why your program will be more effective.
Keep in mind that regardless of the knowledge difference about how to prepare to win, winning is the common denominator. Start by introducing small things that may not be in the coach’s wheelhouse. Instead of saying, “there is a certain point in which an athlete’s strength level becomes detrimental to performance,” try introducing the idea that technical failure is a signal to end a lift.
Speak a common language and don’t go over the top with verbiage. Sport coaches have their own job to master, and most don’t have the will or the interest to master our job as well. Understanding this and speaking a common language will help the process.
Ask coaches to identify the areas their athletes need improvement and explain how your program will accomplish these things. As the level of trust begins to grow, the coach will become more and more comfortable with how you do things. Soon, you’ll be able to influence some of the more bell-cow aspects of what the coach and athletes believe is correct, encouraging them to make any adjustments needed to create a best practice.You can build trust quickly with athletes and parents after securing the coaches' confidence, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
As for the athletes and their parents, you can build trust quickly after securing the coaches’ confidence. We must show them that our job literally is what’s in their best interest. I preach to athletes and parents that our number one goal is to be healthy.
As a parent, I can tell you this is a powerful statement. If we think coaches have narrow margins when it comes to sports performance, parents often go to a whole new level. And parents will influence the trust level you’ll receive from the athlete. Assure parents that everything you do is evidence-based and designed to keep their child healthy and moving well. If you heard me talking to parents, you’d probably believe I was against lifting heavy weights. Of course, I’m not, but I make it clear that their kids must earn loads and movement.
I find it easiest to build trust with the athletes. The reason is simple; we spend a huge chunk of time each day with them. While we must coach them hard and be a great teacher, we also have the opportunity to show them how much we truly care about them. Once we have that, there is almost no limit to how far we can push them.Once athletes believe we truly care about them, there is almost no limit to how far we can push them, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
The relationship can’t stop at the weight room door, either. I’ve found that walking the halls and high-fiving kids, hanging out in the cafeteria, attending games and practices, and similar actions make the job much easier. Win and lose with your athletes. If they see you getting excited when things go well and grieving with them when they don’t, they’ll believe how much they mean to you.
Technology and Data
While in the weight room or any training situation, the athletes (and coaches) want to hear about your expertise. They want to see your expertise. They also thrive on new and exciting concepts. I speak from experience on this as well. Whether it’s a new technology or a new breathing system, they recognize that you introduce these things to make them better. That goes a long way in building the trust needed to help them thrive.
As your relationships grow and blossom, bring some more advanced protocols into the program to seal the trust factor deal. One integral factor in my current situation is using techniques and technology that let me greatly individualize our program. It’s human nature to embrace things we can see and touch that also clearly benefit us as individuals. Our athletes and coaches have really embraced technology.
Velocity based training (VBT), for example, has moved the needle of trust with our female population exponentially. In my earlier post on training female athletes, I highlighted how difficult it was to convince female athletes to lift heavier intensities. It’s always been a battle to get them to trust me and believe in themselves enough to put the proper load on the bar.Velocity based training is an instant trust builder. It moved the needle of trust exponentially with our female athletes, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
VBT is an instant trust builder. It lets you quantify the true percentage of 1RM at a single moment. That reading of m/s is not a guess! It’s a fact that can’t be debated or reasoned out of. Within a very short time, our females using VBT were adding weight and using the proper programmed intensity with complete trust in their ability to lift it. No more “I can’t lift that much” conversations. The velocity says you can.
VBT added layers of trust and buy-in from my athletes. And not just about load and reps. Every time we do something for our athletes that makes them believe we have their best interest at heart, our trust level gains depth and width. VBT is just one example. We can include heart rate monitoring (HRM) as well. Using HRM allows us to quantify conditioning levels (among other things) the same way VBT does load.
The cherry on top of the trust sundae is an athlete monitoring system. This could be an article in itself for sure. The questionnaire alone can seal the deal with our athletes and coaches. When they see us taking time not only to produce and use a survey system but also use it to lead conversations and make training adjustments on an individual daily basis, they know we care. From a sport coach point of view, it’s a way to set their program apart.The cherry on top is an athlete monitoring system. A questionnaire alone can seal the trust deal with our athletes & coaches, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
I can say from experience that our football staff has a deep level of trust in the data and information I provide based on athlete monitoring. The more actionable data you provide, the more impact it will have. When your sport coaches begin to see practices improve, game performance increases, and fatigue and injury rates fall, things really take off. The more they trust you, the greater the impact you’ll have. That’s why we’re all in this isn’t it?You know you're a true stakeholder in the team when the coaches begin adjusting practice loads, conditioning drills, & intensity says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
The day our coaches begin adjusting practice loads, conditioning drills, and intensity is the day we become a true stakeholder in the team, coaches, and athletes.
Athlete monitoring is low hanging fruit for us as coaches. Don’t sit back and say, “we don’t have the budget or time for that kind of stuff!” It can be as simple or as in-depth as you choose. I’ve used a daily handout and a pen, a homemade Google Doc that I sent out and other things that led me to the system I now use—the comprehensive and adaptable athlete monitoring questionnaire from CoachMePlus.
The questionnaire gives insight into our athletes’ lives. Stressed? We know why and can help. Fatigued? Let’s fix it. Sore? Let’s adjust it. It’s impossible to ignore a tool that comes at such a low-cost and has the potential to be so valuable. As I said, this is a deep topic that deserves investigation. How it plays into the topic we discuss in this post is undeniable. Athlete monitoring will build a level of trust and personal relationship that is valuable for the athletes and makes us more effective at our job.
From a non-technology standpoint, we use an organized and highly programmed system of injury reduction, mobility, and activation protocols that are made possible only by the high level of trust my athletes and coaches have with me. From Dynamic Warm-up Movement Assessment to Reflective Performance Reset, Original Strength Resets, and the Hop and Stop test to our barefoot foot and ankle mobility program, our athletes will jump in and do these things without question.
Imagine that your athletes can execute every drill and technique with almost no hesitation? This happens when your athletes and coaches recognize your investment in them.
Never Stop Learning
The final piece of the trust puzzle is never stop chasing knowledge. The athletes and coaches will see very quickly if we go into coast mode. The coaches and athletes I work with have a deep understanding of my daily road to improvement. In fact, I think they’d all be shocked if I didn’t come in at least once in a while and say, “So I’ve got something great to show you.”
Showing how much you care doesn’t come with a pause button. We must continue to pursue best practice with the same vigor in year thirty as we did in year one. We work in a field that changes by the day. Once we earn the trust and respect of the athletes we serve and the coaches we work with, we must not only maintain that trust but also continue to build on it.
I mentioned that most issues between people stem from a lack of understanding. To combat that, we must continue to strive to build personal relationships with every new athlete and coach that walks into our weight rooms. Doing this to the best of our ability requires us to stay on top of the latest developments in the world of sports performance. The further we get into the technology age, the more important it will become for us to embrace that technology. It’s not just the athletes who are getting younger as we age; it’s the sport coaches as well.
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