Neither your innate level of talent as a professional, nor the nature of your intentions, matter as they pertain to accomplishing what you want out of your career.
It’s true. This may seem like something we would tell our athletes before an early morning training session—not to destroy their confidence of course, but rather to teach the harsh reality that things don’t fall into our laps just because we want them to.
Look at the opening statement again. At face value, it certainly would check all the boxes as it pertains to things that an athlete would need to hear before a strenuous workout or important game. It reminds them that even if they are gifted, they are vulnerable to errors if they don’t stay focused on the goal, and that simply trying or wanting to do the right thing isn’t enough for the manifestation of “that thing.”
Yet, this isn’t a message meant for athletes; it’s meant for us. At times, we coaches are masters of meta representation—seeing the world how we think it is instead of how it really is. When it comes to facing reality, we are great at telling our athletes how to do it, yet shirk the notion that there are ways we can continually grow as well (and I don’t mean “grow” by speed-reading another book or fitting in another training session).
Solving problems and gaining knowledge require more than scanning with your eyes, nodding your head, and even taking notes. More training or more reading doesn’t tend to be a problem for us, at least in the grand scheme of things. Improving in the sense to which I am referring lies in broadening the influence we can have on the field in general, and even across other domains. I’m talking about improving not only the impact of what we do, but also what is known as the “option value” of what we do.
Both are key as they pertain to maximizing the quality of our craftsmanship as strength coaches, as well as improving our career sustainability. These are two things that this article, as well as a larger project that I will work on over the next 6-18 months, are dedicated to.
But first, let’s define “option value.” For the most part, it is what it sounds like, and represented by the notion that it is always worth having the option to do something (anything), even if you never actually do it. This is because it increases the range of possibilities, some of which may be better than your current alternatives. You could also think of option value as the old investment strategy known as diversification.
You should NOT think of it is as opportunism. An opportunist is typically characterized as someone who will jump at nearly ANY opportunity and is incessantly seduced by the “grass is greener” phenomena. Diversification, on the other hand, allows for longer term investments to play out over time, thus giving you the possibility of either steadier gains over the long haul or, at the very least, a more robust buffer against potentially large losses if things go south. And in our field, they tend to go south rather quickly once the scoreboard is not in our team’s favor and the finger-pointing begins.
In my last article, “Cannibalizing Our Own: How Fear, Ego, and Insecurity Are Eroding Opportunities for Strength and Conditioning Coaches,” I discussed the rampant contagion that infects our way of thinking and competing (often showcased by pervasive undercutting of one another), and how this pathology often centers around fear, ego, and pride. These things certainly limit our option value to a degree, but there are also other man-made viruses to consider.
In many instances, it is not just our lack of understanding of how scaling something of value is not synonymous with “selling out” or our widespread practice of holding everything we do too tightly to the chest as if someone is going to steal our “prized invention,” but also that we generally don’t have many career options that allow us to diversify our broader impact while simultaneously honing our craft. It is not uncommon to hear of coaches who work for organizations, teams, or companies that do not allow them to speak, consult, and sometimes even interact online with others in the field.
I’ve been a part of a couple of situations like this myself, and while I couldn’t have cared less at first, eventually it became maddening. This was mainly because I began meeting and becoming friends with more and more colleagues outside of my walls of direct employment. They shared similar interests or unique ideas and wanted to collaborate on a level that would potentially benefit more people in the field or lead to original or more applied research and practice. But time and time again, I found myself having to tell them “no” for various reasons beyond my control.
These limitations often led to a form of resentment, as I was happy to even volunteer some of the little spare time I had in order to contribute to the surrounding field more. However, I didn’t want to risk reprimands on behalf of my previous employer(s), who I was, and still am, grateful to for the various other opportunities they provided that helped me develop as a coach.
There are many of you who know what this feels like. Some of you are under even more restrictions.
So those affected watch, and friction builds as the coaches they believe themselves to be in competition with on some level seem to get included in more projects or more events, or accrue unique opportunities. Sometimes, they combat their frustration by denying that they wanted to be a part of any of these extracurricular initiatives in the first place, and/or condemning anyone who does not appear to be working 24/7. They spew anger, they break into factions, and the cycle begins again.
That is, until one person, or a group of people, decides to stop the wheel from turning, or create an alternative that shapes a new path by reminding people of the original mission of the collective and how it can evolve just as any other field does over the course of time. It is then and only then, that previous friction transforms into traction and a movement begins that allows practitioners in that field to explore a new route.
The Cold, Hard Facts
Coaches want a change. Some may not openly admit it, some may reserve their admission for when they’re behind closed doors, and some may fight it before they finally submit or join. But over the past 5-10 years, the chatter has increased. And while the tone is not always deafeningly audible, when the words are right and the mission is clear, a whisper can be louder than a roar.
This is elucidated not only by the numerous conversations you can easily overhear or observe while at clinics and conferences, and on message boards and the like, but also through the reception of direct responses themselves. Recently, I collaborated with a third-party research firm I am also working with for a future project. We sent a survey to fellow strength and conditioning coaches to learn more about their pain points, fears, annoyances, daily schedule, professional aspirations, and the like. More than 1,500 responded in a little over 48 hours.
Fifteen hundred! That’s more than two times the estimated number of workers who initially helped build the Brooklyn Bridge during the late 1800s.
All answers were 100% anonymous and none of the questions (aside from asking their gender) forced a choice, as we wanted to give coaches free reign to share their thoughts and experiences.
These were just some of the common themes:
- Not wanting to find themselves or their families “stuck” in a cycle of low-paying jobs with little to no job security or no opportunity for advancement.
- Gender inequality as it pertains to opportunities for female strength coaches.
- Not having the opportunity to have their work recognized. Not for pride purposes, but rather because they value and respect the craft and simply want to connect with others who are like-minded.
- Coaches in various team settings (collegiate and professional), feeling as if they aren’t allowed to make the difference that they could be making.
- Coaches in the private sector tired of not being respected or seen as “true strength coaches” despite working with diverse groups of athletes year-round.
- Fear among coaches in general that they will have to choose another vocation in order to provide for their families.
- Fear of being viewed as a “sell-out” or fired if they do get more involved or become more visible within the industry.
Most of these may not surprise you. Few, if any, are “new” issues. What is surprising is how many coaches want to be more involved and learn more from an entrepreneurial standpoint as well, since many of them feel as if it may be the only way they can afford to stay in the profession unless they land a job with a significantly higher salary or more relative freedom.
This wasn’t always the case, as I remember being a lowly grad assistant and watching mobs of self-proclaimed S&C “purists” attack or try to discredit anyone who put a product out. I remember it because I felt the same way. It was the prominent theme in parts of the collegiate setting exposed to me to at the time, and numerous other coaches with experience in that realm have written about it as well.
At that point in my career, I didn’t care about anything other than writing workouts, reading training-related research, and coaching my groups. I didn’t have many other interests outside of S&C and rightfully so, since I was still getting started in my career and needed to put in the time and due diligence. I also didn’t have a family to support, or the perspective that I gained later in my career after working with military, amputees, youth, high school, and pro athletes who moved/trained in the weight rooms as if they had never received instruction.
In other words, my problems at that point in my life were relatively “local” in scope, and it seemed like I couldn’t go down the rabbit hole enough in the vacuum in which I operated, studying complex training theory and research that was sometimes so narrow in scope that the number of variables controlled for made it nearly impossible for a true coach to actually apply much or any of it. Regardless, I wanted to be one of the best, so I stayed in the saddle and eschewed any notion that I someday would “put myself out there” or promote anything in any way, shape, or form.Leading effectively at the highest level eventually requires some semblance of ability to scale. Click To Tweet
The thought of creating or promoting something left a saccharin taste in my mouth, as I thought doing the “right thing” in our field essentially meant ceasing to exist in any public forum or form and just doing the work. This is noble in some respects, as none of us get into this field to be “rock stars,” but we do get into it to help others. Leading effectively at the highest level eventually requires some semblance of the ability to scale.
Despite what I thought about being more vocal or visible during the first half of my career, when I only had to support myself, several circumstances occurred later, after I got married. The ever-growing financial responsibilities tied to adulthood taught me that I needed to start thinking about my future and career in more ways than just working to increase my athletes’ deadlift maxes. It became clear that in order to both support my family and the field I love, I would eventually have to up the ante and grow in some ways that would either make me personally uncomfortable, or leave me and my wife incapable of financially supporting the family and personal/professional life we both wanted to have.
So, I jumped. I took risk after risk and, in some ways, even took a few on the chin. But the new skills and perspective that I built during that time allowed me to parry, block, and counter a few blows that could have served as career haymakers had I not been resourceful. During my time as a competitive amateur, one of the best boxing coaches I ever worked with drilled it into my head early and often that a great defense will always open up versatile offensive strategies. “Just keep your hands up, lead with the jab and your head on a swivel, and you’ll be on your way,” he said. I still take that to heart in everything I do to this day.
But what exactly does a good offensive and defensive strategy look like as it pertains to those out there who perhaps feel the same way that I did early on in my career (and sometimes still do to this day), along with the 1,500+ responders to the survey who may be hesitant about lacing up the gloves and entering the arena?
Where and how do they start, considering they know the minute they open their mouths, give a presentation, or write an article, the floodgates are now forever open to a deluge of criticism? This is a topic I discussed with someone who was perhaps one of my toughest critics when I began sharing a bit more a few years back. Many of you know him very well: Carl Valle.
At a recent conference, Carl, Keenan Robinson—who is an excellent coach in his own right—and I discussed how vexing it can be to live in a time where people within our field clamor for others to share openly. Yet, if you do, they chastise you as “self-promoting,” and if you don’t then you are “hiding.” This dichotomy itself portends the need for change in this sphere since the field is made better by those who participate in raw sharing. Raw sharing is a vehicle necessary to chauffeur the act of mentoring, which is another utility becoming scarce in the post-scarcity world we now live in.
In order to create more opportunities, we need more coaches who are not scared to branch out and break the mold. I’ve attended conferences outside of the scope of strength and conditioning for professional development and have seen brain surgeons presenting and engaging audiences indirectly related to the understanding and enhancement of their craft, so I think we can all take some time away from our programming templates and agility drill databases to share a few thoughts that others may benefit from as well.To create more opportunities, we need coaches who aren’t scared to branch out and break the mold. Click To Tweet
Briding vs. Bonding
One thing we know for sure regarding human behavior is that within most networks of any kind, there is a tendency for “cliques” to form (common bonds or personal ties). When these networks or cliques stay too close to the loop they are immediately involved in, contribute to, or otherwise perpetuate, they create information redundancy. This is what you see play out nearly every day in the news and within social media.
For example, strength coaches often share training-related articles on the same stuff over and over (some share without even actually reading them), only because someone else did it or because they liked the headline or undertone. Sure, some of them do this because it is something they are passionate about, but many do it out of politeness or affiliation since articles now come out so fast that even the most voracious of readers would have to be the consummate recluse to have any chance at keeping up with everything out there—yet alone fully absorb the content within.
Thus, we create this subconscious and relentless message to others that, regardless of the article, if 10-20 people retweet it then they MUST READ THIS to stay in the loop. But sometimes, a loop is a bad thing to stay in. Sometimes, it’s better to find a gap.
Fortunately, it only takes a few people to share something with a slightly different narrative or to identify a gap—even if they are also in the same network or clique—in order to turn bonding ties (typically defined by redundancy) into bridging ties (typically defined by utility and/or efficiency.) This verbiage, inspired by the work of author Joshua Cooper Ramo, leads to the creation of “small world networks,” which tend to work together in a much more efficient manner than a widespread network. A simpler way to think of this is as a form of adaptive decentralized command.
General Stanley McChrystal, and numerous others within the business and military realm, have documented the advantages to operating within a decentralized command. These include the ability to adapt, scale, communicate, and make decisions even when operating in an environment that is always changing—much as it is in the world of coaching. It is all just a matter of keeping the defined objective top of mind, identifying the possible roads on the map you can take to arrive at the desired destination, and finding the most appropriate and effective narrative you can use to shape the path for others so they, too, can learn on the fly and be set up for success.
Diving In: Ways to Expand and Develop
Many of the industry pain-point have persisted for so long partly due to the fact that we haven’t come together to create a roadmap for responsible scaling, or even discussed a framework as to how we can rid the strength and conditioning industry of this incessant and highly popularized “grinding” mentality. By taking a more conscious approach to our career, we can alchemize previous roadblocks and missed opportunities and transform them into more holistic ways that serve to advance both our levels of diverse exposure and experience. The suggestions below aren’t the universal linchpins that will solve industry problems in totality, but absorbing their core message and adapting them into your daily practice serves as a strong starting point to illuminating a future path.
Create a Diverse Network
If the only people you spend time around are those within your specific domain then you dramatically increase the magnitude of your bias. We have coaches who claim to know the thoughts and beliefs of others who they have spent little to no time around just because they have read a few of their 140-character tweets. Yet shortly afterward, they’ve shared a post of their own discussing the danger of only reading the abstract or “results” section of a full journal article someone posted on speed development. Oh, the irony.
Leave the snap judgments to our amygdala and posterior cingulate cortex. In the meantime, get to know coaches outside of your network who work in the team, private, or tactical sectors. Spend a day or two (maybe even a week) in their environment and seek to understand instead of always seeking to compare. This also applies to reaching out to those in completely different vocations.
Doctors, dentists, entrepreneurs, and yes, EVEN lawyers may have something to teach you that can help you become more proficient as a coach. That whole “blank slate” mentality that we promulgate as it pertains to learning more about training does wondrous things when we also apply it to learning more about people.
Put Skin in the Game
Putting skin in the game allows us to harden our abilities to adapt and grow, both personally and professionally. Adapting is not the same as “selling out.” Repeat that to yourself in a chant-like mantra while squatting if need be. This pertains to your willingness to speak at conferences or workshops, share programming examples, write a book, seek out a mentor in an unrelated field, and even become more of an entrepreneur. “Selling out” is what happens when you compromise your values due to ego and greed, not because someone decides to get involved, create an opportunity, or share something they are passionate about in a widespread manner.Repeat this to yourself: Adapting is not the same as ‘selling out.’ Click To Tweet
We live in an absolutely unparalleled era, where we see former military leaders such as Jocko Willink serving as consultants to Fortune 500 businesses, former football coaches going on to have rewarding careers in commentating and real estate, and music pioneers such as Dr. Dre having a hand in creating Beats headphones and Apple Music. Yet, despite these examples of people who are true to their craft and accomplished bona fide professionals branching out, it is considered “odd” if a strength and conditioning coach investigates anything aside from “sets and reps” or wants to create a platform where others can do the same.
Coaches who are new to the field ABSOLUTELY must hone their craft, and start with a clear understanding and sound application of the fundamental principles involved with strength and conditioning. But at some point in their career, somebody must encourage them to seek inspiration from outside of their specific domain if they hope to indelibly improve the conditions within it. We should not send the message to fellow coaches that it is acceptable for CEOs, military leaders, sport coaches, musicians, and many others to go on and expand their skillset, while we remain stagnant. We have tremendous value to share, and a platform to help more people and improve our field. In short, be wary of taking advice from anyone who tells you the path to mastery is through fixation as opposed to fluidity.
Take the Unpopular Route
Although I write articles like this, and wrote a book at the age of 31, it may not seem to some that I have enough life experience to talk about “taking risks.” That’s OK. I’ve grown to accept the fact that even if I share rather intimate details about my background, my early hospitalization, my upbringing, and the fact that I have lived in eight states and moved nearly 15 times, some people will always only see my age and care little about the true definition of “life experience.”
Regardless, there have been more than a few times in my life thus far when I’ve made professional choices that I never thought I would, and went out on a limb not knowing how things would turn out. One involved the first opportunity that I ever had to join the NFL as a strength and conditioning coach. I had just accepted a new job, put my house up for sale, and given my word to a new employer when I had an official offer extended to me to join “The League.” This was something I had wanted for a long time, but now, due to extraneous factors and me having already given my word to someone, I had to turn the opportunity down. At the time, I would have much rather taken that job, but I felt doing so would have degraded my character and the values on which I was raised.
Few decisions in my professional career trumped this (so far) in terms of difficulty and personal conflict. Especially because, once others heard about it, coaches I didn’t even know called to tell me that I was “selfish” for turning down a role most would kill for. They couldn’t have cared less about my reason for doing so.
Another time I made an “unpopular” choice was related to me being an early adopter of social media. I referenced this briefly in the intro to this article. When I was a both a volunteer S&C coach at the University of Nebraska and a graduate assistant strength coach at Southern Illinois, we had it drilled into us that being involved with social media or any other commercial venture was the first step towards venturing into “guru” territory. This seemed to be the pervasive belief in the team setting both at the collegiate and professional level. And I can understand why for multiple reasons.
First, at the time a lot of the information shared was garbage. Many of the social media vehicles were still in their infancy and few people understood the concept of these types of networks and how to maximize their potential. I had little interest in them. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, at that time in my career all I wanted to do was coach, read, and train.
Second, from a social media standpoint, the prevailing thought was that if you were posting then you certainly were NOT coaching and NOBODY wanted to give anyone the idea or impression that they were not on the floor 16+ hours a day, “grinding.” But then, a funny thing happened. Universities started needing the help of S&C departments for recruiting and branding purposes, private sector facilities needed to show that they weren’t as secretive as some made them out to be, and of course some wackadoo personal trainer types wanted to make a name for themselves by selling snake oil. (There is always one bad apple spoiling it for the bunch, isn’t there?)
But now, look at where we sit. These kinds of networks and the sharing that happens within them are not completely without their warts, but researchers can share information faster and farther than ever, coaches can connect across the globe to learn from one another, and articles sharing practical examples of various training and coaching strategies can be added to the reading lists of young professionals. This is also true for those who have slowly begun to participate in podcasts, webinars, roundtables, and the like.
I was once told that it doesn’t take an intelligent man to discover the faults in the world around him, and I firmly believe that to be true. Social media can be an absolute bane and I find myself wanting to do less and less of it, but then I remind myself of the reason I moved to the “dark side” in the first place—to share tips and thoughts that I wish someone would have shared with me. I never had a true mentor, and it took one of my NFL athletes to slap me upside the head one day and say, “I hear you teaching your interns all of the time. Why not share this stuff on social media and help more people?” I had no good, non-meathead/tough-guy response, so I signed up for a Twitter account.
So, while I may not yet have a fully gray beard or understand the meaning of life, I do know that the surefire way to be and stay average is to do the same things as most people do, while concomitantly worrying about what everyone thinks about you.
Build a Voice, Not a Brand
None of us needs to have all the answers in order to share something of value. Tell it like it is and call it as you see it. If people agree, they’ll support and interact—if not, they won’t. Don’t force it.
I never started sharing because I wanted my name to be out there. I started sharing because I never had a direct mentor and one of my athletes challenged me to share the information that I wish someone would have told me when I was starting out and trying to navigate the coaching landscape.Call it as you see it. If people agree, they'll support you—if not, they won't. Don’t force it. Click To Tweet
My early voice was 75% passion and 25% direction. It evolved as my career and my level of understanding of what seemed to be missing in our field evolved. I used to speak on topics solely related to programming, strength/power, and agility, as I had the most interest in those topics. However, as I started to recognize more gaps and hear countless voices talking about the same thing, I began to identify other avenues where I could perhaps provide more value.
There is a double-edged sword in doing this, as you risk people pigeonholing you as the “(fill in the blank) guy/girl.” I say let them. Musicians and actors deal with the same thing. Stay in the game long enough to spread helpful messaging and eventually people forget about that “one album” and instead learn to appreciate you for your entire catalog.
Study Other Professions
The answer to solving a problem rarely lies in looking at it from a more magnified perspective. Sometimes it takes removing yourself from a thought, studying something else, and allowing an “incubation period” to take place, before re-examining the issue with a renewed and more enlightened perspective.
I’m going to make a bold claim here, as I believe the answers we seek within coaching science and strength and conditioning will not ONLY be found by studying these things directly, but by applying the principles and lessons from other domains and adapting them for our own environments.
Put down the leadership books and training manuals for a bit and read something else—anything else—from the autobiography of a chef to a dissection of the Battle at Waterloo. Your problems are not unique and have likely been solved countless times over by multiple people in other fields. Seek out their stories and solutions.
Don’t Devalue Your Work, Your Family, or the Craft
I will keep this one short and sweet. Understand that nobody and no company will ever fully pay you what you are worth. Doing so doesn’t benefit their bottom line. They will also never take you seriously if you don’t first take yourself seriously.
If you worked your butt off to pay for an education; did your due diligence with research, internships, and entry-level positions; and deliver quality coaching, programming, and logistical management, then you should NEVER feel bad about turning down a role or opportunity that downplays or disrespects your abilities or what you can bring to the table. I realize this is maddening to hear, as the anxiety eats at us, knowing that we may be in trouble if we turn down a job and that what I mentioned may be easy to say but not do. I understand.
As I write this, I am self-employed for the first time in my life, and I’m not a “trust fund baby” by any stretch of the imagination. I have a family that loves me, but there is no massive safety net to catch me, as everyone has their own problems to deal with. I coach my butt off, I speak, and I do some consulting. My wife and I hope to have kids soon. This was a mutual decision and numerous job opportunities have come and gone, but none felt like the right fit for us and our long-term goals. So, we took a gamble and moved across the country, deciding to bet on ourselves.Most people in our field make decisions based on their fears instead of their values. Click To Tweet
The cynic will read this and perhaps subvocalize terms such as “prima donna,” but if so they are not reading between the lines. There is a tremendous quote from Roy Disney that states: “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” I assert that most people in our field (and life in general) make career decisions based on their fears instead of their values. This isn’t always the case, but when times get tough and the pressure is high, it rings true more often than not.
Don’t be scared to bet on yourself, and don’t jump at just any opportunity. If you are good at what you do, treat others with respect, and put yourself out there, another offer will come along. It may take some time and a few detours, but both are OK and will likely help you grow even more. It’s worth remembering that, although it is true within the purview of mathematics that the quickest route between two points may be a straight line, that same principle rarely rings true as it pertains to real life or your career path.
Do Things You Hate
I know that this runs counterintuitive to the claim that we should only do what we love to do, but if we did that, where would the growth come from? The discomfort quotient? How would we learn to endure during the times we must stretch ourselves to see an unpleasant task through to its completion? “Only do what you love to do” is great advice for a dreamer, but not a doer.
For example, I absolutely hate writing. Truly. Yes, I wrote a book (and actually wrote it—there was no ghostwriter), but I’d be lying if I told you I enjoyed the process. It was frustrating to no end and everything that Steven Pressfield alludes to in his book, The War of Art, when he mentions the process of overcoming “the resistance.” My disdain for writing is also the reason you can search and search, yet find very little written by me (aside from my research on attentional focus, agility, and motor learning while pursuing my master’s degree).
I’m a coach first, not a writer. I’m also an inherently kinetic and somewhat hyperactive individual who tends to communicate better orally or when I am face to face with someone. When my brother and I were young, our parents went to great lengths to instill in us the value of thoughtful and purposeful communication. Since then, I have always found it easier to avoid misunderstandings, provide context for certain opinions, and just interact with others more thoughtfully and seamlessly when actually speaking to them.
I do not enjoy writing, but I understand the value it provides in sharing helpful ideas in a more widespread manner. So, I am working on it and agreed to do more of it for at least the next year as an experiment and personal test.
Doing things that you do not like doing can sometimes be the best thing for you personally and professionally. It’s a matter of sacrificing pleasure for purpose, and it helps you better understand and appreciate a process that you otherwise would be unfamiliar with and perhaps may even be tremendously skilled at.
Don’t Be a ____!
I’m always equal parts amazed and disappointed when a coach or former intern who started down a humble and honest path lands a job with a major school or professional sports team, lives the life for a bit, and slowly evolves into someone filled with pride and pomposity after confusing the accomplishments of their athletes or organization as their own. The world of S&C is a small one, and Vern Gambetta was right when he once said that these coaches often forget they will see the same people on their way back down that they saw during their climb up.
If you are fortunate enough to attain one of these roles, just remember that regardless of what you consider your “status” to be, few people, if any, will be willing to roll out the red carpet for you if you stomped all over it with muddy boots the last time around. To last in this field, you continually need the help and support of those around you. Be grateful for it, pay it forward, and remember that value is based on what you contribute to the field as opposed to what you take from it.To last in this field, you will continually need the help and support of those around you. Click To Tweet
You can use your imagination to fill in the blank left on the subtitle above, but you shouldn’t need one to remember where you came from and those who helped you along the way.
Know When to Walk Away
In their 2013 book, Fear Your Strengths, authors Robert Kaiser and Robert Kaplan say that in their collective 50 years of business consulting and executive leadership, they’ve seen nearly every virtue taken too far. “We’ve seen confidence to the point of hubris and humility to the point of diminishing oneself. We’ve seen vision drift into aimless dreaming and focus narrow down to tunnel vision. Show us a strength, and we’ll show you an example where its overuse has compromised performance and probably even derailed a career.”
In short, it doesn’t take much for a virtue to become a vice. As coaches, we pride ourselves on being virtuous in all things and holding true to our word. This is smart and honorable, until it isn’t. Always give your best, regardless of the situation you find yourself in, but don’t be blind to what is going on around you. Infections often spread before we feel the symptoms associated with the illness. There are times when it is smart to fight for what you believe in, and there are times when you need to realize that cutting ties and moving on is in your best interest, as well as the interests of your athletes and the people around you.
Cross the Line
This “Maginot Line”-like divide between coaches in the team and private sectors is not only becoming more and more ridiculous, but also detrimental. Some of the rumors surrounding both are true, while others are fabricated, embellished, or even illusory. Every coach has their own opinions based upon their own experiences and preferences. Both settings have their relative advantages, but more coaches should stop worrying about what is “better” and worry more about being in one or the other for the right reasons.
Coaches in the team setting have enough issues to deal with, and don’t need a gaggle of coaches trying to jump ship just so they can brag about championships or who they coach, or being seen on the sidelines during primetime TV. And coaches at respectable private sector facilities don’t need any more pretenders trying to infect their space with gimmicks, gadgets, and training that makes everyone in the space look like hustlers by default. Both the team setting and private sectors are hard work and both have their mix of great coaches and goons. It is more important to realize that athletes need both, and will continue to train in both for a variety of reasons.
Additionally, with the way CBAs and off-seasons are structured across various professional sports, coaches in both settings benefit from increased levels of communication and collaboration when they have the best interest of the athlete at heart. Even though I am currently in the private sector, I am fortunate to have experienced the team side as well. I had the support of some forward-thinking and pragmatic coaches and therapists within that setting who not only welcomed collaboration, but fostered it, and were kind enough to refer some of their athletes to me.
This relationship was built on trust, not hype videos. They know my interest is not in upselling and witnessed firsthand my adherence to a “fundamentals not fluff” type of mentality. I’m not special in this regard. Many other private sector coaches believe in this as well, yet often get typecast as “gurus” or “trainers” in large part because of the way popular media or Instagram mavens portray the training process.
Let’s not forget that within both settings there are coaches who have experience on both sides, and chose one or the other for a variety of reasons, including family, necessity, geography, and opportunity. So how do you know when you’ve made the wrong choice? It’s when you decided upon one or the other, not because of any points mentioned in the previous sentence, but rather because of vanity.
Embrace a Little Career Chaos
The war you prepare for is rarely the war you get. This was a main theme echoed by a friend of mine who fought in the war in Afghanistan, deploying six times in a span of less than five years for various missions. It was more than 115 degrees Fahrenheit in Phoenix, and we were hiking because, well, he was visiting and he wanted to go for a hike. I don’t make it a point to argue with people who carry numerous guns on them at all times, and I never forgot that phrase as it has rung true countless times for me since.
Thinking back far enough, it also rang true when I was in the hospital as a teenager, when I moved across the country to pursue my first unpaid coaching internship, after I wrote my first program for three teams I was in charge of and had to lead them through it, when I sat down to try and write the first page of my book, and also when I married my wife.
In short, some of the most rewarding times of my personal and professional lives came during times of absolute chaos. And believe me, the examples listed above are just the ones that wouldn’t require additional context or a non-disclosure agreement of some sort!Embracing chaos helps you push past the limits of your current level of behavioral conditioning. Click To Tweet
Jokes aside, these moments illustrate the point that if you dive in and diversify, chaos becomes a bridge, not a tomb. To build it and cross it requires us to continually adapt to the landscape. That’s the definition of sustainability: to uphold, defend, and maintain a certain level. Embracing chaos helps you to push past the limits of your current level of conditioning (as it pertains to behavior).
Adapt to chaos by following these five piece of advice:
- Defy all categories and labels.
- Constantly reinvent yourself.
- Subvert your (non-beneficial) patterns.
- Create a sense of destiny for your mission as a professional.
- Don’t be afraid to bet on yourself.
The Road Ahead: See Things as They Are
Day by day, the landscape of our field continues to evolve. And while even those in the most protected or coveted of positions may enjoy abundance and asylum, both are temporary in a world where there are far more coaches than there are great job opportunities, or there is loyalty among our employers.
Over the years, many of you witnessed countless role changes. Even in circumstances where we considered someone as nearly “bulletproof,” we saw previously respected strength coach struggle to find new footing.
Keep in mind that our greatest threat as coaches is not getting burnt out. Instead, it’s that our minds may become stagnant because of the Pavlovian responses we’ve developed to the promise that if we just “stick it out” long enough we will be OK. In this case, our will is not enough—we will also require wit.
As a profession, we all need to learn to become every bit as proactive about the management of our careers and our futures as we are with the management of our athletes’ training programs and their outcomes. The conversations that begin because of articles like this or my previous one are a start, but it will take far more of us providing suggestions and solutions to effectively bridge the gap and spark the necessary action to wake up those who can have the greatest impact.
Respecting the craft is not just a matter of adhering to best practices, but also a matter of ensuring the career we chose and the field we love lasts and evolves in a way that is better for future coaches than it was for us. This will only come from action, as anyone can talk a good game and stir up the peanut gallery. It takes a willingness to step into unfamiliar and sometimes unpopular territory for us to shape a path to sustainability.