By Ryan Nosak
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” This is a favorite quote of mine that reminds me of many instances in collegiate strength and conditioning, including the transition to a new position.
Picture this: An opportunity comes your way and you are excited about the possibility of climbing the career ladder. You double-check your resume and cover letter, reach out to your references, and prepare for the interview by thinking of any questions they may ask you. You make it through the phone and on-campus interviews, and they offer you the position. It is a Tuesday and your new employer asks you to move by Sunday, just a short four days away, with your official start date on the following Wednesday. Are you prepared to change your life dramatically in just four days? Or do you hope you will be lucky and it will work itself out?
Over the past four years, I have climbed the strength and conditioning ladder from intern to graduate assistant to part-time assistant to full-time assistant. I have lived in five different cities and I have worked for six collegiate strength and conditioning programs. To others outside of strength and conditioning, I am a “ramblin’ man”—constantly on the move wherever life may take me.
This is the reality of a young strength and conditioning coach in the profession and I would not change my career path for anything. The experiences have allowed me to become the person and coach that I am today.
I wrote this article to share some lessons that I have learned when transitioning to new positions, to help other young coaches when it is time for them to make a transition.
Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
“Proper preparation prevents poor performance” is an old saying that I learned as a freshman in high school and I have revisited quite frequently as a strength coach, especially during my transitional times.
This article would not be realistic if I did not mention some of the mistakes I have made, and one of them involved housing. For one of my positions, my employer promised me free housing. On the day that I arrived, they informed me that they’d overbooked the rooms. I had a trunk full of stuff, in a city where I knew no one, and no Plan B.
Luckily, this experience taught me not to allow someone else to handle my housing and to always have everything in writing. Now, I begin to look at housing options before the position is even offered, as a best-case scenario. This allows me to at least have an idea of how quickly I can move into my own space and how to prepare financially. Use your resources and check whether you have any friends that live near your new location. Word of mouth has been instrumental in allowing me to secure desirable housing options.
When I accepted my last position, and they asked me to move within four days, I had already reached out to friends, spoken to apartment managers, and contacted listings on Craigslist—all of which allowed me to have a place lined up. This means I had a more stress-free transition and hit the ground running on the first day of work, since my most basic need was covered.Think ahead about the way you will approach your first day on the job, including a program plan. Click To Tweet
Regarding the position itself, start thinking about how you will approach your first day on the job. What teams will you be working with? If your new employer asks you to provide a program on the first day, what is your plan? These are ideas churning constantly in my head so I already have an idea if the head coach asks me what I want to do. Also, what are the backgrounds and philosophies of the head coach, assistant coaches, and support staff? This will require time and research on your end, but knowing this will ensure that you are much more prepared during the initial interactions with each of these individuals and can only help in creating a relationship.
Put the Athletes First
As difficult as it is for you to make a transition, it is usually equally as difficult on the athletes. Most athletes are routine-based individuals and, given the revolving nature of the profession, they may have just begun to feel comfortable with their old strength and conditioning coach. The best advice I can give here is to try to get to know your athletes and show them that you care.
One of my current teams traditionally does not see much time in the weight room during the season. I came onboard three weeks before their season began and I asked myself, “How can I develop these relationships without seeing the athletes?” I make an effort to warm up the team before their practices, which gives them the chance to get to know me and see me on a daily basis. When I am around the athletes, I strike up conversations to get to know them better. Some of these conversations are as simple as asking where the athlete is from or what the athlete is studying in school.
Our cross-country group recently had its first lift in the weight room and I began the session by going around the group and having each athlete state where they are from and tell one thing that they like to do outside of running. This is very simple, but now I have one or two things that I can talk about with each athlete and continue to build a relationship.
I also attend the athletes’ games, which shows them that I not only care about their performance in the weight room, but I care about where their performance matters the most. Recently, after one of our first soccer games, the athletes asked to see me, which showed me that I had already begun to make an impact. This is one of the best feelings a strength coach can have.
Reach Out to Previous Coaches
Another thing that has worked out well is reaching out to coaches who have been in the position before me. My first official day at Charlotte was also the first day of fall classes. Taking over a basketball team with only five weeks of an off-season before the season begins can be a daunting task. I reached out to the strength coach before me, Skyler Farley, and asked him about previous programs, what he thought worked and did not work, and the overall culture of the team.Reach out to the coach(es) previously in your position so you’re better prepared on Day 1. Click To Tweet
Asking questions such as, “Do the athletes have experience with the Olympic lifts?” and “Are they used to performing barbell movements?” can be very helpful when programming for a team for the first time. This made the transition much easier because I had an idea of the typical training day for the team. I could provide the athletes with a similar training program, which both the athletes and the coaches enjoyed, while adding some flair of my own.
In my most recent transition to DePaul University, I had a previous relationship with the strength coach before me, Nic Higgins. Nic had great relationships with both his coaches and athletes here at DePaul and asking him his thoughts also better prepared me to deal with the sport coaches. The staff before me had spent the year collecting monitoring data via session RPE, questionnaires, and force plates; all of which are new to me this year.
If I had not contacted Nic regarding resources and suggestions for what worked, I feel that I would be doing my athletes a disservice by not continuing projects meant to benefit the student athlete. It is also important to note that you are not trying to copy or steal what the previous strength coach did; rather, you are reaching out to learn about the history of a program. Most strength and conditioning coaches are willing to share information about previous programs because they want to see their athletes in good hands after they transition to a different position.
In the same way that athletes develop a routine, most sport coaches also adjust to the way that the previous strength coach trained the athletes. As soon as you start the new position, ask to schedule a meeting with the sport coach. Before you come in with a list of 20 things that you would like to see happen and an annual plan for the entire year, ask the sport coach their thoughts on training. This includes questions such as: “What are some aspects that you liked or disliked in the past?” and “How may I help make your job easier?”
Showing the sport coach that you want them involved in the training process typically allows for more trust later. Communicate your goals and expectations for the team and your plan for achieving those goals. It may help to send a weekly report to your sport coaches outlining the events of the training day. Think of this as a debrief of each training day and a great way to communicate the progress of the athletes to the sport coaches. During the season, there is often limited time and you may not see the sport coach daily. At least the sport coach can count on receiving that weekly report from you if you are not able to have face-to-face communication.
Enjoy the Journey
While this article focuses on preparing for the job itself, I include this reminder to enjoy the journey thanks to some of the lessons that I have learned. It is extremely easy to let the job consume you and never experience the amazing city that you live in. The only regrets that I have are wishing I did more in some of the places that I lived and spent more time with the people that mattered the most to me.
You are only young on this journey once and those life experiences will be something you will carry with you forever. Get the barbell out of your hand and take a boat ride through your new city, or catch up with an old friend over pizza. You will be glad you did and they will become your fondest memories when it is time to make another transition.
“I think the real thrill comes from the preparation to get where you’re in that area where you have the opportunity to outscore the opponent. But getting there…it’s like Cervantes said, ‘The journey is better than the end.’”-John Wooden