Jan 29, 2015
Creating Value in Your Workplace

richjacobs-head.jpgBy Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS

Working in an industry where supply is much greater than demand, those who have a job as a strength coach are extremely fortunate. Here are my observations on what it takes to succeed and keep a strength coaching job in this tough and competitive economic environment.

Know Their Pain

Today’s strength and conditioning coach needs to find ways to be an asset to his or her athletic programs by decreasing injury rates, giving the head coach the strength and conditioning training they desire, and doing more than they expected–which can require sacrifice. Injuries keep athletes from performing at their best and at the level they were recruited to compete at. As a strength coach, it is imperative that we keep players healthy and reduce the amount of non-contact injuries.

Most non-contact injuries can be prevented through a balanced and purposeful strength and conditioning program. To make sure my training programs address injury prevention specific to our athletes and their sports, I meet with the athletic training staff to determine the top three injuries for each team. I also look at the NCAA Injury Surveillance System to identify injuries across the country so we can be proactive and attend to other common injuries found in each sport.

Based on that information, I design programs that strengthen specific injury sites most common in each sport. If the athletes can practice more often as a result of being healthy, they become better at their sport, and the head coach is happy to see a complete team consistently playing together. A plague of non-contact injuries may or may not result in the replacement of a strength coach, but I would prefer to avoid that conversation by doing everything in my control to prevent them.

Connect With Coaches

Communication with those in the athletic department, specifically the sport coaches, is vital to the success of the strength and conditioning program. The best way to deliver a good product is to understand what the consumer wants. In this case, the consumer is the sport coach.

It is important to listen to the coach, acknowledge that you understand what he or she wants, and repeat what they want in your own words to confirm that everyone is on the same page. Sometimes, the strength coach knows more than the coach about what is best for the team when it comes to training. Unfortunately, we have to follow the philosophy of doing right, not being right. Strength coaches are usually very well educated and have spent years learning about strength and conditioning from our mentors, researching, and picking the brains of coaches who have built this profession. However, little of this matters to most sport coaches, who typically don’t care who researched what and where you were in the past if the results are not what they desire. No one likes receiving a product they did not order.

A more effective way to communicate is to use the knowledge in a productive manner and share that information in a way that both parties are happy with the final product. Sport coaches are usually advocates of strength and conditioning and enjoy it themselves so I use those interests as an opportunity to build a trusting relationship.

For example, many sport coaches may attend conferences where they learn about the newest and greatest styles of training and gimmicks around the country; sometimes the same conferences a strength coach attends! This shows they want the latest and greatest for their team.

The newest trends may be purposeful or may not be worth implementing. However, if the championship team in their conference is doing it, that must be the reason they are winning. Of course, we know better, but perception is very powerful.

Recently, after a conditioning session with our baseball team, the head coach approached me about adding vision training to the program. He had heard about it from other coaches whose teams used it and he wanted to stay ahead of the curve.

To assist and show due diligence, I sat down with the coach and explained pros and cons of vision training and followed up by providing him with a book about the subject. This way he knows I support him and stand behind his decisions. I used this as an opportunity to grow and remind myself that training possibilities are endless and coaches will try anything to get to the next level.

Extra Effort

The job description of a strength coach is broad and varies at universities across the country. A weekly schedule may consist of travel, attending practices, meetings, and working with multiple teams, which results in long hours. Most strength coaches understand the sacrifices required in the profession before choosing it as a career.

After working with some of the best strength coaches in the business, I have learned that doing the minimum may not get you fired, and it also won’t enhance your career. Showing up, training athletes, and preventing injuries is our basic job description. To go from good to great, additional sacrifices need to be made.

Coming in early on the weekend to train a kid before practice, splitting teams up to train them in smaller groups, assisting at practice, and being assertive by asking the sport coach if there is anything else that can be done are examples of doing more than what is expected. A dear friend of mine, Tim Wakeham, once said, “Be willing to do what others won’t, and you will receive what others don’t.” I think about this quote every day.

With budget cuts and downsizing, including within the athletics department, I believe it is important to find what sets you apart from the other strength coaches across the country. What makes you an outstanding coach that every team wants to work with? What makes you invaluable to a program?

Identify these answers and build your repertoire around them. I have been fortunate to work with some excellent coaches who have helped me define these traits and put myself in a position for success. I encourage other strength coaches to do the same in order to preserve your longevity in this field. At the very least, you will learn priceless information that may help you wherever you end up working.

Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Xavier University. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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