Jul 25, 2017
Starting Out
Nick Crouse

For many high school athletic performance coaches developing a high functioning “school day” course presents obstacles; such as student-athlete class schedule requirements, meeting state standards, developing a comprehensive curriculum, and juggling coaching philosophies amongst various school head coaches. Consideration must be given to all factors and educating yourself on the “how’s and why’s” of these factors is non negotiable.

As high school strength and conditioning coaches, we are some of the most influential people in our districts and communities. We are tasked with upholding the vision of every head coach in our athletic department while pushing our students to places they have never been. Many of us also work with students who are not involved in anything extra-curricular, but who find that our room is the one place they can go to find an escape from everyday stress.

In my three years as a high school strength and conditioning coach in Red Oak, Iowa, I have experienced many ups and downs. From every one of those moments, I have grown to become a better coach and a better person. In reflecting on my experiences over the past three years, I have six helpful tips that will help you as you start your journey as a new high school strength coach.

Build Relationships

As John Maxwell said, “Children don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This, hands down, is the most important tip that I or anyone else can give you. We entered this field to make a positive impact on the lives of kids while serving in a role that we love. Our student-athletes see us every day and many of them may look to us as role models.

Show your kids that you care about them by simply saying “good morning,” going to watch their activities, asking about their lives outside of school and sports, serving as someone they can come talk to about life situations, and telling them that you care about them. If you show your student-athletes that you value them more as a person than as an athlete, you will create a group of kids that will run through a wall for you.

Get Your Administration on Board

Gaining the support of your administration for what you do in your program is critical to the success of your career. Establishing positive relationships with your athletic director, principal (if you serve as a teacher), and superintendent opens doors that will help you establish and grow your strength and conditioning program. Once you have demonstrated how the work you do benefits all programs, it becomes much easier to access funds for facility improvement from administrators.

You also need the personal and professional support of your administration. Unfortunately, we live in a world where no matter the certifications we hold or the amount of time we have been working in this field, there will be an issue that comes up with a parent or community member, and you will need your administration on your side to help resolve this conflict.

Establish a Culture

If you have worked hard to build relationships with your students, establishing a culture in your strength and conditioning program will not take long to accomplish. However, this step is going to serve as the foundation and is vital to a successful program.

When establishing your culture, you must set guidelines for the behavior you will allow and the work ethic you want to see. Establishing your culture will take time and you must stick to your guns and stand up for the actions you want to see in your program to establish your culture.

One example we have adopted in Red Oak is our non-negotiable language. There are four words that we call “cuss words,” and we do not allow them inside of our program. The words are: can’t, hard, tired, and hot. I view these words as distracters and I believe they pull our thoughts away from what we can control and cause us to focus on things outside of our control. In sport and in life, there are few things that we can control, so we focus on putting all our effort into what we can control and letting everything else go.

The first year was the most difficult year in establishing this small part of the culture, but by sticking to this ideal, we had reached a point by the end of the year where kids were calling each other out if they used one of the “cuss words” and helping each other focus on what they could control. We must coach what we want to see in our program and eliminate anything we do not want.

Always Have an Open Door

One of the best things you can do as a new strength coach is welcome anyone and everyone into your program, because most people have no idea what we do on a day to day basis. Many people envision one of two things as our daily job — they either think we sit in the corner with the newspaper and drink coffee while the kids do whatever they want, or they think we do nothing but yell the entire time.

Do not hesitate to show fellow teachers, coaches, or community members exactly what you do! The more people you can show your program off to, the more support you will gain. Doing so will allow you to meet different community members and illustrate to the community that you are there to help every student and athlete who walks through your door.

Ask Questions

This may seem too simple to be true, but trust me — there is no better way to learn and grow in this profession than by asking other coaches questions. There is tremendous support available for the asking, and no one will ever push you away. Since the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA) began last December, I have gained an immeasurable amount of knowledge by simply reaching out to various coaches at conferences, through the NHSSCA Facebook page or on Twitter, and by email.

Although we are often “singletons” at our own schools, there is a network of coaches always willing to help. Even if you think you are the only person who has ever dealt with a certain situation, reach out and ask for help. It is almost certain that another coach has encountered a similar situation and will give you advice on how to handle things.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes

No one in this world, let alone in this profession, is perfect. We will make mistakes daily, but we cannot be afraid to make a mistake! Every year I look back and reflect on our program and the results we obtained to see what I need to change. And every year when I sit down and reflect, I ask myself, “What the heck was I thinking?”

As I have gained more experience in the field, there are fewer instances of this, but the point is that we must always reflect, learn from our mistakes, and keep focusing on the success and well-being of our students. We should be looking at new research and methods to help give our kids the best chance to succeed. There will be mistakes made, but at the end of the day, if we can learn and grow from the mistakes we made, that is all that matters.

Extra Point

The last piece of information I can give you to help you start your journey in the best profession in the world is this: Love your kids no matter what. This is part of building relationships, but it is so important to me that I had to give it its own space. Yes, we work with 14- to 18-year-olds and yes, they will make some pretty dumb decisions, but that does not take away from what kind of kids they are.

I tell my students every semester that there are only two groups of people who will be bigger fans and supporters of them than I will be, and that is their grandparents and their parents. Tell your kids that you love them and that you care about them, because you never know what kind of day they may be having or what kind of things are going on at home. Letting them know you care can change their whole world.

In the same respect, if a student is not giving you everything they have, be honest with them and let them know that they can do better. At the end of the day, we are here to help them grow as people and as athletes, and if they are not putting forth the effort, the best thing we can do is be completely honest with them and show them how to reach their full potential.

Nick Crouse is the Strength & Conditioning Coach; Physical Education teacher at Red Oak Community High School in Red Oak, Iowa. He is a certified Sports Performance Coach through USA Weightlifting and is a member of the NHSSCA and NSCA.

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