10 Commandments of aspiring strength and conditioning coaches
1. I just graduated from Uni, what team will I train?
I'll give you a heads up before I burst your bubble....... It's more than likely you won't train one! Well immediately post graduation anyway. To save you the time and worry don't get too far ahead of yourself, I know that because I did and thought it was a natural progression right? How very wrong I was......
There are hundreds of S&C coaches working part-time just to land that full-time gig, and although some may land the dream gig immediately they're few and far between. I realised how privileged I was a couple of years ago whilst completing the prac component of my masters. When the lecturer asked how many people actually work full-time in S&C..... out of a class of approximately 30 students I was 1 of 5 to put my hand up.
...... and that's a post-graduate degree!
Another comment I often hear aspiring S&C coaches saying is how much they are expecting to get paid. So how much do you think you're worth? In this instance it's probably best to keep it realistic. For my first full-time role, because I learnt these positions were scarce I left a comfortable salary managing a corporate health facility for how much?......... to be offered 40k annually! So keep in mind you may think your worth a 'comfortable salary' but also remember you haven't actually proven yourself yet!
....... once you do you can always renegotiate ;)
2. Work experience is KING!
Whilst my mates were trying to scam their way out of work experience during Uni I looked at it as a head start. In doing this I was very fortunate to learn from someone I considered my first mentor Darren Burgess.... and how lucky I was!
Remember this, every job I have ever been offered and this includes paid work has all come from contacts I made during my work experience placements, and for that I'm grateful!
Whilst completing work experience remember this is your investment and don't treat it with a mentality of 'well I'm not getting paid for this!' Any day, hr, week, should be available because you shouldn't want to miss a step of the journey.
Always remember you need to be able to say you've coached someone when applying for jobs, so if this means when starting out you volunteer so be it. Get it done! I've lost count of the amount of aspiring coaches who have contacted me for employment and when I asked where they're working/or where they have worked they're reply is 'I haven't.' You can have all the qualifications in the world but until you see 100's/1000's of different bodies and skill sets you're not likely to be able to effectively coach them.
I recently listened to a podcast where Darren spoke and when asked with the question of how he got started the reply was something along the lines of 'I did voluntary work for close to 5 years.'
So remember, the hrs may seem unpaid but they certainly are hrs well spent!
3. 9-5/ Monday-Fri Job
I'll keep this short, you need to get that idea out real quick!
The average day can be anywhere from 8-12hrs......... and for the record there's generally always a weekend day involved :)
4. Train Yourself
In my eyes the best S&C coaches train themselves! You don't have to be able to lift club records and compete with all your athletes at all (if you can hat off to you because I can't, and remember they're athletes for a reason!). This is simply from a skill acquisition perspective. If you can complete an exercise it's far easier to demonstrate, if you have learnt an exercise you have an understanding of what has been manipulated to achieve success at it, and you are not only able to demonstrate what is required but can use coaching language to accomplish it.
A big learning point for me was when I completed a weight lifting course several years ago (as in olympic lifting). I discovered numerous imbalances/limitations that prevented me from completing certain exercises. So I thought if I can't do these how can I demonstrate them? So what did I do....... practiced, practiced, and practiced. Whilst I'm still by no means the strongest guy out there, I can at least demonstrate what is required.
Athletes will also have a little more respect for you if you don't look like you're craving the next meal option at McDonalds!
Whilst I feel this is an important quality of a coach, I always remember what Ashley Jones (a very accomplished S&C coach with too bigger resume to cover here) said at a couple of his seminars on S&C, it went something like 'if the S&C coach looks the goods, I'd probably be concerned about his athletes because he's not spending enough time with them!'
5. Education doesn't end with a Uni degree
In order to stay up to date with the latest research and trends within the industry you'll need to continually better yourself. Regular attendance at conferences such as the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA) is a great way to gain further understanding of what other leaders in the industry are doing which more than likely will be applicable to you.
Regular subscription/memberships to various publications/governing bodies will allow you to stay up to date with relevant information. On average I'll read probably 10-15 peer-reviewed articles a month, a txt every couple of months, and watch the odd youtube clip/DVD.
You can never learn too much to better your coaching.
6. Trends come and go
Being involved in the fitness industry there's always a new tool that claims to be the saviour! Some people buy into these, however personally I prefer to adopt a holistic approach.
I'll give you an example: When I started out over a decade ago the swiss-ball was the greatest piece of equipment ever..... apparently. You didn't have to look far to find athletes and coaches pushing the boundaries with this tool. It was almost a test to see who could squat the most while standing on one! Whilst I believe they certainly have merit in instances, if you look around in gyms/performance facilities these days they're gathering dust in the corner.
Another example is the explosion of a form of high intensity interval training (HIIT) in recent years. Whilst this has a cult following and in many instances is proving very lucrative for some, how long it will last only time will tell.
Remember there's no one form of training that will accomplish everything, so keep your eyes and ears open and make your own mind up what you see best fits.
7. Coaching Staff
Remember they are responsible for hiring and firing. It's best to work with them than against them. As an S&C coach you are obviously trying to get the best out of your athletes using your own intellectual property. However, with no athletes to work with your own opinion isn't too valid.
Understand the coaches coaching philosophy, and work with how your expertise can positively contribute and get the best out of it.
Not only will you last longer in the role, but by utilising your expertise you'll no doubt be successful in it!
8. Good Bloke vs. Good Coach
This is an interesting concept that many S&C coaches who have been around a while will understand where I'm coming from. You'll often hear athletes say an S&C coach is 'a good bloke', or 'a good S&C coach' sometimes there's a difference.....
I've seen numerous S&C coaches get offered great roles by getting along with everyone. It doesn't necessarily mean they're the best S&C coach going around but the fact they are personable, approachable, can relate to those within the club, and fit into the work environment allows them to be successful at what they do. I've also seen great S&C coaches not land jobs because their personality and opinion is too confronting to those around them.
On the other side often athletes may say a particular S&C coach is good because he gives them what they want, which in some instances may be as little work as possible.
Remember you are there to do a job, and coach. The athletes will respect you in the long run by the time and knowledge you commit to them in order for them to be as successful as they can be. It's hard to please everyone (athletes included), but by demonstrating your understanding of your trade and applying it in a personable manner will go a long way!
9. Always give back
As I mentioned earlier I was fortunate enough to work for 2 years under someone I considered to be my first mentor. Darren was more than happy to provide opportunity for those who demonstrated they were enthusiastic and passionate about the industry. I too have continued with this philosophy, and have seen interns who have spent time with me go onto great things.
Sure its a competitive industry and in many instances at an elite level often S&C coaches can be very cagey with allowing people in to see what they do and how they apply their tools of the trade. In my opinion it's a great industry, one that I'm fortunate to be a part of, and I couldn't see myself doing anything else. So why not be of assistance where you can, being a prac supervisor, mentor, or just allowing other coaches to bounce ideas off you.
At the end of the day it only raises the credibility/ standard of the profession and encourages you as a coach to be on your game and the best you can be!
10. Enjoy the ride
Finally one that I'm often very guilty of. It's always easy to continue to look forward and try to achieve that end goal, or the light at the end of the tunnel. Often this takes time and years of dedication, because let's be realistic only those committed really last in such a competitive industry.
So look around every once in a while no matter what your current situation whether it be prac hrs, voluntary work, part-time work, or full-time work and enjoy it while it lasts.....