Thursday, 16 May 2013

an open letter to the young strength coach...part two

I’ve had a few conversations this week that have fallen along similar lines.  

Most recently, I was talking to British Javelin thrower Goldie Sayers, who has been in Phoenix rehabbing an elbow surgery.  She was discussing how many Strength and Conditioning coaches there seems to be these days. Indeed, our industry has exploded over the last decade.  She also questioned how many of these coaches were actually good?  How many of them understand what it takes to train an athlete?  How many can work in conjunction with the athlete’s technical coaches and support team.  How many of them understand the delicate interplay between training in the gym, on the field, and in their life?  

I have written about this before, so I’m not going to rehash over old news - but it’s on my mind.  So I’m gonna talk about it.  

My short chat with Goldie followed closely on the heels of a discussion with Scottsdale-based coach Ian Danney.  Ian is a stud.  One of the best in this business, he works almost exclusively with NFL players out of his private facility in North Scottsdale.  We were talking about how to walk that fine line between promoting your business and - frankly - selling out.  It’s a tricky one.  NFL players like to come to Ian because no one knows who he is, or where he is (in fact, he will be pissed at me now for just telling the world that he’s in Scottsdale).  The players appreciate the anonymity.  The fact that he is not trying to sell his facility off the back of them. The knowledge that they will be treated professionally, by a professional coach, who understands the unique nature of the game they play and the demands it requires.  In a world of dime-a-dozen S&C Coaches who are doing the exact opposite, Ian is - unfortunately - quite unique.  

Earlier in the week, I had a conversation with University of North Carolina Strength and Conditioning Coach Jonas Sahration.  Jonas is a real good coach.  And an even better dude.  He’s been Roy Williams’ strength guy for over a decade, and is one of those guys who just gets it done.  Nothing fancy - just good solid work.  He understands where the value of a good S&C guy is.  Instead of chasing numbers, in the vain attempt to feed his own ego, he focuses on what is truly important: keeping his guys in the game.  

Tons of coaches can get dudes faster.  Tons can get them stronger.  Tons more can get them bigger.  

This doesn't mean a thing if the athletes are watching from the sidelines when the big day comes.  

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.   It is not about how strong they are.  Or how fast they are.  Or how big they are.  It’s not about the numbers your athletes put up.  

And it’s not about you.

Don't design programs to feed your own ego. 

And that brings me to what Jonas and I were discussing.  I have known Jonas for about 12 or 13 years.  Since right about the time when Mel Siff’s Supertraining Yahoo Group was at its apex.  I loved that site.  Tons of super-smart guys posted on there - including Siff, Verkhoshansky, Loren Chiu, Steven Plisk, as well as S&C guys like Christian Thibaudeau and Charles Staley.  I used to spend hours on Supertraining.  It was the primary source of S&C info for many a coach.

Well to make a long story short, I think I posted on there a total of twice.  And, as usual, both times it was to disagree with someone (I’ve since gotten much better at keeping my mouth least on public forums!).  Jonas reminded me of those posts, and we still chuckle about it today. 

It was about the time when everyone was jumping on Charles Poliquin’s jock.  And I have no problem with guys bigging up other coaches.  I have no problem with coaches bigging up themselves.  I do have a problem when they exaggerate - or lie - about what they have done.  It was said that Charles was instrumental to Donovan Bailey’s success, and was the main reason behind the success of the Canadian bobsleigh team.  I’m not going to go into details here, but one of these is an outright lie, the other a massive exaggeration.  My response was that even though I had a ton of respect for Poliquin’s knowledge (I still do - in fact, a great majority of us in the industry owe our jobs to the man, and the work he put in to justify our positions), exaggerating accomplishments to feed your own ego, or to sell another book is not right.  

I was also under the impression that Poliquin was the ultimate bigger-faster-stronger S&C Coach.  You wanted to get bigger? Go see Charles.  You wanted a bigger squat?  Go see Charles.  

But that is not what makes one a good strength coach.  

That is not the job.  Nobody cares how big your bench is if you're sitting on one.  

In this wildly diluted S&C market - one rife with internet experts and plagiarizing ‘gurus’, we all feel the need to have an impact.  I understand this.  But ‘impact’ is an ambiguous term.  A lot of impact has negative value.  Driving up a guy's power clean simply to justify your position - or your ego - is not what this game is all about.  

Or at least, it shouldn’t be.  


  1. Too many pt and others think they know what s &c is.....just lifting wts ain't it and doing kb's, cross fit or insanity type s£&t! What about planning, monitoring, .... Oh and coaching the person, who might actually be damn good at sport.......great S&C athletes out there but not at any performance level - great having all that time with them in the gym. Try working with 3 45 min slots a week, 35 games of league to win a championship with part- time pros, in a s?£te facility. But now I have fallen for it...publicly bickering on S&C serve to develop profession or denigrate it?

  2. I consider myself a "young strength coach." At 26, I have just completed my fourth year anniversary at NX Level in Waukesha, WI in the States. NX is a private facility that is home to NFL elite, MMA stars,US OT swimmers, collegiate athletes, high school kids who want to improve to hold a spot on the J.V. squad, youth athletes as young as 10 and of course Betty Brinns and Joe Schmoes. I get to see and work with every side of the spectrum on a daily basis. In our internet age of strength coaching, fairly young guys like me, need to realize the basics. I remind myself everyday that a coach is someone that literally, as etymology dictates, carries someone or something of value to where they want to go. There are many talented young professionals, but what does stand the test of time are those who stick to their principles--of character, leadership, and of course training. Not a day goes by that I teach my athletes a lesson or principle, and literally remind myself to swallow those words as well. To the young coaches reading this--keep reading, never be afraid to ask questions, understand that in training you have to know what to do, why to do it, how to do it and then finally when to do it. Understanding progressions in exercise will help you progress as a coach. You have to think, think and than think some more--all while simplifying for the athlete. To leave you with some thing I teach my athletes everyday, "all that matters is progress. And a little progress is still progress." Many of us are in search of becoming the best, training the best,creating the best program--its literally impossible. What dictates your success on your strength journey is simply to understand--you will have struggle, you need to keep progressing everyday, you need to be grateful for each opportunity, you need to treat everyone and every facet of your day as important and than you need to repeat with no loss of enthusiasm.
    Stu- I believe I first read a post by you regarding hurdle hop progressions way back in 2003. Keep up the phenomenal work--You Inspire and Empower me to get better and help others.
    Young Strength Coach Matt

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