Advice I Wish I Knew in the Beginning

Whether you are a seasoned veteran in this field or just beginning your journey into coaching, this is the advice I wish I knew when I was first beginning my journey. My hope is these words can help guide you towards doing your best work.

· 10 min read
Advice I Wish I Knew in the Beginning

1. Ethics Have Always Mattered

I have always been fortunate to be in positions where my ethics are rarely challenged. In athletics, this feat alone is the equivalent to finding a unicorn at the end of a rainbow. It is a rarity in this profession to work for organizations that resist asking you to compromise your ethics and values for the organization's bottom-line. I have made it a habit to count my blessings in these regards but I know many people in this field who are not in the position I am.

I know far too many good people who are challenged to forgo their values for the sake of the organization. They cast aside what they know is right, for the desire to win. What I can tell you is that if you feel uneasy about a questionable decision, that alone is a sign that it is not aligned with the correct ethics or values. If you have a strong conscious, it is incredibly difficult to fool yourself. Trust your gut and always do what is right. In the long run, you will be judged more heavily by your ethics and personal values that any win/loss column.

2. Secondary Income isn't Selling Out

Early in my career, I passed up on many opportunities to generate a secondary income out of fear of "straying too far away from collegiate strength and conditioning". I was spectacularly foolish. I always thought side projects were a distraction away from my primary responsibility of a coach. If I was not on the floor coaching all day was I a fraud? Many of the coaches I knew appeared to have it made; they were working at a great school, oversaw some impressive teams, and had a very attractive title. As I grew closer to these coaches, forming personal relationships with them, I discovered the very thing that tied all of us together.

Beneath the superficial surface of logos and titles, we all struggled to financially make things work.

Truth be told, secondary income streams empower you to do better and more authentic work. Financial security allows you to work for the passion versus the financial compensation. My advice to those starting off in this field is to find ways to stretch your influence and craft. If you are a proficient writer, find publications, blogs, and articles where you can share you ideas. If you enjoy speaking, find podcasts or conferences where you can present your thoughts. Share you ideas, your work, and the information you have in a way where you can generate a means of supporting yourself (and your family).

In the beginning, you may not have a strategy or way to monetize the additional work you perform, however if the material delivers value to people, there will be an audience willing to financially support it.

3. Do the Work

The best marketing will not make up for a terrible product. At the end of the day, you need to put in the work and perform the repetitions. The very best at what they do commit more effort to their craft than what others realize. It is easy for outsiders to believe the lie that others possess an uncanny ability or natural talent, the reality is that high-performers endured more repetitions than their counterparts.

Truth be told, I had this disillusioned belief that I had a golden ticket into this profession. Maybe I was next star? The next 20-under-20, destined to rise through the ranks immediately and assume a head coaching position. I believed that between my footing at my university and the opportunity I had in the strength and conditioning department at Michigan State, I had a fast-track through strength and conditioning. I was ridiculously wrong. There is no fast in this profession similar to no shorter distance to run during a marathon.

This profession is what it is and you simply have to be comfortable with enduring the journey, putting in the hours and work, and enduring the long haul. If you embrace and enjoy the process, however you define the end destination, will ultimately come to surprise you. Do not rush the process.

4. Don't Shortchange Yourself

On your very worst days, when you can not believe you can continue on, you are stronger and more resilient than you could ever imagine. We all have moments where we think "is this the path for me" or "can I make this work out". This industry can be cut-throat and will absolutely challenge your perseverance.

If you have found yourself thinking those thoughts, recognize that your experiencing a valley in your long journey. You may not see the light, being as low as you are in your professional valley, but as you climb out of that valley and experience the next career peak, you will gain some appreciation for the highs and lows and will be grateful for continuing to climb that long and dark hill.

5. Recognize when Your Passion is Waning

This profession demands so much out from those working it, that it often comes with the expense of physical and emotional ramifications. The "glory days" of being on the floor for 15 hour days for consecutive weeks and months can take a very serious toll on you. When you recognize those waning moments during your career it is often a sign that your becoming burned out. You need to address this as soon as possible to avoid the negative consequences of burning out.

Early identification of that feeling is important, and subsequently, acting upon it even more so. Most often, you need to find a way to balance your workload or find some secondary interests to reignite that initial passion. In my experience, I find when I recognize a dip in passion, it occurs when I am either not being challenged enough or overworked. Knowing my own professional work-up, it is even more important for me to find my optimal "sweet spot" where I am equally challenged and refreshed. You may need to calibrate the conditions for what works with you.

In the most extreme cases, you may need to find an alternative task to challenge you. One of the worse things you can do in your professional development is become dispassionate about what you are doing. If your identifying those early signs, it is not always a case of being "in the wrong field". Trust me, you will find out the longer your in this field, the more you will fall in love with it. Every profession has tasks within it that is susceptible to creating conditions of burn-out.

You need to dig deeper and uncover what is leading to those conditions.

6. Play the Long Game

Truth be told, I wanted the fast lane. I like the hustle and the tempo. I have always embraced "do more, do it faster, and go longer than everyone else" as a professional motto.

I would be wildly hypocritical to say that professional ethos has not delivered me to potentially where I am today. Reflecting back on those days, I made a lot of foolish mistakes in my pursuit of "what is next".

If you plan to be around in the end of this career I would advise you to play the long game. Find a professional pace that you can envision carrying out through your career. Early on, I found myself incredibly impatient in my younger professional years. I chased every opportunity for personal growth and I often did not provide myself any opportunity to breathe and reflect. Rushing from task-to-task acts as a short-term high with long-term consequences. The breakneck pace is highly addictive as it feels stimulating finishing things and immediately moving to the next bullet item. Chill out!

If you allow yourself the room to breathe and ample amount of time to reflect on your craft and your own life, the dream you are pursuing will ultimately pursue you. Enjoy the journey and do not get distracted by trying to constantly jump through the next hoop. Be where your feet are and stay grounded.

7. "Who" is Always Better than "Where"

Where you work is nowhere near as important as who you work with. I have heard many coaches describe what sounds like "destination dream positions" be rendered into insufferable working conditions because of who they are surrounded by. The people you work with matter way more than the place you work in.

The reality of it all, is our working lives are too limited to tolerate working in toxic situations with energy-vampires. If you find yourself in a positions like this, I would highly encourage an exit-strategy if you are in such an atmosphere.

As you will find out, you will spend a large portion of your days in your working environment. Try to find an organizational fit where you enjoy being around the people you work with. I have been fortunate finding such an environment at University of Colorado Boulder. The people I am surrounded by excite me, energize me, motivate me to be better, and are a joy to work, laugh, and collaborate with.

8. Big Time Is Where You're At

Work with the end in the mind but enjoy the process along the way. It is wise to have goals and a strategic plan to accomplish those professional milestones but do not lose sight of your day-to-day objectives. Too often "the next" position is the nemesis of your "current position". I often wonder if I am hitting my professional stride and worrying less in life but I found myself stressing and worrying less and less about the next position. That mental worry is unnecessary. Enjoy the ride.

"I'm falling so I'm taking my time on my ride. Oh, I'm falling so I'm taking my time on my ride. Taking my time on my ride" - Twenty One Pilots

Focus on where your feet are and commit yourself to doing great work day-in and day-out. If your patient and committed to doing your best work, whatever you consider "Big Time" will find you. Keep your head down and do the work.

9. Failure is a Part of Your Journey

Put yourself in positions that stretch your boundaries where failure is likely. If you are patient and humble enough to observe the signs and listen to the feedback, you will recognize that failure is a critical process to self-actualization and growth. Take calculated risks and learn from your mistakes. I have made many mistakes along my coaching journey but I am steadfast to make sure that I do not make the same mistake twice.

Failure will follow you outside the confines of your working environment. It may follow you to your personal life affecting relationships, family, financial means, and more. Recognize that the feeling of failure is ultimately impermanent. The failure and sorrow you may feel today is impermanent and will pass. The happiness and good times you are experiencing today is impermanent and will pass. There is ultimately suffering in this world and it is these moments that allow for us to grateful for the good times.

10. Children Changes Things

So much of collegiate coaching is centered around "timing". If your in this field then you likely already know how crucial timing is to your professional growth. For those of you beginning to pursue this career full-time, it's worth noting, a large degree of your success will come down to nailing the timing aspect. The right call, the right email, the right opportunity, all can present itself because of a wild series of events.

A lot of your initial success in this field, or at the very least, your entry into the profession, will be a result of "being in the right place at the right time."

"Timing has always been a key element in my life. I have been blessed to have been in the right place at the right time." - Buzz Aldrin

Recognizing that timing is a crucial component to your initial career success, so is the time you have available to be a part of your young children's lives. The early years you have with your young children is wildly fleeting and is even more so important than any set or rep scheme or the next research paper.

Prioritize your children.

At this very moment, one of my son's favorite activities is looking through old videos of himself on my phone. While his eyes flicker with each new video that loads up, many of them while he was a small baby, I realize the children I am watching in these old videos barely resemble the kids I now parent. They will never exist as those young kids again.

Childhood passes in a blink of an eye. Gone in a second. It is my opinion that those years are worth everything and being actively involved in their young life during these pivotal years, even if it costs me professional career growth, is a tradeoff I am willing to make.

As I write this, I am reminded of a conversation I had with my Father upon the birth of my first child. The conversation still to this day is was one of the most resonating things he shared with me in regards to Fatherhood. The discussion centered around the lyrics in Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" song.

"Well, my son turned ten just the other day. He said , "Thanks for the ball, Dad. Come on, let's play. Could you teach me to throw ?" I said, "Not today. I got a lot to do." He said, "That's okay."And he walked away and he smiled and he said,"You know, I'm gonna be like him, yeah. You know I'm gonna be like him."

Upon the birth of my first born, my daughter, he encouraged me to be present in her young life because they grow up too quickly. He told me to listen to this song and expanded on it briefly by saying he wished he would have been around more during my younger years.

"I've long since retired, my son's moved away. I called him up just the other day."I'd like to see you, if you don't mind." He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I could find the time. You see my new job's a hassle and the kids have the flu, But it's sure nice talkin' to you, Dad. It's been sure nice talkin' to you." And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, He'd grown up just like me. My boy was just like me."

I never thought he was not present during my younger years but perhaps I do not remember. I to this day, have always felt felt like he was available and around when I needed his presence. Perhaps he carried that guilt, like most working fathers, deep inside but it was painful to hear. After thinking about what he shared, it made me pause and consider the short time I have with my young children. As a busy coach, juggling so many different things, I often worry about creating the same conditions in my own children; especially when I am with my teams more than my own children.

I am convinced, if you have the skills and determination to make it in this field, you will ultimately carve your path towards however you define "personal success".

For me, I define my success as one which includes my loving family.