As I round out my tenth year of collegiate strength and conditioning coaching, I have found time to sit quietly and reflect on many of the lessons I have learned along my journey. It seems as I have continued to learn new things, be exposed to new ideas in the world of performance training, or have high-level conversations with many professionals who have coached for over thirty years, (many of them I've had on as guests on the Decoding Excellence Show) I feel less "certain" about the performance training industry in which we operate within.
I fear many people graduate from their university with a degree in one hand and a strength and conditioning certifications in the other, ready to take on the world with their vast knowledge. The challenge in this false illusion, is those people leave campus believing they know everything needed to optimally prepare athletes. It is even more dangerous if they have read Supertraining or any other high-level textbook on strength and conditioning.
The more I have been involved in coaching, the more I truly realize how far away we ALL are from knowing everything.
I have been blessed to learn from some really incredible coaches along my coaching pathway. Many of which who have invested their time, a tremendous about of education, and their personal philosophies and wisdom with me. I have learned many-fold from watching them operate and the system-based beliefs and ways they think and communicate with others.
I have learned so much from some incredible people; I owe much of my success and thoughts to them. It is cliche to say "I stand on the shoulders of giants" but it is absolutely true. Nearly every coach I meet, shares similar stories of the mentors in their lives who have invested in them and helped shape their path. We all owe someone for believing in us and sharing with us. Do not underestimate your individual influence on the future generation of strength & conditioning professionals.
Over these last ten years, I have kept a journal of some of the greatest things coaches and other people have shared with me. Today, I want to share these pieces of wisdom with you. I hope they help you on your path in the same way they have helped me.
1. “It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission
Do not wait for anyone to tell you that it is okay to chase your passion. If there is something that interests you, go for it. The very best in the world do not wait for someone to give them permission to go out and seek their bliss. They carve their own path. If something really excited you than you owe it to yourself to do it. Playing it safe is for the amateurs. You will win some, you will lose some; but never hesitate to call your shot and swing for the fences.
2. “Working this hard has kept me this young.”
I know it is rare to see people coaching into their later years but there are many legendary coaches who still do. While they are few and far between, there are a few of these icons still on the floor and coaching as vigorously as they did when they first began. It is one of the unique thing about working in collegiate athletics, you are surrounded by young, exciting, and enthusiastic people. When people say strength and conditioning is a “young person’s game”they may be right; I also think it keeps you a “young person” too. Do not take it for granted.
3. “Know when to hold and when to fold.”
Within this profession, you will gain some incredible colleagues, close-friends, and work along side some truly amazing people. You will have countless of coaches, assistant coaches, employees, bosses, and partners in your journey. The harsh reality in this profession is that people move on, they find new passions, and ultimately move on from coaching. When it is time, let them go. When you do make that decision to let them leave your life, keep their best interests in heart. Do not hold any resentment towards these people. Let them free.
4. “Balance your energy; both mental and physical.”
The greatest thing I could recommend for you is seated mediation. I wrote about this enough throughout this website but we live in a world of instant gratification. The youth we work with even are more so conditioned for it. The world continues to sell us an image to work harder, grind more, and go further. It is okay to have ambition, but temper that ambition with restfulness. It is okay to sit down and meditate for twenty minutes. Take a deep breath and let it roll over you.
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day; unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” - Zen proverb
5. “Complaining never solved anything.
It is far easier to be the person who finds faults in everything. It is even more difficult to be the person that finds the solution. Be the later and not the former. At the end of the day, if you are always the one complaining, it will not do anyone or any program any good. Rise about it negativity.
6. “Think long term. Be strategic.”
Think of life as four-dimensional chess. While we all like to think of the rat race as this never ending wheel that constant hums and spins at blazing speeds, if your following your bliss, you will have a long time in this career to figure it out. Truthfully told, most people are conditioned to chase the next short-term high; try to embrace the your long term goal. While everyone else is playing the short game, stay locked in on the long game. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
7. “Preparedness is a choice.”
Whatever project you have been assigned, do it to the best of your ability. Put your name on your work and take pride in it. More than half of doing great work is coming in prepared to do great work. It is a hallmark of a professional, they always prepare harder and more diligently than the amateur. You see this time and time again with professional athletes. The season veterans put as much time into preparing from their play book, scout, film, and other avenues of performance as they do with their physical outputs. Do not let anyone out prepare you. It is one hundred percent up to your own control.
8. “Always bring more kindness.”
Bring more joy and kindness into to your everyday interactions with athletes, coaches, administrators, or others. When you can, be the spark of kindness into the conversation. The world is small, we are all struggling with things that most people have no idea of, be the kindness you want to receive.
9. “Life is full of suffering”
This may be one of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths but it is ever more important in this world. Life is full of suffering and we must acknowledge it. People are inevitably mean, you will miss job opportunities you rightfully deserve, and people will do you wrong. Despite these things, do not feel sorry for yourself. Be better. Do better.
10. “Know the person in the mirror.”
There are qualities that uniquely make you the person you are. These are most likely your strengths. Over the years, especially for "type-A" personalities like myself, you may concentrate all your efforts focusing on improving your weaknesses. While this is not a bad thing, do not underestimate your strengths. Improving weaknesses and covering for your "blind spots" are important, but the strengths are your strengths for a reason.
Perhaps Einstein said it best:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
I have found myself gravitating more towards purposely positioning myself in opportunities that naturally call upon my strengths more than my weaknesses. Do not neglect your weaknesses but play favorites to your strengths. The ultimate mastery and self-knowledge comes by knowing your weaknesses, favoring your strengths, and understanding the environmental context in which you play.
11. “Let go of the grudges.”
The reality about this world is that you will cross many selfish, arrogant, and self-serving people on a daily basis. Nobody is exempt from having to deal with the unpleasantry of other people's personalities or hardships. Instead of harboring any unpleasant thoughts or resentment for their wrongdoings, try to share with them gratitude and acceptance. Trying to attack anger-with-anger is a poor choice. These people live with the misery of having to live with their own negativity. That itself is punishment in it's own right. They are already carrying that negativity with them throughout their entire day, help steer them into the right.
12. “Find the silver lining.”
There will be plenty of times in your career where things do not turn out the way you want it. You will be passed up for job opportunities, looked over for promotions, and forgotten about all completely. When things do not go as planned, do not whine or complain. Take ownership and appreciate all that you already have. When things look bleak, try to find the silver lining in your situation. Life is better that way.
Amor Fati - Love of Fate
Enjoy all the things you are already have be grateful for those gifts. Try to start your day by reciting or writing three unique things you are grateful for. I do this as a part of my gratitude practice. I guarentee you that you will feel a happier and better person taking inventory for all the things you should be grateful of. You do not need to "world’s best" to be enjoy the world.
13. “Do not procrastinate hard tasks; they will not get easier.”
The truth about hard things is that despite how much time passes from idea to actual execution, the task will still remain challenging. Delaying the execution will not much it easier, rather, you will be dealing the pressure from procrastination and urgency while also having to do the same challenging task. Whether it is a difficult conversation, admitting wrong doing, or firing people, the best strategy is just to simply do it as fast as possible and allow the healing to begin.
14. “No two people think exactly the same.”
One of the basic tenets I have learned through coaching is that people comprehend information differently. This is Coaching 101. Information has to run through the filter of personalities, individual preferences for intake of new ideas, styles of upbringing people were raised in, and many other facets. You might resonate with another person over shared interests or some other quality but understand that everyone is fundamentally different. When you begin to get defensive about why someone else is not understanding your view point, take a moment to put yourself in their situation. Put yourself in their mind.
15. “Appreciate the hard times.”
The magazines will attempt to sell you an image that everyone is happy and if you feel a moment of depression, sadness, or frustration in your life, you need an anti-depressant. If your coaching long enough, you will feel many “negative” emotions. This is part of the journey. Feel the sadness, embrace the depression, but do not linger in the frustration. These emotions are necessary. You need the dark times to really feel grateful for the good times.
16. “Listen more & talk less.”
We were born with two ears, two eyes, but only one mouth. Try to keep your intake to output ratio as close to 4:1 as possible. Most of the smartest people I know listen more than they speak. Be watchful for those who “have” to talk at every opportunity. It's most likely an act. Avoid them.
17. “Don’t lose your entrepreneur spirit.”
I often hear the same conversations being shared between a lot of strength and conditioning coaches that I occasionally talk with. It mostly certainly centers around "stability of their positions" and the fear that all of us hold about a potential loss of position and how it would negatively affect our means of income to support our families. I completely understand the need of having a driving power or purpose in your life's work. I also understand the logistics of health-insurance and a stable income. Those facts aside, my recommendation to you (new young strength & conditioning coach); you are an entrepreneur. Never lose your unique ability to generate your own income independently from the logo you wear across your chest. Dream. Create. Envision better ideas and generate multiple revenue streams. You will thank me later come the day you (unfortunately) find yourself on a detoured path from the traditional collegiate strength and conditioning career trajectory.
18. “Things will end.”
Be grateful for everything you have in this life because the reality is that all good things come to an end. Your strength will fade. Friendships will come to an end. Your time with athletes, coaches, and even your loved ones will ultimately go. When you accept your time here is very brief, you can begin to become more grateful for the many things we have. Be present with those around you because when you blink your eye, they may be gone. Hug your family a bit tighter, appreciate the people you have around you, and enjoy the good times because you never know when it is up.
19. “Failure are the seeds for future growth.”
I have both been a part of successful teams and programs that fail. The highs of athletics and the very lows. You may not relate failure with success but the world’s best embrace failure for what it truly is; a vehicle for learning. They may hate failing, but the recognize that it is a crucial element to improvement. Those that never embrace "overreaching" and "challenging oneself" deprive themselves from future learning opportunities.
20. “Ignore what doesn’t excite you.”
Things in this field will come and go faster than the latest trend. Some things will move in and out of vogue. If it excites you, do it. If it does not resonate with you, do not feel compelled to do it because the “industry” says you must. The truth of the matter is that we are all figuring it out. If something excites you, you are on the right path.
For all of you that made it thus far, I want to share two more pieces of advice I received. All of these items are interchangeable and being higher in the list by no means makes it more important. The next two items are similar. I hope these last two bonus pieces of advice helps spur some creativity or makes you think about your life in a different way.
21. "Learning is an everyday activity."
Every single day your on this earth, attempt to learn something new for the sake of it. It can be as mundane as a new word or as advance as taking up a new language or physical practice. The more I've attempted to learn things outside my grasp, the more I appreciate how it feels to be a novice again and having to struggle through the adversity of learning something. We all could you a dose of our medicine before we "complain" about an athlete not grasping a weight room movement concept. Purposely put yourself in those positions where you have to learn rapidly.
22. "Admit when your wrong."
The most mature people I know, the people I admire greatly, are all first to admit when they make a mistake. The take extreme ownership in their faults and mistakes. It is how they reframe the mistake that makes the key difference. Mistakes are often opportunities to learn and reapproach a problem for the right solution. When professionals make a mistake, they admit they are wrong, they correct path (their own preperation) and they ensure they never do it again.