I’ve recently become a strength coach. Though, how does one become one? I feel like it’s mostly through experience, so maybe I’m not there yet. I’m there by name and job title, but I’m so aware of the people who have paved the way for strength and conditioning in athletics and I know that I have much to learn. It is an incredibly scientific, thoughtful, and detail-oriented, and I really like that it’s not always about the outcome, but the journey as well. I mean I guess that goes for any profession but there is definitely something special about the way strength & conditioning trains the body and the mind.
How did I get here? When I almost didn’t get into graduate school the second time around, I started looking into strength & conditioning positions. However, most of them wanted some kind of internship experience…so I knew that I’d probably have to do some free labor for a bit. It wasn’t that it “wasn’t worth it”, but I wanted to make the right decisions. Before I could decide, though, I got into grad school & immediately took the opportunity. But I knew that I wanted to have good relationships with coaching & strength coaching staff so I pursued that athletic training position & learned a lot about what to do and what not to do from both sides.
Right before I started my job hunt near the end of school, I commented on how a dream job would be to be a strength & conditioning coach primarily, but an AT as well. Perhaps working alongside at least one other AT. And somehow, I find myself here, nearly a year after that offhand comment. Life has a funny way of working itself out, I guess. I joke around that at least I get to wear gym shorts as a strength coach, but it’s deeper than that. I think it goes back to my days of being an athlete.
As an athlete in high school, I liked practice more than games because I could control more of the outcomes (this is definitely a weakness, but it’s the way I know I like things) and I could receive feedback more quickly…and it allowed me to immediately correct my mistake with another attempt. I liked challenging myself to execute an action and not necessarily worry about reacting to someone else’s actions. I was only competing with myself. Maybe I’m a little scared to compete with others, but at the same time, it doesn’t really interest me the same way.
See, there’s always going to be someone better than you. But if you only try to beat them & not take into account the limit of your potential (it is limited in some ways — I’m 5'4" so I was never going to be the best water polo player with my short arms)…then you’re never going to be happy. I think it’s important to use your unique strengths & passions. I also have spent years comparing myself with other people & I know how unhappy it makes me. Don’t worry, I DO compete with others (check me out playing Settlers of Catan) but it’s not the only thing I think about. Also, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with comparing yourself to other people. It works for some people and the other thing is that it really depends on your mindset — ex. why are you trying to be better?
I think that’s why the weight room appeals to me. You will always get another chance to prove yourself, but all that matters is yourself. Can you listen, how well do you know your body, can you command it to do what you want? I enjoy being in control of things. Sometimes I think to myself, who doesn’t like that? But…I forget that maybe, there are people who don’t need that control, who like testing themselves to see if they can be more creative in their responses to others. That’s like wide receivers/DBs working on their routes — the routes are set but I imagine there’s some freedom especially when it comes to games. I hung out with this group a lot at practice & it was lots of fun (of course DBs are more so reacting to others but…you get what I mean). But going back to the weight room or field conditioning sessions…if you’re doing your best and beating others at the same time — WHAT a feeling!
Since becoming a strength coach I’ve started thinking more about “training like an athlete”. I don’t have the skills, mainly because I don’t know many other people who would want to just go & do a soccer skill training session, and it’s hard to do it by myself, but — it has shaped my workouts to be a lot less “numbers based” (to a degree, I’ll let you know when I hit a bodyweight squat), and to be more outcome-based. I’m nowhere near understanding how to program sprint/jump training, but I’m trying to learn every day. My current goals are to run, have fun with Olympic lifts and kettlebells, and do handstands. I’m playing around with strength vs. power, speed, plyometrics, and how to run/sprint.
Part of it is — I want to be able to demonstrate exercises to people properly. But it all comes down to — I want to know how strength training & conditioning can make a difference in athletic pursuits. Purely and unequivocally because I’m curious. Also, will it alter my mindset that I’m “too weak” to run, or that I’m not mentally tough enough to push through things?
Mental toughness is a curious thing — if we’re scared to test ourselves simply because we’re scared of failure (not the act of carrying out a task…but the possible outcomes), is that a lack of mental toughness? “Mental toughness” means enduring things that aren’t pleasant but will get you results. I think fear of failure should sometimes be separate when considering “mental toughness”, because you might have the ability to work through tough things— but you may never know if you don’t try. But then you also have to question why you’re scared of failure — are you scared that people will lose respect for you? So it’s quite nuanced but I had to realize that choosing not to challenge myself is always a failure.
I’ve come to see that the outcome doesn’t always matter. Especially when you start pursuing something new. What matters is working towards something even if you don’t know the outcome — continually pursuing a goal even if you seemingly fail or don’t do it right the first time, or the second time, or the time after that. I mean, ok, at some point you might need a reality check, but there are different smaller successes within each session you can look at. Did you run at the same speed but feel a lot less winded? Did you run more hills? The way I see it, it’s important to celebrate all wins, but it’s even more important to see what happens after. Do you say “that’s enough” and then become complacent? (Participation trophy style) Or do you continue learning and growing?
I bring all this up because it’s the “process” that I think about in my “athletic pursuits”. I’m interested in seeing how these types of thoughts manifest in others — so it’s been really fun observing the different types of athletes I get in the weight room. Are they going to put the same effort in whether you’re watching them or not? Do they hold their teammates accountable? Do they chase their version of perfection (in a healthy way, I think it’s more acceptable in the weight room than…the general rest of life) through movement, or do they settle for “good enough”?
I feel so very new to all of this. However, I also know that my time as an athletic trainer has prepared me for talking to athletes (though this pandemic may have confused me a little bit), and that my time spent volunteering in the fall has shown me that I can’t over-coach athletes. There is a fine line. I’m excited and hopeful that in the next few months I’ll be able to learn a lot about myself and other people.