Every single coach should read this before starting their career in the fitness industry. I can’t thank Michelle Boland enough for writing this!
I have an amazing group of interns currently at Northeastern University Sports Performance (NUSP) and I recently sat down with them to discuss how to get better. The question that sparked this article was from Jay: What advice would you give young strength and conditioning coaches that have limited experience? They asked, so I answered:
- Knowledge is your house. BUILD IT.
Read. Watch. Ask Questions. Seek out opportunities. Be proactive. Find the right people.
“Invest in education in your field…it’s your product. Technology ain’t the show. Your brain is the show. Reinvest. The basics you got in college are the sub-basement to the edifice of your knowledge. Build your house.” -unknown
The knowledge and experience you build will help an athlete one day when another coach tells them to do more, and you tell to work smarter; by telling them ‘why’ and ‘how’. If you have a knowledge outside of just resistance exercise, you may be able to help an athlete get more sleep, eat better quality food, talk about positive relationships, understand their stress levels outside of the weight room, encourage lifestyle behaviors that may benefit them in athletic performance AND with their future health.
The more tools you have in your tool box, the better you will be. Learn PRI, FMS, FRC, RPR, or (insert any three letters you can think of and I’m sure it’s a ‘thing’). WHY? Because you will have more things to choose from when you have a difficult situation or want to help others. The more you know, the more you can understand what works and what doesn’t work AND WHY.
Mentors. [The trick is to find the right ones.]
The best experience I ever had was following my Master’s degree thesis defense in 2013. Pat Davidson was my committee chair. Yes, Pat Davidson. A human encyclopedia. I passed, but he spoke to me after and in the nicest way possible told me to step it up. His standards and expectations were higher. That lit a fire. It could have done the opposite. How lucky am I to have walked into a classroom with Pat Davidson teaching a class? I have also had the luck of meeting and knowing other individuals that have opened my eyes to what is possible. Find these people. Find people who share information. Follow them on social media (Ben House, Mike T. Nelson, Kyle Dobbs, Michael Mullin, Bill Hartman, Lucy Hendricks, and Dan Hechler, etc.) Don’t know what to read? These individuals post books they are reading constantly. I also have a group of friends that constantly share resources and create conversations.
“If you know the right people they’ll point out all the things you should look at…
Now it’s on you to look at them.”
Intern Declan’s question: How do you find the right mentors? How do you determine what the right mentor is? He answered his own question…Mentors are individuals that have application or research experience in the field. They are also individuals that can confidently answer questions and provide perspective. Mentors are also individuals that continue to grow and education themselves. They share resources and help you in your personal and professional development. These are people you can have meaningful conversations with and that can expand your viewpoints. The good ones encourage you and push you to think for yourself so you can learn from each other.
Education vs. Knowledge.
There is a difference between academic education and knowledge. I am not that concerned about what school you attended or if you have your CSCS. You still should realize that you know nothing. I mean that in the nicest way possible. To be honest, I have some letters behind my name but I will be the first one to tell you that, I know nothing of what there is to know about the human body. You need to understand ‘the why’ and ‘the how’ which was a huge disconnect for me in school. I knew nothing about the brain (where all adaptations occur) and thus I knew nothing. Read and learn things ‘outside of S&C’, everything is connected and useful for your development as a coach and as a person. Be open-minded and willing to explore things outside your world (literally). Read research (do it, seriously) but balance it will practicality and application.
Know this and respect it. Let it drive you. (or don’t)
Gain knowledge, but the trick is…be able to apply it. However, in order to apply it you first must attain it.
“Modern Science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus- ‘we do not know’. It assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more critically, it accepts that the things we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge.”
- Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind)
How are you making your OWN experience? Everything is what YOU make it to be: I tell this to every intern at NUSP. We have a weekly curriculum based upon a specific topic that involves readings, discussions, assignments, and projects. We establish individual goals, steps to accomplish these goals, and measures to track progress. Intern Kate’s question: What if you intern at a location that does not have a curriculum? Make it yourself. Create personal goals, track them, and use ‘down time’ to educate yourself.
My biggest advice relating to internships is finding a facility/program that has an education curriculum. They will most definitely be unpaid, but you will be compensated with knowledge and that has value. Have diverse experiences. Have both good AND bad experiences, so you will be able to figure out what you want to be and maybe more importantly, what you don’t want to be. Be productive, self-sufficient, and proactive. There is always something to do, there is always a way to help the facility get better.
DO NOT GO THROUGH AN EXPERIENCE JUST TO BE ABLE TO REGURGITATE WHAT THAT PARTICULAR COACH SAYS! Be able to THINK FOR YOURSELF. Utilize other coach’s opinions, practices, and experiences to develop YOUR OWN. I tell interns to never repeat what I say, I want them to tell me what THEY think and why, not what they think I want to hear.
ASK QUESTIONS. Know WHY. Ps- don’t forget to have a positive attitude, be kind, and learn names! Be a positive addition to the program who people will not forget. At NUSP, we require interns to read Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Lastly, people notice. They notice your actions and behaviors even if you think they aren’t. AND they will remember.
Create dialogue and communication with other individuals in the field. Create discussions with other interns. Hear other opinions and perspectives. Exchange ideas, thoughts, and programs. You may not agree. You may not want to speak to others, but hearing a different perspective helps you grow. Be able to talk about ‘the WHY’ and ‘the HOW’: I emphasize this because your ability to understand concepts in more important than knowing facts. Try to explain concepts, not regurgitate facts or other people’s opinions. Think for yourself, but don’t be by yourself (isolated). If you can explain something to another person in different ways, then you can truly understand something.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
– Marcel Proust
- [LIFT BRO.]
You will be prescribing programming which includes exercise selection and periodization parameters. You should know what that FEELS like. When you ask an athlete to bench press 3 x 10 RM, run 300 yd shuttles, or do squat tempos- you should know what that FEELS like. Experience it.
If you currently have limited coaching experience, training will allow you to gain knowledge about exercise technique, progressions/regressions, training volumes and intensities that you can reflect upon when you do get the opportunity to coach.
But here is the kicker, do not put your training biases on your athletes. This is separated into 3 points:
- Your training goals, are not the same as your athletes.
Do not just program how you train. Address what your specific athletes needs in relation to their specific sport and goals. If you are prescribing exercises and rep schemes to your athletes directly from your personal programming, check yourself.
- Be flexible with programming.
If you have a program created understand that it can change, especially at the collegiate level.
- Have fun.
Enjoy what you are doing. Move. Experiment. Be creative and learn from it. Something that I have learned from past experiences is that often we take things too seriously. If you create a fun, enjoyable environment athletes will put in more effort and increase motivation. I am not a yeller, so when I do it means more. However, I do not want to be so I try to have fun with my athletes and have them enjoy most training sessions.
Never be satisfied with what you know. If you are, find something else to do.
If you really want to have fun, do MASS II. Enjoy.
Add book suggestions in the comment section or contact me for my reading suggestions.
– Strength and Conditioning Coach at Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
– PhD. Exercise Physiology, Springfield College
– M.S. Strength and Conditioning, Springfield College
– B.S. Nutrition, Keene State College
– Follow on Instagram: mboland18
– Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Visit: www.michelleboland-training.com