Blunt Advice to New Strength and Conditioning Coaches

Blunt Advice to New Strength and Conditioning Coaches

Today, my LinkedIn mailbox flooded with “congratulations!” messages.

‘What the hell are these strangers slipping into my inbox congratulating me on?’ I wondered.

Apparently, today marks my 7-year full-time coaching anniversary. Seven years ago, I lived and coached soccer in Brazil. Seven years ago, I decided to do private soccer lessons in the states. Seven years ago, I decided to train athletes full-time. Seven years ago, I decided to run my own business. Seven years ago, I opted for a life of insanity.

Fast forward to today, and I’m still afloat. Someway, somehow, here I am working with hundreds of athletes in-person and online, and inspiring thousands of youth players worldwide to love fitness, and to be more badass, all while wearing a side ponytail and sweatpants.

Admittedly, I’m grateful I entered the industry when I did. Back then, it was easier to share my message, publish content, be seen, get noticed, land a job at a performance facility, and provide a quality performance training service for youth athletes in Maryland.

And now, with a new class of rookie strength coaches flooding the industry, it couldn’t be harder to be heard amongst the noise, and stand out to employers.

Sorry with the discouraging tone right out the gate, but it’s true.

What’s funny is, most newbie strength coaches fresh out of college reach out to me asking how to get a job at a performance facility. Or, they ask me how to start their own training business, as if I look like Gary V who is sitting on billions.

Newsflash: I’m not. I feel I’m just gaining momentum and learning about this business-thing-a-ma-gig. Oh, and I just finally figured out that investing is wiser than spending at Walmart on a car of useless junk.

While I appreciate their questions, I always tell newbie coaches their best bet is working in a commercial gym first to gain valuable experience with a diverse palette of clients.

I can’t speak to how much working with senior citizens with serious health issues propelled me to be a better coach. I can’t speak to how much working with moms after pregnancy taught me how to empower women to be strong. I can’t speak to how much working ridiculous hours from 4am-8pm made me more resilient. I can’t speak to how much running group exercise classes and semi-private personal training groups got me better at working with large groups of athletes.


Enough about my early-on shenanigans. Let’s talk about yours.

So what is my blunt advice for new strength and conditioning coaches? Let’s go:

1. Work at a commercial gym.

As mentioned above, a commercial gym job is a good starting point because it helps you to develop several skill sets: working with a variety of clients, learning how to run your own business (set your prices, times, and programs), figuring out your niche, and learning the x’s and o’s of gym ownership.

I’d be remiss not to mention you will be better prepared for a high performance job (like at a strength and conditioning facility), and better able to adapt on the fly without peeing your pants.

Funny enough, when I got hired at JDyer Strength and Conditioning, I remember one of my colleagues warning me before my first day to “buckle up” and “it gets crazy in here with 50 athletes at a time.”

HAHAHAHAHA. After working at a commercial gym at 5am with 25 adults in a group exercise setting with Justin Bieber on the sound system, I was more than okay. My first day at JDyer Strength and Conditioning, then, was a breeze for me. Felt like 5 minutes.

2. Be patient (and persistent) when applying to performance facilities.

I remember emailing my current boss, Jay Dyer, five times before he actually responded to me.

And I hate to admit, but the fifth email needed some extra push. I told him I was coming to the facility regardless to meet him, even if he did not answer.

So I walked in the facility doors, and there he stood.

We had a meeting on two plyo boxes, shook hands, talked about how sport specific training is bs, and then I got hired.

Be patient and persistent. After all, being a strength coach requires both of these skills.

3. Don’t criticize veterans just to make a name for yourself.

Normally, if I see something I disagree with on Twitter, I move on with my life. With how busy I am training athletes and doing freelance writing jobs nowadays, I have very limited time to get in arguments online. For me, the cost outweighs the benefit. My precious mental space is reserved for people I want to collaborate with, people I love (friends and family), cute things (like puppies), and enthralling activities (snowboarding). Everything else is a waste of time.

Sure, I believe it can be good to challenge people in the online space, but why not get on the phone, better yet, meet in person and have a big boy discussion?

Also, check this out: if you’re totally comfortable and confident with what you’re doing, then you don’t have time to criticize others.

I see new strength coaches tapping away at their keyboards a lot. They’re critiquing veteran strength coaches for meager things, like lack of 90 degree squat depth, or lack of triple extension on the power clean, or youth athletes not being able to balance a single leg squat, without taking context into consideration. LOLOL. That’s cute.

Did you know: the more ya’ll grow in this field, the more ya’ll realize that context matters?

Oh, and they’re a million ways to do things, from periodization, to progressions, to regressions, to systems.

So. I have an idea: instead of you fighting on Twitter, get out there and coach.

The last thing you want to do is piss veteran strength coaches off. These will be the guys (or girls) who will have your back.

So instead of criticizing them, collaborate first. Asking question helps, too.

4. Start with one client.

The first session I ever ran entailed me showing up to the field with no cones, one soccer ball, and a heart racing with nervousness.

Who was I? I was about to train a 12-year-old and I was a getting a panic attack.

Well, we all start somewhere.

If you’re a new strength coach, the first several sessions you’ll run on your own will likely be a shit show. And oftentimes, you’ll have all but two kids showing up.

But you know what? The path to mastering your craft is never smooth sailing. Every mistake you make, coaching cue you stumble upon, or lack of proper planning, you learn from. The rest is uphill and magical from there.

Now, when I train 12-year-olds, I’m elated and approach every session with conviction, confidence, and excitement.

And it’s worth mentioning, I went from that one athlete to hundreds seven years later.

5. Be patient.

To segue, be freaking patient. Just because you have an exercise science degree and strength coach certification does not make you a special snowflake. It’s time to put in your time like the rest.

Especially if you’re in private sector strength and conditioning, it will take YEARS for athletes to knock on your door. And chances are, you’re an ex-athlete, so you understand what it takes to be patient and stay committed, right? ;-O

Practice what you preach.

6. Online training can wait.

If you haven’t gotten the reps of coaching in-person, what makes you think you will be a good online coach?

Oddly enough, newbie coaches start talking about doing online training in their first year.

I believe to be a good online coach, you have had to work with hundreds of people in-person to understand different injuries, psychological tendencies, customized programming, and behavioral drives. But that’s just me.

Too, newbie strength coaches want to do online training in their first year so they can make good money that their in-person job does not provide. If online coaching comes from a place of wanting to pay the bills, then the wrong energy will go into it.

Wait a little. Develop yourself as a coach first. Then, permeate into the online space. Because once you’re settled in-person, online coaching is not so much a money grab, but rather, an impact spread.

So that’s my blunt advice.

No special concluding paragraph here. I think you get the message.

  • Shane MCLEAN
    Posted at 18:14h, 10 March Reply

    Setting people straight coach. Good work.

    • erica
      Posted at 18:21h, 10 March Reply

      🙂 Always!!!

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