It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
For those of you who aren’t a book nerd like myself, it’s safe to say you’ve seen this quote before.
In high school, I remember reading Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities and being captivated by this opening line. The bold juxtaposition of the “best times” and “worst times” was an accurate reflection of the French revolution. And I’d argue, it is a beautiful depiction of the social media world today.
Indeed, just like year 1789, year 2019 is no freaking different: it was the best of times…and the worst of times.
With the flooding of the online space nowadays, we have unlimited access to studs like Michael Boyle, Tony Strudwick, Lee Boyce, Tony Gentilcore, Jeremy Frisch, Mike Robertson, Sophia Nimphius, Dawn Scott, and Joel Eisenmann, as well as amazing resources like Football Fitness Federation, Soccer Science, and the International Youth Conditioning Association.
At the same time, we have endless exposure to charlatans who claim they’re the experts.
These are the folks who grace the world with their online coaching programs after training for all but one year.
These are the folks who are “certified speed coaches” but do nothing but strap an 8-year-old to a weighted sled without teaching proper mechanics.
These are the folks who edit technical skills videos to make a kid’s footwork appear faster.
These are the folks who have thousands of Likes, but zero in-person client testimonials.
These are the folks who put altitude training masks on middle schoolers – not to elicit a conditioning effect – but to accumulate more Instagram followers.
On a side note: altitude training masks don’t necessarily improve conditioning (not like these frauds care anyway), but read this article for more information.
Alas, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
While I don’t consider myself to be a soccer strength and conditioning guru, I do pride myself in having a large body of work of training hundreds of youth athletes for 7+ years to rest on. I guess having a Master’s degree and several certifications helps too, but the in-person connections I’ve fostered in a long-term athletic development environment have boded well.
Expounding further, I pride myself in attaching athletes to loaded sleds once they can prove to me they’re coordinated with contralateral movements and can start on the sprint line without their hands on their knees.
The scary things is, however, any Average Joe can become an expert with the tip of a hat. And more often than not, these guys aren’t worried about getting athletes better in a safe and effective manner, but rather, building a brand and selling online programs to the masses.
There. I said it.
Let me repeat: these guys aren’t worried about getting athletes better in a safe and effective manner, but rather, building a brand and selling online programs to the masses.
I know that’s a bitter pill to swallow. I know that stings. I know that strikes a chord.
Let’s strike some freaking chords.
Here’s why social media is ruining soccer strength and conditioning:
1. People only highlight the fancy stuff, and most of the time, its idiotic.
The problem with year 2019 is people want to skip the basics. Moreover, everyone is wired toward instant results and finding the shortest way possible to get to the next level, whether this in career or athletics. Too, people are allured by the flashy, shiny training methods that they forget the basics are where the magic happens.
Well, I got a newsflash for you: true high performance is a series of mastered basics along the way. And I’d argue, this continues for a lifetime.
Sure, I don’t sound sexy saying this, but at least I am being truthful.
I implore soccer strength and conditioning coaches to drop their clients with this type of real talk.
Adding on, I urge soccer strength and conditioning coaches to explain the “why” behind their methods with transparency and own what they’re doing.
Like why is this middle school girl wearing an altitude training mask, dribbling on a treadmill, and wearing a resistance band around her knees? How does this translate to an 11v11, 90 minute match with opposed scenarios, accelerations and decelerations, and maximal speed sprints toward goal?
Not to poo-poo on this girl getting after it but why is this style of training being executed? (Caveat: by no means am I questioning her and her work rate, but rather, the method).
I believe it’s fair to ask “why.”
Personally, I love being asked questions as a coach. In fact, I’m interrogated by parents and coaching clients all the time. But here’s the thing: I have conviction and reason behind what I’m doing. It’s been meticulously thought through, and practiced for years with tremendous results.
So. Never be afraid to ask, “hey Coach Joe, why the fancy sh*t?”
Always, always ponder the stuff you see on social media. Chances are, the glitter you see is all hype with no real translation to the game, attention to true athletic development, and detail to periodization and load.
Gosh darnit, another caveat: there are times when adding the fancy stuff is okay to spark engagement, especially for young kids. However, always hone in on the basics. If you’re a good coach, you even inspire kids to look forward to the basics.
So this bears repeating: behind every elite athlete is someone who masters the basics relentlessly.
And behind every good coach is someone who teaches the basics with passion.
2. No one is grinding as hard as you think.
Ever seen “no excuses” and “the grind don’t stop” and “my workout is your warm-up” memes as you scroll through your Instagram feed?
I’m calling bs.
As hard as people think others are working on social media, they’re not. The problem nowadays is most people are keyboard warriors. It’s easy for them to tweet to their followers that they’re grinding hard, to post a 10-second clip on Instagram from a training session, to tweet how they saw their technical trainer then strength coach and had 4-hours of training and no sleep.
Here’s the issue: it’s easy to talk a big game, but hard to take radical action.
Are the folks you hear from on social media really putting themselves in a high intensity environment?
Strength coach Michael Boyle says that 80% of athletes need more high intensity work to improve cardiac output and to prepare for the demands of the match, and we rarely see an athlete panting and drenched in sweat nowadays.
Let me ask you this: are your athletes reaching lung, burning discomfort in the orange and red heart rate zones?
Are they ripping their obliques with new progressions?
Are they attacking the pull-up bar and pushing the limit with external load?
Are they going through the motions with their technical skills, or are they executing at full speed?
Are they going with their strength coach to Saturday morning 8am boxing class to get after it while everyone else is asleep?
Another caveat because, you know, it’s 2019 and there’s bound to be someone triggered by what I’m saying: I’m a BIG fan of recovery days and they must be a staple component of any performance program. As hard as I go myself, I do chill the F out and perform light yoga:
And yes, pajama-pant-recovery days are a thing with my athletes:
With a few recovery days, however, I expose my athletes to training at a higher intensity than the game, especially during the off-season. While this should be a no-brainer, I don’t see enough people getting out of their comfort zones, especially during strength lifts and conditioning drills. For more information on what to do, check out this article Mike Robertson wrote on off-season training, as well as the one I wrote called How To Off-Season Train Like A Boss.
So before you post to social media how hard you’re hustling, ask yourself if you’ve put yourself in a high performance environment.
3. Too much filming, not enough coaching.
Now, I’m looking at you, coaches.
Social media has ruined the art of coaching. There’s a whole lot of WiFi connection going on, with very little human connection.
Of course, when used sparingly, highlighting your athletes on social media can be a powerful tool for showcasing your work, sharing knowledge with other coaches, and getting through to your athletes.
Especially if you work with the youth generation now, they love digital recognition. Here is an excellent podcast with strength coach Justin Ochoa discussing how coaches can better connect with the iGen.
Kids love being recognized, tagged, and featured. As an example, if a soccer girl has been with me a while and has mastered a certain movement like a boss, of course I will highlight her achievement.
On the flip side, if an athlete is learning a complex movement for the first time, the phone is going away and they’re getting my full attention. It’s not like I demonstrate the deadlift all but one time, wish them good luck, leave the room, and proceed to check my Instagram feed.
I’m in full coaching mode. Especially when three girls are deadlifting at once, I’m so laser focused that if a one thousand pound gorilla broke into the JDyer Strength and Conditioning facility, I’d still be coaching my girls.
So choose carefully when you’re on your phone, but also, what you want to show on social media.
Oh, and don’t overdo it.
Because yo. We’re in a human industry, where person-to-person connection is paramount for establishing trust and getting our clients results.
There have been numerous times I’ve been away from my phone for six hours straight because I’m on the gym floor making sure none of my athletes drop a barbell, butcher ladder drills, or die from Zercher variations.
As present as I am on social media, I go for longer hours with coaching than my writing. Many of you are probably wondering, “how’s that possible?” as you know me as a serial writer and content creator.
Well, I’m a unicorn. Just go with it.
I’m writing during my down times from coaching, which are in the early mornings or on the weekends. Truthfully, I believe good coaches value athlete connection first, then sprinkle in social media second.
To that end, social media becomes problematic when people don’t have a genuine body of work to showcase, or a glowing number of testimonials from in-person training to highlight.
Yes, it’s the best of times and the worst of times, but hopefully this piece inspires you to ask questions and challenge the keyboard warriors to an old school-big boy-back-of-the-parking lot battle.
Likely, they’ll crack under the in-person pressure.
Maybe it’s not 1789, but it’s 2019: time to start another revolution.