6 Ways High School Strength and Conditioning Coaches Can Stay Motivated
About the Author: Adam Reed is the associate editor of AFCA Magazine. The American Football Coaches Association is the only national organization dedicated to improving football coaches through ongoing education, interaction, and networking. The AFCA and Hammer Strength have teamed up to provide insights into the coaching profession, elite athletic programs, and more.
Being a strength and conditioning coach is a tough job. It requires an immense amount of discipline and demands the type of person who can stay motivated and keep the energy level high through the ups and downs each year may bring.
Eric Cash, head strength and conditioning coach at Dorman High School in Roebuck, South Carolina, has experienced this relentless grind at the high school and small college level, as well as at the elite level of college athletics as a graduate assistant for Clemson’s Joey Batson. No matter where his career has taken him, the non-stop taxing lifestyle of his profession remains consistent.
“Sport coaches can get a break, or they have to go to practice for two hours a day,” Cash says. “If I’m training five groups of football a day, then I just went to practice for six plus hours, mentally. And it's very draining.”
Even extremely strong willed and energetic coaches can struggle too. Every strength and conditioning coach who has been in the profession long enough can relate. Whether it’s because of a specific disheartening situation, or just the monotony of trying to stay positive day after day – every coach has been pushed to the limit.
For those coaches who are struggling, Cash offers six simple, time-tested ways to keep everything in perspective.
1. Remember That Young People Are Going To Make Mistakes
“For me, the biggest thing is to remember that I'm dealing with 15, 16, 17-year-olds, and they're going to screw up,” says Cash.
Athletes today look up to pro athletes who aren’t much older than they are, but are making millions of dollars. When these athletes act out or doing something foolish, there are often little to no consequences.
If kids don't grasp how special an athlete their hero is, or they never see negative consequences for when their heroes mess up, they won’t learn. Coaches don’t expect athletes to execute any single lift or drill in training or practice they haven’t been shown how to execute properly, and yet they expect them to understand the need to work hard and stay out of trouble without having the same level of demonstration or explanation afforded them.
On top of all of this, coaches must remember that even the best athletes who have a great attitude and give maximum effort are going to make mistakes. It’s a natural part of growth that should be embraced and used as an opportunity to make them better.
2. Don’t Underestimate What Athletes Are Going Through In Their Personal Lives
Ever hear the adage, “everyone you know is fighting a battle you know nothing about?” It couldn’t be more true of today’s young people. Family stress, social stress, peer pressure and a variety of other factors can begin to pile up – no matter what type of environment coaches are working in.
Cash says that’s why he always takes the time to engage his athletes, check up on them and listen to their problems when he sees them after school or walking down the hall.
“That kid can go down the hall and get in a fight. Or he can go home and listen to his mom and dad fighting, or the people around him, or he's got to walk past a drug deal. You just don't know what they go home to.”
3. Focus On The Positives
Coaches have a tendency to categorize their athletes and may find themselves saying, “these are really good kids,” or, “this girl is a troublemaker.” While it’s easy to paint everyone with broad strokes, and a certain amount of categorizing is necessary for coaches to do their jobs, coaches should try as hard as they can to see positives in each and every athlete they work with.
“I find the ones who appreciate it, to kind of help rejuvenate me,” Cash says. “I have my guys that I know appreciate what goes on in the weight room, and appreciate what me and my staff do. Then I try to focus on the good things that those kids, those ‘trouble-makers,’ do well.”
Coaches can’t fall into the trap of giving only to the athletes who are easy to coach. Often, it’s the athlete who is resistant that needs a coach’s guidance the most. Good coaches find the positives that the athlete brings to the table, and build on them.
4. Celebrate Short-Term Victories And Short-Term Goals
It’s a long school year, and it’s even longer for the strength and conditioning staff. Cash says it’s important not to get caught up looking too far down the road. Focusing on short-term goals instead allows coaches and players to look back during the most critical part of their year and be encouraged by everything they have accomplished.
“Those first eight weeks, the kids are busting it, and we're getting results, and they're training hard, and that's the time where I just really love it,” says Cash. “Once you get into the playoffs, and they can look back, and they can see that everything we did from August until now, or what we did during the summer, and all that time we spent in the fall, they can kind of see, ‘Man, we can make a run. We got a chance here.’ That's rewarding as a strength coach.”
5. Don’t Take It Personally – Even The Best Coaches Have Tough Cases
One of the most dangerous approaches a strength and conditioning coach can take when they start feeling like things aren’t going their way is to start taking things personally. Cash offers a simple reminder from his time at Clemson to coaches who might start to feel like their problems are a direct reflection on their ability as a coach.
“There are going to be kids that don't ever like what you do,” Cash says. “But it wouldn't matter if it was me, or if Coach Batson came in here and coached them. There are going to be kids at this school that don't like what Coach Batson would want them to do.”
6. Never Forget The Big Picture
Ultimately, strength and conditioning is about more than just transforming bodies and improving performance. The goal of every strength and conditioning coach should be to have a positive impact on their athletes’ lives.
“I love it when I get a graduation announcement,” Cash says. “Or a Facebook message that lets me know that somebody's having a baby, or they're getting married, or something like that. It's not so much how I impacted them, but it's more about what we did, how they appreciate it. And now, maybe something we did in the weight room when I had them, maybe it's carrying over to their everyday life.”
Coaches should keep a box or file of reminders to make sure they don’t forget why they work so hard. When times get their toughest, they can always go back to those moments that truly matter, to give them perspective.