Coaching Philosophy: Three Critical Relationships for Successful Strength and Conditioning

About the Author: 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.

Coaching strength and conditioning presents tough challenges. Coaches must train athletes from a variety of backgrounds who have different body compositions and skill levels. They train athletes for a number of different sports, educate them about how to train effectively in that particular sport, and they do it all with a close eye on safety.

Nick Kolb, Fairfield UniversityIn addition to all of this, strength and conditioning coaches must be experts in building relationships, which is often the most difficult challenge. Fairfield University Director of Sports Performance Nick Kolb has found three specific relationships that are critical to the success of a strength and conditioning program.

Kolb has prioritized his relationship with his athletes, the sport coaches and his equipment suppliers, and offers some practical advice on how to build these relationships.


Care For Athletes

Coaches focus heavily on getting the most out of their athletes, but they sometimes fail to consider the importance of what the athlete is getting from them. In order to train athletes effectively, they must be invested in what the coach is offering, and many coaches are simply not offering what they need.

So what does today’s athlete need? At Fairfield, Kolb has taken steps to answer this question by getting to know his athletes better. It’s not enough for coaches to be engaged in the weight room; if a real relationship is to be built, coaches must meet players where they are.  

It’s a lot of face time with the team – getting out and being at practice,” Kolb says. “You have to get to know them personally, on a one-on-one basis. It helps them believe in me because they know that I’m going to show up and I care.

If they have a team meal or a team meeting, I try to go whenever I can. They understand when I’m not there, there’s probably a reason for it, but they also know that any time I can be there, I’m going to be there.”

Athletes need to know they can rely on their strength and conditioning coach for more than just a good workout. They have to form bonds of trust and honesty that aren’t necessarily important for them to form with their sport coaches.

The strength and conditioning coach monitors body composition and helps athletes adjust their workout, their recovery and even their diet based on honest communication.


Compromise With Specific Sport Coaches

Sport coaches and strength and conditioning coaches want the same results, but don’t always have the same approach. Situations often arise where sport coaches feel passionately about adding or removing a particular type of training. In these situations, Kolb says the strength and conditioning coach is left with only two choices.

I can fight the coach on it, or I can find a common ground, where we can work together,” explains Kolb.

Strength and conditioning coaches loathe the idea of compromise, often justifiably so. But the only way to build an effective strength and conditioning program is to build athletes who are better at their sport, not just simply better athletes. Nothing can be gained by making an enemy of the sport coach.

“At the end of the day, if the coaches and players aren’t bought in to me, the strength and conditioning program doesn’t matter anymore,” says Kolb.

Kolb recalls some of the sport coaches at his last strength and conditioning job expressing their sadness at his departure when he made the move to Fairfield. The relationship he built with them was uncommonly strong because of his willingness to find common ground in every situation.

“It wasn’t about what I wanted,” Kolb says. “There were some things I wanted to do in that program that I wasn’t doing … it can be hard to put what you want aside sometimes, and ask what is best for the greater good of the team.”

Fairfield University Weight Room

Choose Suppliers Carefully

The last critical relationship for any strength and conditioning coach is the relationship with those who are supplying their equipment. Balancing needs and budget has always been an ongoing struggle for every program, but coaches have to look for more than just high-quality equipment at a fair price.

For Kolb, he chose Hammer Strength for his last two weight rooms because of what they have done for him after the sale. To Hammer Strength, equipping schools with the highest-quality equipment isn’t about supplying a product, but building a relationship.

I like to work with people who I know and trust,” Kolb says. “I need to know they’re going to be there when I need them, and Hammer Strength has really done that for me.”

Some strength and conditioning companies view the extent of their role as simply supplying products, but they don’t continue to work for the program after the install is complete to make sure their needs are met.

“They’ve always been awesome to us, and they’ve always taken care of us,” Kolb says. “Any time there has been an issue, they have jumped right on it and fixed it right away.”

Coaches have to balance a lot more than these three relationships in order to be successful, but these relationships in particular are absolutely vital to every strength and conditioning coach’s success. Kolb’s practical advice, when applied properly, empowers athletes, sport coaches and strength and conditioning coaches to work together free of distractions to reach a common goal.