7 Simple Ways to Become a Better Coach

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The other day while sitting through a staff meeting, we were discussing the incoming intern class and how we want to approach this summer’s staff in-service schedule.

Every week one of the staff members sits down with the interns to talk about “stuff.” This can range from anything from exercise technique to troubleshooting program design to why listening to techno during a squat session increases one’s testosterone levels by roughly 317%.

Give or take a couple of percentage points.

In an effort to “open up” the discussion, we often ask the interns what they would like to see covered.   Almost always, they’ll want to discuss assessment straight away.

Not that this is a bad thing, of course.  Assessment is an important component of what we do, and it’s undoubtedly a key factor in terms of molding an individual’s training career. But lets be honest: for most incoming trainers, at least in my eyes, it’s more crucial to learn how to actually coach before we start discussing the variables behind femoral acetabular impingement.

Having the ability to coach someone through a proper push-up or trap bar deadlift – at least in the beginning stages – is far more important to me from a mentoring standpoint than having the ability to discern whether or not someone has ample ankle dorsiflexion.

To that end, today I have a guest post from another former Cressey Performance intern – now strength coach – Dave Rak (AKA:  Rak City) who, after discussing this topic with him the other day, decided to write a post on it.  Enjoy/Yankees suck!

7 Simple Ways to Become a Better Coach

Strength & conditioning is an amazing career field.  We get to go to work everyday and positively impact peoples lives by getting them healthier, stronger, and eventually turning them into unstoppable finely tuned killing machines.  Basically, its the greatest job in the world (well the guy who takes pictures of hot chicks for Sports Illustrated has sweet job too, but I digress).

The unique things about strength & conditioning is that it’s an ever evolving field where we are constantly learning and trying to get better at our profession.  There are thousands of books, DVDs, seminars, and conferences dedicated to continuing education.  What was the last book you read, DVD you watched, or conference you attended about?

I’ll take a wild guess and say it was about training, anatomy, or something along those lines.  Let me ask you another question, when was the last time you read a book, watched a DVD, or went to a conference that was dedicated strictly to the art of coaching?

If you can’t answer this question put down the book on training for a second and go read some coaching books.  I’m not saying don’t educate yourself on exercise science and training but find a proper balance between your strength training education and your coaching education.

Don’t forget our job title is strength & conditioning COACH (I used capital letters there so you know it’s kind of a big deal).  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the science of strength training that we neglect the fact that we are still coaches and we have to deal with our athletes in a practical setting.

You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you can’t coach yourself out of a wet paper bag then what good is that knowledge?  Bottom line, you have to be able to flat out coach, if you can’t, then all those seminars and certifications won’t do you and your athletes any good.  Here are 7 simple ways to improve your coaching.

1. Observe Other Coaches

Working at Boston University I’ve had the opportunity to observe our varsity coaches during practices and I am grateful because it’s given me the opportunity to learn a lot from observing so many different coaching styles.

Just go to a practice and bring a note book.  Forget about the athletes for a second and watch the coaches carefully.  When I observed our men’s basketball coach I left with two pages of notes, and that was just from one short practice.  Pay attention to how other coaches cue their athletes, how they gain and keep their athletes attention, even how they change their tone of voice in certain situations.  You can learn a lot from closely observing others.

2. Remember It Is About More Than Just Strength Training

As a coach you can interact with hundreds of athletes everyday.  You will have an impact on these athletes lives whether you realize it or not.  Are you going to make a positive impact or a negative impact?

If I can help an athlete feel better about themselves, gain confidence, and instill some positive character traits as a result of my coaching then I did my job.  To me that is just as important as increasing their physical ability.  Nothing is more satisfying then an athlete giving you a card or emailing you to thank you for influencing their life in a positive way.

Note from TG:  It’s as Mike Boyle has famously said:  no one cares how much you know, till they know how much you care.

3. Videotape Yourself Coaching

This is an exercise I performed in one of my graduate classes at BU and found it very helpful.  Have someone video tape you when you coach so you can see how you are perceived by others.

Watch yourself carefully, you may be surprised with what you see.  Ask yourself, do I look angry when I coach? What does my body language say? Do I look nervous or confident? Do I have a strong presence and command the room, or do I blend in with my athletes? Do my biceps look big in this shirt? How do my athletes see me?  Getting feedback on your coaching “etiquette” will be a huge factor on improving how you actually coach.

4. Don’t Be One Dimensional/Know Your Athletes

Some athletes need to be yelled at and will respond well to authoritative coaching, while others will shut down.  Know what way is best to interact with your players.  Do they respond better to verbal cues or visual cues, what motivates them?

How will you get the most out of your athletes when they walk into the weight room exhausted from a long practice and difficult day at school?  This is the art of coaching.  A good coach knows his team and is able to use many different coaching styles throughout a session to get the most out of their athletes.

5. Read More Coaching Related Material

At the end of the day you’re a coach, and to be an effective strength & conditioning coach you need to find a healthy balance between reading material as it relates to program design and making better athletes as well as reading books that will hone your coaching skills. By learning more about the art of coaching you’ll be able to compliment your exercise science knowledge and become a well rounded coach.

Recommend reading:

My Losing Season– it’s a great book that basically shows you what not to do as a coach.

The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills – this book is full of attention getting moves, learning principles, and numerous learning models that can easily be implemented in your coaching.

Understanding Sports Coaching: The Social, Cultural, and Pedagogical Foundations of Coaching Practice 2nd Edition – the title says it all, nuff’ said.

6. Get Out There And Coach!

The best way to become a better coach is to actually coach and learn from your experiences.  The more experience you accumulate the better you will become.

 7. Give Back

This is something every coach needs to do.  You do not become a better coach by yourself.  Yes, you put the effort into becoming better, but don’t forget about the coach that let you into their practice so you could observe and learn.

This is an example of giving back.

I have been mentored by several great coaches and I would not be where I am at today without them.  Guess what? My mentors where mentored by someone when they where younger, too.

Pay it forward.  When you make it as a coach and are approached by

Author’s Bio

David Rak is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA (CSCS).  He is currently a Graduate Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Boston University pursuing his Master’s Degree in Coaching.  Dave oversees Wrestling, Women’s Golf, and Women’s Novice Rowing and also assists with Men’s Basketball and Men’s Soccer.  He received his Bachelor’s in Exercise Science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and completed internships at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning and Cressey Performance.  Upon his completion of his internship at MBSC, he continued to work part time at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning for 2 and a half years while he finished his undergraduate degree.  This summer Dave will be interning with the South Carolina Gamecocks Football team before returning to Boston University for his final year as a Graduate Assistant.  Dave can be reached at davidrak25@gmail.com.



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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

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