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opinion, Strength and Conditioning

Shopping for a Strength Coach

I hope you’re reading this post as a manager or coach who is hiring a Strength and Conditioning coach for the coming season, and I hope it makes you shop around. In the interest of full disclosure I’ll say that 2 days ago I was told that a team I was working with are not renewing our relationship, so there may well be an element of bitterness to this post, but please read on in any case, it might be of some help.

What is a Strength and Conditioning Coach?

In Ireland, we don’t really recognise the term Strength and Conditioning Coach as a job description in the same way that we would recognise Personal Trainer, or Postman, or Mechanic. For example, a Personal Trainer is someone who works face to face with people who want to get fitter and lose weight. It’s a professional term, with a fairly clearly defined frame of reference for the average person. A Postman delivers your mail, a mechanic fixes your car. A Strength and Conditioning coach gets your team stronger and fitter… right? But herein lies the difficulty. What does that mean? If I asked a basketball coach, he would say that would mean getting his players to jump higher and be fit enough for the short bursts around the court for 4 quarters, and nothing else matters. If I asked a sprint coach, he would say it means getting his athletes to run faster over 100m or 400m, and nothing else matters. If I asked a Hurling coach… and so on. In other words, there are no real clear definitions of fitness and strength that can encompass all sports and disciplines.

Strength and Conditioning for Teams

A Strength and Conditioning Coach should be able to recognise and adapt training programmes to match the qualities that need to be improved in a team, in the individuals who make up that team. Getting a team to train “TRX” for 2 months (ah there’s the bitterness now) is going to make them excellent at performing TRX exercises. It might improve some of the weaker players, it might even make some of them a little stronger and fitter, but it is not going to make them turn better, it’s not going to increase their power to any significant degree, and it’s certainly not sport specific or “functional” for anything other than hanging off suspended straps. I’m using TRX as an example here, and I don’t mean to be dismissive of it as I’m sure it’s a good method for the average Joe, but it’s just a pair of straps. I’m sorry if that sounds condescending, but quite often the things that are blatantly obvious do come across that way. I use straps (I actually use rope and gymnastic rings) as a part of training. They’re useful, like a dumbbell or a medicine ball, but they’re not anything other than that, and they are not a method of training a sports team.

Selecting a Strength and Conditioning Coach

I don’t mean this to sound like an anti-TRX rant, although I’m sure it now sounds that way. I actually started writing this with the intention of pointing out a little aid in selecting a Strength and Conditioning coach for your team (or yourself) in 2013. Here it is. If a guy says he uses a single tool to get your team fitter, don’t hire him. I don’t care whether it’s TRX, Kettlebells, Spin Biking, whatever. Don’t hire him unless you want your team to be better at cycling bikes, or better at swinging kettlebells. There are many good coaches who use spinning and Kettlebells as one of their tools in a well stocked toolbox, and this is different. I’m talking about the single disciplinarian, who 2 years ago probably used step aerobics, and in 2 years will use the next fad. It just so happens that the slick marketing of the latest fads tend to emphasise the functional elements. No one ever stops to think that functional implies specificity. People now just think that functional equals good.

Instead, shop around. Whenever I’ve asked why a coach had been selected to train a team the answer is usually “he was the first guy we spoke to”. This is pretty common, and is probably a psychological phenomenon or laziness or a combination of the two. For example me and my wife went shopping for a couch the other week, looked at about 20, and bought the first one we had seen anyway. I’m sure you recognise this trait in yourself. Perhaps when we’re uneducated about something we tend to use the first experience as our frame of reference. In my case, the first couch became the standard by which I judged the others- cost, quality and so on. In the case of a team selecting a strength and conditioning coach, if the first guy is cheapest, everyone else looks too expensive. If the first guy is expensive, everyone else looks like lower quality. I’m no marketing expert, but that’s been my experience having spoken to a fair few management teams. They ring 3 guys and pick the first guy.

Two final factors to be considered on this topic. It should be noted that Strength and Conditioning coaches tend to be a lot less slick when it comes to marketing and promotion, and as such tend to shoot themselves in the foot in this regard. Also, the type of poor coach I’m talking about tends to not know any better, and isn’t swiping jobs from people and then cackling to themselves afterwards having done a dastardly deed. They just believe in what they’re doing because they haven’t been exposed to anything else, and as long as people are hiring them, why shouldn’t they?

To finish up, let me point out that I’m not actually bitter. I’ve been dropped before and I’ll be dropped again. That’s just the nature of my business. Sometimes the management team changes and you go out with the old guy, and sometimes someone’s cousin calls over for Christmas and they give the gig to him. That’s not a general example by the way, that’s actually what happened. It’s an irritating thing that just goes with the territory. I just felt it was worth a few hundred words on the blog.

Happy New Year!

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