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Top 5 Attributes of a Successful Strength and Conditioning Coach

The list you’ll see below is by no means exhaustive, however, the attributes mentioned in this post will definitely be found among the truly great coaches in the field. Remember, a great coach has had time and plenty of experience within the field, don’t rush the process and stay authentic.

1. Be Adaptable

Being a great coach is something that is earned with time and experience in the field. Constant tweaks to a program, cueing and flow of a session are typical almost every hour on the floor as the nature of the field is very dynamic and fluid. A lot of these tweaks and changes are made faster, seamlessly and more effectively by successful coaches. Being able to change a program to upper body only after an athlete comes in unexpectedly with a lower body injury for example, is something that takes preparation, practice and awareness. A good or mediocre coach may just cancel the session, a great coach will do their best to work around the mitigating factors and keep that client/athlete engaged and making positive progress. In order to make that decision wisely, great communication (we’ll touch on that shortly), and being open to feedback is essential.

Being adaptable very much means not being stuck in your ways. Constant “sharpening of the sword”, i.e. continuing education and open mindedness play a major role in mastering this attribute. A great coach relies on feedback and collaboration with the athlete and other coaches to achieve the best possible results. There are many ways to achieve said goal, being adaptable and fluid in your methodologies can help you find the path of least resistance to get there.

2. Communication is ESSENTIAL!

This sounds like an obvious attribute to possess, but truly being able to communicate effectively is a skill that requires practice and time. As a coach you need to be heard, but you also need to be able to step back and take feedback graciously and actively listen. As a strength coach, you are typically the middle rung of a team of support around that athlete. Meaning, you may be receiving pertinent information from the sport coach as well a physio or parent. Truly great coaches need to know how to manage that information flow and then how to disseminate it effectively to the athlete.

Another key component, especially for those coaches that work in the private sector, is how well can you communicate with the sport coach. In this scenario you are not typically in the same building as the sport coach, so it requires additional work to seek out those communication opportunities. For instance, do you know how that coach wants their athletes to play, where they see athlete “X” fitting in to the team, and what they value in their athlete’s preparation? These crucial bits of information can dictate which way you take a program and give you insight as to what areas should be emphasized in training and which can be put further down the list. Collaboration is paramount, whether with a sport coach or another strength coach in the field that you can bounce ideas off of to; so practice your communicative skills constantly.

How about your communication skill with the athlete right in front of you? If this is poor, I can guarantee you won’t have their business for long, as you can’t build trust and cooperation without it. This requires the coach to be vulnerable and open to feedback to make necessary adjustments in the communication and delivery style. At the beginning of a session or teaching something new, you must be able to explain the “why” behind it to get the requisite buy-in. However, if the athlete doesn’t care to begin with, you are already had a severe deficit. You must create the open atmosphere, culture, environment (whatever phrase you use), to find out their “why” and again, collaborate with that athlete to reach the end goal.

3. Self-Awareness

Have you ever done a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threat), Analysis on yourself? Knowing what type of coach you are, what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are is vital to being self-aware. The typical strength coach (especially in college football) is portrayed and envisioned to be the hype person and insanely in your face and loud. So, if you are not that type of coach, does that mean you won’t excel? Maybe it does if that is what a particular team values, but fitting a square peg in a round hole certainly isn’t the answer either. Being self-aware allows you to stay authentic to yourself and coach from a place of confidence and orient yourself towards your strengths. Athletes can sense authenticity almost immediately, so being someone you are not will not get you the trust and buy-in you need in order to have a successful impact.

Using a reflective journal can have great impact towards illuminating your self awareness. After a session, reflect on how you performed. What went well, what could be improved, what needs to be outright changed, what was your experience like, and what experiences and/or motivations did you rely on during that coaching session? All are great questions that can give immediate insight into how the session went and how it could be improved. Every now and then, athlete or client surveys can be implemented and they are eye-opening. At times we can get too deep in our own heads and feelings that we may need that outside perspective to see if the two “realities” match up. If they do, awesome, if not, that’s ok. Use that information to further inform your self awareness and keep honing it.

4. Accountability and Ownership

The buck stops with you, OWN IT! This is your program, your session and your system. When you demonstrate a movement, are you just going through the motions or are you nailing it? Even the mundane movement that’s been in the program for weeks, if you do a poor demo you are setting the bar for your expectations low; don’t fall into that trap. Be prepared for your sessions, have your progressions and regressions ready and be present. Your athlete is putting their trust in you and spending their time and money with you, they deserve that professionalism. There is a distinct difference between adapting a program or movement with an athlete and just winging a movement or calling an audible.

As a successful coach, you’ve no doubt spent lots of time studying, spent money and time in school, attending seminars and continuing education. Maybe you’ve done the unpaid internships, you collaborate and build a network with other coaches, all of these steps have made you the coach you are today. Own that, be accountable to that and it will reflect positively on your clients, colleagues and potential clients.

As a strength coach, you are typically behind the scenes, so don’t own the athletes wins and losses. They should not have won or lost the game because of you. But you can celebrate the preparedness, the culture you helped create with them, the consistency and dedication that helped to achieve those great highs and use the lows as new motivation and bonding to strive to reach the top again.

5. Drive

The amount of turnover in the strength and conditioning field is high. It takes ambition, drive, perseverance to overcome those odds. As a coach, do you just show up, or are you THERE?! Punctuality, consistency, dependability all fall into this attribute. Be present with your athletes and this will help to make sure you are asking the right questions, making the right adjustments and staying engaged in the process.

Always observe and use those lessons from other coaches you encounter to continue to learn and grow your experience. How do they connect with their athletes, what are some modifications they use, what are they learning at the moment, etc? All of these snapshots into their process can help you to improve and build upon your own systems. What got you to this point, may not be the most effective strategy moving forward, so how do you adapt to strive towards constant improvement? Are you continuing to make a difference, make improvements and adding value? A great coach continues to strive for advancement in those areas, are you?

A coach that possesses most if not all of these attributes, or is striving to obtain these attributes is someone invested in themselves, a difference maker and a person improving the field for the betterment of all.


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