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Creating Impact Beyond the Weight Room

John Garrish
Mar 23, 2021

Although X’s and O’s and sets and reps might be the reason our position was created, it wasn’t why we were hired.  Applicants are hired and employees are retained by the positive impact they’ve made in the department. “Impact”, like “culture”, is a word we strength coaches love to use but sometimes struggle to define. 

Although I love my opportunity to impact teenagers’ lives while they’re most malleable, that doesn’t make the impact of a college coach or private trainer any less valuable.  I had a tremendous strength coach in high school that I still call on today, but aside from family, the person who had the greatest impact on me was my college strength coach.  Similarly, a private trainer will have one-on-one conversations with athletes that I’ll probably never have the opportunity to have coaching large groups of middle and high schoolers.  You can make an impact anywhere, coaching anyone, and I hope drawing on my own experiences will help you avoid some mistakes that I’ve made in my career.

Making an impact in the weight room and on campus.

I’m going to discuss the impact we have in the weight room the least as I think it’s something that plenty of coaches much smarter than myself have discussed in great detail.  Coaches who love their job, work hard at it and care about their students will make a considerable impact without even a thought of how.  We’re in the business of helping athletes become better athletes so hard skills absolutely matter, but the soft skills of coaching and mentorship are what create lasting relationships and impact our people.  

Ultimately for me, it boils down to making sure our students are there; the volume of students participating is a more important value to me than the volume of sets and reps. 

I keep welcome sign outside the weight room and focus on two major points to make sure the door is at least open to impacting our students. 

1. Cast a wide net.  

If the kids aren’t there, it’s impossible to leave a lasting impression on them.  I like to cast a wide net and encourage participation from as many students as can fit in the room (this is of course covid sensitive).  Creating an “inviting” atmosphere isn’t often goal #1 for a strength and conditioning coach, but in our community at North Broward Prep, it has yielded very positive results in getting our students to participate.

2. Girls lead the way.

I’ve always admired Vernon Griffith and how he seemed to inspire not only his incredible daughter but the many young women that he’s trained over the years.  Admittedly, I had always been more comfortable coaching men and still remember the advice that he gave me when I asked him how he does it.. “always carry a hair tie”.  This was a long way from the advice I’d heard from others and you’ll never quite understand its significance until that first girl loses her hair tie at lunch and her strength coach has the solution.  It’s not the lack of hair in her face but the comfort in knowing her coach was thinking of her that makes the moment most meaningful.

I’m not ashamed to say that from the point of my conversation with Vern, our young girls would go on to have absolute priority in the weight room.  Summer days were no longer football groups first, full of energy, and ladies at the end of the day, sleepy eyed and hardly on my feet.  Today, our ladies train first and will never wait in the hallway for the boys to be done training or feel pressured to finish so the boys can come in.  When we train after school, the first group is always our girls while the boys are the ones that wait for their designated training time.  Prioritizing our female students has increased their participation immensely and had zero negative impact on our boys.  I’m confident the greatest change I made for the betterment of our program was to put our girls first, literally and figuratively.


Impact at home

Parent interaction is another common concern with coaches at the high school level.  Previously, my choice was to run and avoid parents at all costs. When I would avoid parents, all of the interactions I would have with parents were “negative”.  Not to say the actual interaction was negative, but the premise of the conversation, or concern, more often than not was critical.  As strength coaches, we get comfortable being behind the curtain and I frankly would take those feelings too far and be solely reactive in parental communication.  I was relying on, and sometimes wrongly blaming, sport coaches for poor communication when a simple email to a host of parents would solve a lot of issues.

When I was given the opportunity to become our school’s head track coach, I had no choice but to proactively communicate practice times, meet schedules, etc.  That bled into my communication as the strength and conditioning coordinator for our other teams and soon thereafter weekly newsletters and check-ins with parents became a huge hit and numbers grew immensely.

The fact is there’s nobody who will have a greater impact on a child’s life than their parents.  A simple stamp of approval at home, an “atta-girl” from dad at the dinner table or a mom proudly retweeting her son’s athlete of the month post will go a long way in making an impact in a child’s life.  In reality, you’re making an impact on his/her parent’s lives too.

That doesn’t mean that a parent will never be upset with us -- 99.99% of parents want nothing but the best for their child even if they may have been misinformed or misled by somebody else. 

When I became more proactive with my parent interaction, not only did these conversations become more “eye to eye” and mutually respectful, they almost always ended positively with previous interactions to fall back on. 

And lastly, if a child ever doesn’t feel comfortable in our training environment or if I’m unknowingly doing something that isn’t conducive to their enjoyment or development I darn sure want to know about it, no matter how much it hurts to hear.

Making an impact in the community.

Impacting your community is one of the many examples of pouring into something that inevitably comes back around for you. This impact affects your current students just as much as it does your future ones.  The world can be a pretty dark place at times and unfortunately there’s not enough people, or enough of the right people, doing anything about it.  Sports are an outlet for so many young people and there are few professions more generous and caring than our own to help those kids see it through. 

There are things much bigger than X’s and O’s.  I’m ashamed to say that I discredited many coaches at local schools and trainers at city parks that I thought I “knew more than” because I was crunching numbers for programs and reading books while they were changing kids’ lives around the clock.  Some of my own students were going to train with coaches who had no degrees and no certifications, but were coming back better than ever. More importantly, they couldn’t mention their trainer’s name, or walk me through a session without smiling.  

A gift and a curse to the position that we are all in is that there’s more than meets the eye when measuring the value of what we do.  Unfortunately for a long time I felt that way in defense, but was still quick to cast stones from my glass house. Instead, today I try to collaborate with as many local coaches as I can.  For one, you never know who might be able to reach one of your own or, on the flip side, you never know who they coach that might ultimately need you in their life.  Heck, every last one of the coaches I’ve connected with have changed my life forever, many making me a better person and a better coach on and off campus.

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