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If you’ve spent any time in athletics, you’ve heard or experienced stories of athletes or teams receiving punishment runs, having to clean the weight room, or even being sent home from practice when they show up late or are without proper attire for a scheduled strength and conditioning session. It’s a tricky area to navigate in situations like this because training improves performance and denying an athlete an opportunity to train for disciplinary reasons can be detrimental to the athlete both physically and mentally. At the same time, for the coach to maintain order, consistency, and authority there needs to be a clear set of standards and consequences for failing to meet those standards. So, should training with a strength and conditioning coach be considered a right or a privilege?
I believe that if you are a part of a team, program, or organization that has enlisted the expertise of a strength and conditioning coach that you have a right as a member of that team to receive the coaching offered and have equal access to the equipment and facilities associated with the coach or program. Within that includes a reasonable right for accommodations during injury, illness, or simple human error. However, the perception and utilization of a strength and conditioning coach (or any support staff) should be viewed with the respect given to any privilege. So, if training with a strength and conditioning coach is both a right and a privilege, what can coaches do to maintain the level of appreciation that should be given to privileges while also ensuring that an athletes rights are also given consideration when less than ideal circumstances occur?
Each strength & conditioning professional should have their own standards and expectations for all aspects of training including things like attire, arrival time, equipment organization, warm-ups, cool-downs, workout order, music, language etc. It’s more than just weight room etiquette and exercise technique. Standards need to be clear, repeated often, and made aware to all coaches and athletes within the program. I cannot express how necessary it is to be explicitly clear, for example, it’s not enough to tell players to “show up on time, to be ready to go”.
You need to clarify that for you being “on time” means arriving at least ten minutes early with shoes tied, water bottled filled, awake, and with a good attitude. Keep in mind that to some athletes, being “on time” means being in the building at 5:59am for a 6:00am workout. The opportunity to create a team culture of hard work and accountability, and establish your reputation of a strength and conditioning coach with a high standard of excellence begins with the expectations you set and clearly communicate on a consistent basis.
Rules are great, but what happens when those standards are not met can be even more impactful. After you set your ground rules you need to also set your consequences. You won’t be able to predict all the ways a rule might be broken, but what to do in common situations like lateness or improper attire should be clearly defined. Everyone should know, for example, that if one person is late the whole team will run a lap for each minute they are late, or that the late individual will be in charge of wiping down benches at the end of the session etc. One question I often hear is do you punish the whole team or just the individual? It depends. I like team punishments because it helps to establish a sense of family and responsibility across the team. If Bobby tends to oversleep, the teammates will make sure that he is awake in time if they know they will all be punished as a result of his tardiness.
I tend to reserve individual punishments for repeated behaviors or incidents of a more serious nature related to attitude or academic performance. I do not like to refuse an athlete access to a workout session or send them home unless their behavior or presence has become a distraction or a negative influence to the team, if they have not been attending required academic sessions or sports medicine treatments, or if their attendance at workouts is compromising their health, wellness, or performance in some way. Another reason I do not like to restrict an athlete’s opportunity to train unless absolutely necessary is because they not only miss the chance to get better and miss time with their teammates, but not working out might be their goal, and if the reason is related to laziness or poor work ethic then sending them home only makes the situation worse.
Stick To Your Word
Once the ground rules and consequences are set, stick to them and follow through with them when necessary. Be reasonable and compassionate when necessary, but be stern and stick to your pre-established consequences when athletes fall out of line. Inconsistency in following through or showing favoritism when certain athletes mess-up only causes the team as a whole to lose faith in your ability to be fair and ultimately could be the difference between your athletes, and perhaps fellow coaches, regarding your services as a right versus a privilege and thus how they treat you moving forward.
Finally, you want to also give praise and positive reinforcement for consistent good habits, for actions that exceed your established standards, and for positive changes in habits and behaviors that were previously an issue. The acknowledgment of these positive actions also communicates to the athletes that you also view the opportunity to train them as a privilege that you take seriously.
The nature and environment of the strength and conditioning profession can often seem over looked or taken for granted. It is up to the strength coach to establish and reinforce the ground rules for a successful training environment, and set the tone for what is expected based on their style of coaching and the value of their programing and expertise.
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