There has long been something going on at conferences, and it needs to stop.
People will judge you by the logo on your shirt. We all have seen the individual who will walk by you, look to the left breast of your polo and decide to either stop you and talk or just walk on by. How much a coach knows and how much he can influence you and your program happen to be directly related to where that person is now. Well, we all know that correlation doesn’t imply causation, and just because someone is where they are now doesn’t mean they will continue to be there later, nor does it tell you what and where the person was before.
It is quite possible that the coach is there because he wants to be close to family to aid in the care of a child, or because the smaller school provides more job security, but they won a national championship in football just a few years prior at the Division 1 level. I remember reading an article several years ago about a strength coach for a prominent NBA team left the team to take a job with the local high school because they wanted to watch their child grow up and not be on the road all of the time. When at a conference, those who don’t know them would most likely walk on by and “big time” him, because the logo on his shirt says that they’re a "nobody."
Also, you never know where the younger person will end up going and end up becoming. There are tons of young people coming into the profession. Some will be here a year, some will be here a lifetime. Some will go on and do something fantastic with their career in the field, some will just hang on. You never know who they will become. As a student assistant at Southwest Missouri State University I remember going through and applying for graduate assistant positions before I graduated. My boss had some connections at his old school still through the basketball strength coach, and they had a GA position that would work with football and several Olympic sports. My boss's friend approached the head strength coach and told him about me and I was told that the head strength coach said, “Where’s he at? Nah man, there’s no way he’s good enough to be a GA here. Being there, he might not even be good enough to be a volunteer intern, but we can give him a shot at that.” I declined, and the rest is history.
I think we need to realize that we can learn from anyone. Sometimes we learn something that we want to know and find useful. Sometimes we learn something that we now know we don’t want to try and check that off of our list. If you look at the person's logo as a marker of their value as a coach, then you’re missing the boat and a plethora of opportunities. I know that we had a coach named Sean Edinger that was a GA with us at Mizzou who went on to do things at very small Universities and then all of a sudden he ends up at a big Division 1 University. He went from a GA to Mizzou to Haskell University for the Indian Nations to the University of Central Missouri to Eastern Illinois University (where are any of those at anyway? That’s what many people will ask) to Bowling Green University (Bowling for what??) and then is at Syracuse University. What changed? Nothing. He’s still the same person. He still believes in the same things. He still acts the exact same when whenever I call or text him. He approaches training the athletes and discipline the same way that at the major BCS school that he did at the NAIA school. What has changed now is that people who he asked what time it was and ignored him now step over their grandmother to talk to him.
If you ignore the person because of the logo you miss out on 4 potential things:
- The opportunity to learn: Everyone has tried different styles of training/programming/technology. With your current situation, you may have everything figured out or you may be up for trying things to enhance your program. You’ll get insight from people who have done things in the real world with similar situations to you and can save you time and possibly enhance your results from their experience. You may also learn that you don’t like certain training styles from the adaptations their athletes have made. It’s a win all of the way around.
- The opportunity to gain a boss in the future: If they’re good at what they do, and they’re looking to move on, they may be looking for assistants in the future. Maybe they’ll land a position at a big school and then bring you onboard to work for them. This has happened many times. We all know that in this industry, many jobs are filled before they are posted. This gives you an opportunity to get the job before it’s posted. It may even get you a job working for someone in their network.
- The opportunity to gain an assistant in the future: If you’re good at what you do and are looking to move up, you’ll have a list of people you’ll want to work for you. Being at a smaller school makes them more ingenuitive. They’ve had to make adjustments based on what their situation would bring and they’ve often had to work with many athletes at the same time and can have a better ability to work and manage the floor than those who came up in the big school systems where they may have only had to work with 5 people out of 100 at a time.
- The opportunity to gain a friend in the industry: In this industry, we all know that people tend to look at the logo on your shirt and blow by you. When you change logos, you change the way people look at you. It’s good to know people who you knew before you moved to the bigger school, as their intentions are more pure. These people are solid gold because you know that it isn’t some ulterior motive they’re going with. I have a good friend named Todd Hamer at Robert Morris University. He’s a great strength coach and someone I have known for years. I always know that when I’m talking with Todd, there is no ulterior motives. He is calling me not to ask about an in at a program (unless he needs it/wants it) but has a question about training or has a story to tell about life. He often tells me that he knew me before I was me, which I’m still not sure what that means. But I do know this - he isn’t afraid to tell me if I’m wrong or if I’m doing something wrong and anything I hear from him is the truth.
One other point to make is that people also look at the name badge to see if you’re the head coach at a school or not. I have seen people act like they would slap their mother for the opportunity to meet the head coach at a school, but with the assistants they will just walk on by. I have many friends who are head strength coaches at big schools. If someone comes up to them, they know in a second if the person is just wanting a job. This will keep their guard up and the chances of you getting to work for them one day is very low. These guys often listen to their assistants. If the assistant likes you and you are friends with him, then they can help get you a job there if it’s open. They can also later introduce you to their boss. Many people screen their phone calls - if they don’t know who’s calling, they’re not going to pick up. Likewise, if you are being introduced to someone through a trusted friend, your guard will be down and more likely to make a connection with that person and remember them.
I know that I had the same thoughts that other people do about the logos early in my career. I also learned quickly that it was a flawed way of thinking. At this point in my career I look to help people correct mistakes or prevent mistakes that I made. I think that this arrogance cost me many friends and possibly positions. I know that I did this as a result of how I was treated earlier in my career, and it wasn’t right. I will promise you something- if you wrong someone during their career, they will remember it. If you go out of your way to help someone during their career, they will remember it. I know of some people who have made it their life goal to try and screw someone over since they felt wronged (which is completely asinine, but that’s not the point), and I know many people who would do anything to help someone who was there for them.
The next time you are at a conference, look at the person, not the logo. Determine their value for who they are and what they say and do, and not the shirt they wear. If you do these things, you will go much further in life.