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My second year at the University of West Florida I became a Graduate Assistant and didn’t think I would actually receive a tax return, so to say I was excited to see that government check come in the mail was an understatement. Now, most coaches probably would’ve saved it, or paid a little more towards loans (because I’m sure most of us have them), or pay for that certification or course we’ve been dying to attend. Not me!
The summer was quickly approaching, and I had no idea what I was going to do from May to June before summer training started. My friend from California called me one night and I realized I haven’t seen her in a while, and I have never been to California before so this would be the perfect time to go out west. The CSCCa conference was going to be held in Fort Worth that year, so I decided that instead of driving back to Pensacola with the staff after the conference I would just fly out to California and stay there for a week. Now, you’re probably thinking flight to California and back, he’s going to need a rental car, he’s going to need a place to stay, and he’ll need a lot of money for food because it's expensive out there.
With the proper planning and being able to crash on people’s couches I was able to stay under $1,000 and was in California for six days. So what did I do out in California?
I knew I would be out there for six days and that my friend would be working during the week, so I reached out to different coaches around the Los Angeles and Orange County area to see if I could visit and talk shop during the daytime. The first person that I reached out to was Coach Wintrich, Director of Football Performance at UCLA. A lot of young coaches I talk to are afraid to reach out to coaches in “high positions” because they feel they will get rejected and it will be a waste of time. The way I see it, no matter what position a coach has, at the end of the day they are still a human with flaws just like myself. If that coach doesn’t respond to my emails or phone calls, I just assume they are busy and keep it moving even if that’s not the case.
Thankfully Coach Wintrich was very quick to respond and open to me coming by their facility to observe and talk shop. I spent the first two days of the week visiting his staff. Being able to watch other strength coaches in action is an incredible experience no matter what level, division, or setting of strength and conditioning. I won’t go into detail about all that I learned from Coach Wintrich and his staff, but I’m forever appreciative and thankful for their hospitality and vulnerability. It caught me by surprise when I sat down with the staff after a lift and they are asking me what I felt could be improved upon. I was only a graduate assistant at the time that knew nothing, and yet they felt there was something to be learned from this young visitor. I think that takes an incredible amount of respect for others’ experiences and humility on their part to admit they aren’t perfect and there’s always room for improvement.
The third day I was fortunate enough to visit the Los Angeles Chargers and the University of Southern California (USC). My former internship coordinator from EXOS had recently taken a position with the Chargers, so it was great to visit with him and also observe an NFL strength and conditioning session. After my visit with the Chargers I stopped by USC for a little bit to visit with Coach Heidegger. He was an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the time working with baseball, so it was great to talk about baseball programming and his journey on how he ended up at USC. Now, Coach Heidegger is the Director of Olympic Sports after only four years of being an Assistant. It’s one thing to sit down in a lecture hall to hear a coach talk about his programming and how they create buy-in and all these other things, but actually witnessing it in-person and asking one-on-one questions is how I learn the best.
After those three days of visiting strength coaches and networking I decided to be a regular tourist and enjoy myself in the City of Angels. I saw the Hollywood sign, walked around Hollywood Boulevard to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and went hiking at Crystal Cove State Park. I also went down to San Diego and visited the Kissing Statue at Tuna Harbor Park and the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial. And I can’t forget to mention that I ate a lot of tremendous food.
Okay so why am I talking about my vacation again?
Well, often times I get so caught up with what’s going on in my athlete’s lives, my programming, and just the overall development of my own coaching career that I forget to enjoy life and take care of myself. I’m not saying that I experience burnout or anything, but I do experience fatigue even though I love my job, my coworkers, and my athletes. I feel that any professional who is in a type of altruistic industry will display this type of Solomon’s Paradox where we give great advice and help others but are not able to act on it ourselves.
We are constantly telling our athletes to recover and to take care of themselves mentally and physically, and yet we still have coaches talking about how they wish they could go back and spend more time with their family or travel more when they were younger. Well, I don’t want to live my life with that regret. So, I make sure I take care of myself in order for my athlete’s to constantly get the best version of me. What good am I if I’m drinking energy drinks every day to either hype myself up or just get through the day; when in reality if you recover properly you won’t need it.
For one, I started to realize that drinking an energy drink every day was costly, and two I’ve started to realize that it’s not setting a great example for our athletes. I personally can’t speak on working to the point where it takes time away from my family because I do not have a significant other or kids, but from watching the coaches I have been around I have seen how impactful it can be to allow your athletes to see you be an amazing dad, mom, husband, or wife.
In all, I believe the best investment you can make is on yourself. Take time to give your body and mind the rest it deserves. This summer I was fortunate enough to hear Corliss Fingers, the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Bethune Cookman, speak and she mentioned that she closes the weight room for a certain period of time every day to focus on personal matters. At first, I thought the idea was crazy and selfish, but this fall I started shutting down the weight room every day from 12-1pm. I call it my Controlled Recovery Period (CRP); a term I picked up from world renown sleep coach, Nick Littlehales. My daily CRP’s have given me more energy going into the afternoons, increased productivity, and have given me more respect amongst my athletes because I actually practice what I preach in terms of recovery.
Now, when school is not in session is when I’ll take an actual break and recover, but I’ll also use that time to network. It may seem counterproductive to network while on vacation or plan a vacation around a conference, but that’s what I prefer to do. What’s that old saying, “Don’t mix business with pleasure”. Well, I don’t necessarily mix the two, but I do make sure to take care of “business” first and then go relax and enjoy myself wherever I am. Certifications and conferences can help improve your programming, but investing in your physical, mental, and emotional health will make you a better coach and allow you to connect with your athlete’s beyond the sets and reps and truly make a difference in their lives.
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