Before you pack up all your things into the back of that Jeep you just bought with money from a job you just quit and head off to take an unpaid coaching internship, sit down and listen for a second.
These next few years will be a journey of self-exploration and unbelievable growth. You will meet people that will impact your life in huge ways, you will have the opportunity to make an impact on hundreds of student-athletes, you will take on challenges you didn’t ever think you could handle, and you will see the country in the process. You will also fail hard and often at work, lose a few friends, work long hours, mess up some relationships, and see your family about once every six months. The biggest thing you will learn in the next few years is perspective. Perspective is the key, and you must maintain the right perspective no matter the event. Everything is part of the process, and both positives and negatives have their place along the way. More importantly, the negatives are more valuable learning experiences and are not to be thrown to the side. If you can master a few things early, they will make this journey one of the most rewarding things you will ever experience.
It’s Okay to Have Bad Days – They’re not all perfect highlight-worthy days. Just because you love this field doesn’t mean it isn’t still a job. There are things that will be out of your control and will drive you nuts and that’s okay. You need to learn to love it even when everything around you is going wrong. Fall in love with the fight. Often times our industry is glorified to unrealistic standards for young coaches. Don’t get me wrong, there is no other place I would rather be, but I am also a realist. There are days where you will be tired, there are days where you forget things or make mistakes, and there will be days when you feel like walking out. Contrary to popular belief (and sometimes our own beliefs), strength coaches are human! What matters is that even in those moments, you find a way to channel the best version of yourself not only for you, but for your athletes. It’s okay to have off days, it’s not okay to allow them to affect the student-athletes you are responsible for. Remember why you do what you do.
Who You Know Doesn’t Matter: That’s right, I said it. Who you know does not matter. Who knows you…now that means everything. To explain this better, here’s the scenario. You’re at a conference and the clouds open and the angels start singing, and that big D1 logo you’re convinced will give you everything you want in life is right there on the chest of some big bald guy with a goatee. So, being young and confident, you walk over and introduce yourself. “Coach, I am John, I am interning at ABC University and I follow everything you do. I’ve read all your articles and watched all your clinic presentations. Here, can I give you my card and a resume? Awesome! Thank you!” Flash forward 3 months when you haven’t sent a legitimate follow up e-mail or reached out to thank the coach for his time. You’re applying for a job at that school or another on the same level and you think “oh I’ll be good, I know Coach ______ from XYZ University.” Wrong. You exchanged cards and the harsh reality is he probably put your card and resume in the stack of the other 100 he received that day at the conference unless you made a meaningful connection. How can you add value to the relationship? Networking is not a one-way road, and coaches don’t just hand out recommendations for everyone they meet. This means you have to be genuine and make an attempt to add value in some way. When I say add value, I don’t necessarily mean professionally. A sense of humor and good conversation can go a long way. Be you, let your passion show, and follow up!
Make the Tough Choices: Oh boy, this one is a kicker for young coaches. #TheGrind, #Hustle, #24/7, #NoDaysOff, and whatever other hashtag you want to use to describe our lifestyle does not and will not prepare you for the sacrifices you’re going to be asked to make. Socially, are you willing to live a different life than your friends outside the field? Wednesday evening happy hours and 4-day weekend trips are (typically) not an option for a young strength coach, and you have to be completely at peace with that reality. This is going to sound harsh, but you will have to distance yourself from some friendships and prioritize who you’re spending your free time with. I am telling you this from experience, there are friends who will not fit into where you are trying to go in life. That is okay! It doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means you are growing in different directions. I’ve seen young coaches (myself included) struggle with this and try to maintain friendships or relationships that may have been better off left alone. We live a unique lifestyle that has unique time and energy demands. We don’t have a “paid time off” day to burn the Monday after the Superbowl and we can’t sleepwalk through the workday after a big concert. We have mat drills at 6 a.m. and a group of student-athletes who deserve and expect the best version of us to walk through that door. Your highest priority goal needs to influence every decision you make. If you want to be a great coach and grow as a person, you have to be willing and able to make the sacrifices necessary now.
Take Care of You: I know I just spent the last section telling you how you need to eliminate distractions, blow up your social life, and swear off dating, but here comes the other side…find a balance! Leave the office when you can, go grab lunch off campus when a friend is in town, take a Friday afternoon off! We preach to our athletes the importance of skills like time management, recovery, and proper nutrition and yet strength coaches are burning out at an alarming rate. This always cracks me up because we all know the young strength coach who always seems to still be at the office even when everything is done. He or she is “too locked in” to eat lunch or breakfast, and lives session to session fueled by Red Bull, Cliff bars, and pre-workout. I am by no means knocking these young and hungry coaches’ work ethic. I was one of them, I am one of them. However, I am quickly learning how much better I function when I balance my time. When you are a young coach trying to earn your stripes and find your niche, it can be easy to let the job consume you. Your social life becomes nonexistent, your dating life falls apart, and you stop doing the things you enjoy in your free time. This is a sign it is time to take a deep breath and refocus. Because we have such limited free time, we must be protective of our hours like a junkyard dog over a meal. Spend your free time doing things that remove stress from your life, not add it. Make time to call family, have dinner with friends, go fishing, etc. That means walking away from the office when the work is done, being proactive, and placing a high value on your free time.
This article had a lot of what some would call negativity in it, but if you can begin to master these things as a young coach, I promise you will be happier and in turn you will be a better leader, coach, friend, sibling, significant other, etc. I love my career, and I would not trade these experiences over the past few years for anything. You will mature at a rapid rate, embrace it. Your perseverance will be tested, answer the bell. You will learn what really matters to you by what you make time for, get to know yourself. You will find out who is really in your corner, let the others go with no hard feelings. This industry is unique in that it can and will give you the highest of highs and the lowest of lows sometimes within the same week. Learn to love the fight, align your actions with your goals, add value to every situation, make time for you, and you will never regret trading in that shirt and tie for chalk and sweat.
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