One of the most important jobs for the strength and conditioning coach is to take the goals and objectives of the head sport coach and design training programs while taking this into account. This requires the strength and conditioning coach to closely work and communicate with the head sport coach on a daily basis. The strength and conditioning coach and head sport coach should be working together throughout the year evaluating and refining each phase of the program to ensure continued improvement.
When a head sport coach does request changes in the current strength and conditioning program, the strength and conditioning coach must first find out why the changes are being requested. Is the sport coach taking on a new philosophy or style of play for their team? Is the team's practice schedule and practice plan changing? Is the coach looking for different outcomes or objectives with the strength and conditioning plan? Is there a lack of progress and development with the current strength and conditioning plan?
When the changes and reasons for changes have been determined, the strength and conditioning coach must then work with the head sport coach to build a new approach that achieves the desired outcomes. The reality is that the head sport coach has shown confidence in the strength and conditioning coach by asking them to work on a new training plan so their sport can pursue a new path. The strength and conditioning coach now has the opportunity to show that they are the expert at enhancing athletic performance.
The new program must be grounded both in research and the current realities of that sport's new training model. Although the head sport coach might not initially realize it, one small requested change could require a drastic change in programming. For example, a head sport coach wanting to eliminate squatting actions from the strength training plan would force the strength and conditioning coach to produce a very different looking program. Such a request will also yield very different short- and long-term training effects. The strength and conditioning coach needs to make that clear to the sport coach. The strength and conditioning coach should track the training and testing outcomes and compare the old program with the new approach. Sharing this and other relevant performance information with the head sport coach can confirm if the new approach is having the desired results or is producing unintended consequences.
Change is challenging for any professional in any career. The toughest part of this scenario can be the perceived damage to the strength and conditioning coach's personal and professional ego. Strength and conditioning coaches must never forget that the sport coaches are as motivated by winning and doing it the right way as anyone else in the athletic department. They did not take their current positions to lose and face potential loss of their job if they do not produce the desired results. Strength and conditioning coaches are a valuable resource and at the end of the day, must always fully support the head sport coach to the best of their professional abilities.
Sport coaches requesting, or demanding, drastic changes in a training program can be one of the more delicate situations a strength and conditioning coach might encounter. As a strength and conditioning professional, we are the experts in the field, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association provides a terrific resource and support system.
It is tough when a strength and conditioning coach, who has invested a tremendous amount of time into education, credentialing, and professional development, has their integrity questioned or in some cases even insulted. Whether it stems from ignorance, ego, inquisitiveness, control, or maybe a combination of all of it, nobody enjoys having a carefully planned training cycle torn apart. As a professional with over 20 years in the field, there are times when I have handled the situation well, and times, while it is hard to admit, I have not. While each situation is different, it is important to remain objective, and most of all not to make it a personal matter. Anytime that you let your own ego and pride become a part of the situation, the end result is almost always negative.
I can recall instances as a young coach in which I let my own pride and ego get in the way of progress. As a result of making it a personal issue, I created a very difficult training environment for the athletes by telling them what I thought that they should be doing and why. In my mind, because I was educating individuals on the principles and physiology of strength and conditioning, I was performing a service. In other situations I acted indifferent and chose not to care, and have even gone as far as to turn the training program over to another member of the staff or back to the team's head coach.
The bottom line is that it is the sport coach's team. As strength and conditioning coaches, we work for the head coach, not the other way around. Hopefully, we all have the best interests of the team and athletes as our highest priority. The players are always going to be held accountable to the standards and expectations set by the coach. As a strength coach, it is imperative that we give athletes a positive atmosphere to enhance their performance.
In a perfect environment, which I know is not always 100% possible; the sport coach has complete trust in the motives and intentions of the strength and conditioning professional. When this happens, it is usually the result of great communication, and a very open exchange of philosophies and expectations between the 2 entities; a certain amount of give and take is usually the end result. These compromises can be as simple as the football coach wanting his team to do more bench press, or it can be more complex like the soccer coach wanting less time in the weight room and more time devoted to fitness and conditioning to increase their team speed. In either case, this is where you use your creativity as a strength coach to make it happen. It can be one of the more rewarding parts of the job.
Several years ago, I convinced a team coach to give up distance running for the semester and let the team get strong; that through strength and power training combined with short sprints and plyometrics, we would increase our athleticism without compromising our conditioning. The coach agreed with 1 stipulation, if any of the athletes added time to the 1.5-mile run test at the end of the semester, all bets were off. Every athlete dropped time in the test despite no structured distance running added to the program. It was a great moment for me as a coach. The next year, after a very successful season, the coach left for another job, and the new coach insisted that the team add distance training to improve their endurance. I think that this is just the nature of the business, and at some point in a strength and conditioning coach's career, probably more often than you would like, you are going to be faced with the situation of a sport coach asking for drastic changes in the training protocol.
The biggest question I would have for a coach who wants to make a drastic change is “why.” I would need some information for why he or she feels the strength and conditioning program would be improved by making the requested changes. I believe it is very important to take the coach's concerns seriously to better serve the athlete. I feel giving the benefit of the doubt is paramount; for example, the coach might have thought a particular idea would be great to try because he or she saw it on a Web site and is really looking for a shake-up to the program that requires a drastic change.
If the coach really does desire a drastic change in the conditioning program, and if the changes are possibly detrimental to the success of the athlete, I would first consult with the athletic trainer for that sport. Some changes (i.e., taking out Olympic-style lifts for a volleyball athlete) may be counterproductive to athletic performance. Adding specific exercises may increase the risk of injury for the athlete. I would present the information collected to the coach to provide the pros and cons of making the change from both the medical and strength and conditioning standpoint. I would then ask the coach to present me with some documentation of the success they have had or think they will have with the requested change. This will let me know the direction he or she wants to go with the training plan and if there is anything less drastic that could be implemented to achieve what the coach is trying to accomplish, just a different way. “What if we did_____ because of _____” is a compromising and thought provoking statement showing interest in what the coach wants, but also exercising our creativity as subject matter experts in strength and conditioning.
Ultimately, I would have to feel comfortable implementing the change the coach requested, and if I did not, then I would have to consider if I am the right fit for their staff. There is an element of keeping professional integrity and if I really did believe what the coach was asking for was dangerous or less effective, in good conscience, I would not put my name on that program and give it to an athlete. I believe I always have a voice on every strength and conditioning matter concerning my teams and personally, I will not be forced into something I simply do not feel right about. At the end of the day, it is about making the athlete better and I believe everyone on the staff wants that; if there are different views on how that is accomplished, compromise and communication are key to making it a successful plan.