The professional strength and conditioning coach has to effectively combine the science and practice of training in the development of their athletes. Our field is constantly evolving, making it therefore necessary to develop strategies for becoming a lifelong learner in the industry. With hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific articles being published each month, and new coaching strategies and technologies being implemented in the weight room, it is difficult to stay abreast of the onslaught of new information.
This article offers four simple tips and suggestions to aid your development opportunities and maximize your continuing education plan.
Tip #1: Do It! (Make time)
This first tip is straight forward, you need to schedule time to learn and actually do your professional development. Whether it is setting aside five minutes a day, or reading one article before bed, if you don’t schedule time to do some development for yourself, it won’t happen. You may start the day or even the week with good intentions, but as we all discover early in our careers, things pop up all of the time that get in the way of our learning. Whether a meeting with a coach, a new client, or some family emergency, life gets away from us. If you don’t purposely schedule time to learn for yourself most likely time will get away from you and it won’t happen. This doesn’t have to be anything lengthy, 5-10 minutes each day is a great place to start. Just pick a topic and dive in!
Tip #2: Do What Works for You
As stated previously, it can be tough to find time if you simply wait for an hour in your day to “open up”. Most likely something else will pop up and draw you away from your learning. So here are some simple tips that I use, or have learned from others, on how to fit in continuing education:
- Podcast/audiobook on the commute to work
- Podcast/audiobook while training
- Schedule “meetings” with other coaches to pick their brain, talk shop, and problem solve (one of my favourites!)
- Carve out 5 min to read every day. One coach told me – “I just make sure I read at least 1 page per day. That’s it”. Keep it simple and consistent!
- Read before bed to wind down
- Get up 5-10 minutes earlier and read
- Set an alarm or reminder in your phone to remind yourself
- Put it in your daily to-do list. If you are a Type-A like me, this one works every time!
- Watch a few videos on social media from a QUALITY source you trust and grab a few nuggets from it
- Lastly, and one of my BEST professional development secrets- Download the Pocket App. You can save articles for later and actually have them read to you like a audiobook. Now you can walk the dog and “read” that article!
Make sure you do what works for you. Don’t be swayed or dismayed because some other coach reads one book per week, and you fall asleep after 5 minutes of sitting down. Stay true to how you learn best (audio, visual) and stick with that. After all, learning is learning!
Tip #3: Think About It
Now that you have made the time to learn and have scooped up some new bits of information, the next step is to hit the pause button. This one can be the most challenging one for us young coaches. We just learned something new at a conference and can’t wait to get back on Monday to try it out. My best piece of advice is to hit pause and critically think about what you plan to do. Yes, a NCAA Division I S&C coach used 45 heart rate monitors to get the rest intervals perfect when running conditioning drills, but you have 10 minutes after practice, a stopwatch and 3 cones at your disposal. Context is everything. Make sure you understand the why and the how. You are working with your athletes, not theirs, so make sure you are doing what is best for them, what is feasible for them (and you) and what makes sense to get the most effective (and efficient) results. Same thing with getting information from research. One of the biggest tips I got in my graduate studies was to always read the methods section so you understand how the study was done, not just what happened. Titles and abstracts can be misleading, so make sure you know how it was done so you know if it is replicable in your setting and if the findings are worth the time and effort.
With all new info, compare it against your personal philosophy. If you are not an Olympic lifting advocate, but you learn a new pull variation that is supposed to have the most wattage, you might not want to just throw it in. You will have to ask yourself, “Can I coach this effectively?” “Will my athletes be able to learn this movement safely at this time of year?” “Do I have the time and space to do this?”. There are a thousand ways to skin a cat and what works for one person might not work for another. As one of my mentors has told me repeatedly, “Don’t sway in the wind like a tree. Let others bounce from one thing to another and then follow where the results are”.
Last point on critically thinking is to make sure you look at competing views. Don’t let your own personal biases get in the way of doing what is best for your athletes and clients. You might not like back squats, but if your athletes can do it safely and effectively with good results, then maybe it is time to give it a try. Now there is nothing that says you MUST do a certain exercise or drill, but make sure in your development you learn from people you don’t agree with, or about topics you might not have much interest in. That way you can have a more holistic view of strength and conditioning and that can either solidify your reasons or give you something new to chew on.
Tip #4: Apply it. Slowly
And finally, you need to be patient in your application of your learning. We all want to read more, study more, listen to yet ANOTHER new podcast our colleague put out. However, how much of that info are you applying? Yes, we need to learn from competing points of view, as I just mentioned, but you do not need to become a master of everything. Be a master of your context and apply what you are learning. Most of us learn/study faster than the pace we can apply things. Now while this is better than it being flipped around, we need to make sure we do not get ahead of ourselves. Reading yet another book when you have not even been able to apply the lessons or skills you learned in the last one might not be the best idea. It is kind of like starting university before you even graduated high school. One step at a time!
We all make sure our athletes are mastering the basics in training and have solid movement foundations before we layer on load or complexity, yet do we do the same in our own development? Start slowly. Apply what you learned. Then learn some more. Just found out hip thrusts are more effective at developing horizontal strength and power than front squats? Sweet! Let your athletes do some hip thrusts and track their broad jump scores before you decide to throw bands or chains on their box squats. Don’t change too many variables or you won’t know what did the trick.
Bottom line, it is no use having a head full of knowledge that you cannot use. Focus on what you need to know in your context, learn the pros and cons (as stated in Tip #2), test frequently, and follow the results!
The best definition of coaching I’ve ever heard is this: “Coaching is taking an athlete from where they are, to where they want to be”. To me, this is very true. We all want our athletes to be the best versions of themselves and reach their goals. That begins with us being the best versions of ourselves. The better we get, the better our athletes can be. In a typically selfless profession, it can be hard to take time for yourself and focus on improving your coaching skills away from the weight room floor. For newer coaches or aspiring ones, the biggest tip or takeaway I can give you is this, be a good person, learn how to communicate, build trust, and develop relationships. But make sure you still know your stuff because when that athlete does place their full trust in you, you better know what to do to help them
Author Bio: Cole Hergott is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Trinity Western University. As a young coach, husband and father, professional development time needs to be effective and efficient. Cole loves to continually learn more about the human body and how to optimally develop it, as well as how to communicate this knowledge to his athletes. Cole has his Master’s Degree in Coaching Science from UBC as well as his CSCS through the NSCA.