A training session is only as good as the effort and belief committed by those implementing and participating in that training.
For those who do not give the program full attention and effort, even the greatest training program ever written just becomes a collection of numbers and words.
For this reason, among many others, strength coaching is so much more than just writing programs and knowing exercise science. Likewise, taking over a strength program is more than just orchestrating training sessions. It is about creating a culture conducive to performance training.
I call this a performance culture.
What is a Performance Culture?
The performance culture is an environment in which the athletes not only listen to the coach and adhere to the program, but they buy into it with the fullest conviction.
It is that in which compliance isn’t just a non-issue, it’s a given.
It is the state of a strength program in which resources are appreciated and utilized by all, and where “because I said so” does not exist – because it doesn’t need to.
Simply put, a performance culture is one in which the athletes want to get better, and will do what it takes to make this happen.
This all sounds great on paper, but just like a great training program on a beautiful Excel spreadsheet, none of it means much without actions that will take these concepts and make them reality.
How do we establish and encourage a performance culture? Well, there certainly isn’t just one set of tips to make this happen. Every coach has their own styles or ways of going about building their culture and program. Today I will touch on a few on my own with the hope that maybe just one will help you in this endeavor.
1. Educate Your Athletes
You can’t really expect your athletes to buy into your training philosophies, let alone your programming, if they don’t understand why you choose to believe and implement what you do, at least to a certain extent. This is especially true for coaches new to a program. It is hard to break traditions or old habits – good or bad – when, for some, they are so engrained from years of experience with them.
Familiarity and habits are powerful influences on behavior. If an athlete is comfortable with a certain way of training, no matter how illogical or ineffective it may be, why should they be expected to want to change for a coach they are just getting to know?
If your football team has been doing Olympic lifts for years, an in your first few weeks as the new strength coach you eliminate these movements, you will undoubtedly field a lot of questioning.
It is also hard to expect your athletes to take an initiative to improve performance on their own if they don’t know why they should be doing so. Want to leave bands and foam rollers in the weight room for your athletes to prep on their own before games/practices/sessions? Great idea. But that idea must turn into application. Don’t be upset when those recovery tools only get used as play toys if you never explained their use or usefulness.
Athlete education can go a long way toward achieving buy in and proactivity.
This doesn’t necessarily mean going into the deep science of kinesiology. But, explaining just as much as the athletes are willing and able to comprehend will only further help them find meaning in their training.
But, here’s where you can take it once step further to help cement this education and turn it into a beneficial application: prove the education right. In other words, prove its worth.
Don’t just tell the athletes why a certain method or tool works, but show them it works. For example, if you want your athletes to see the value in pre-game/practice/training prep with bands and rollers, then you a) need to provide the resources, b) educate them on the methods and benefits, and c) put these athletes in a position to see these benefits.
Once an athlete tries the bands and rollers – perhaps when they’re sore from a training session – and gets up feeling even marginally better – say a few hours before a game – they will not only understand what the benefits are, but they will have experienced these benefits firsthand.
Although not every training aspect can have an immediate impact (for example, hypertrophy and strength will take longer to develop), simply understanding the benefits and seeing them unfold in person over time will go a long way to create buy-in.
Together, education and experience can help create a strong performance culture.
2. Empower Your Athletes
Taking over a new program or establishing a new culture seems to be synonymous with control. We believe that we must exert our authority, knowledge, and experience over our athletes in order to make them buy in.
Of course, there is some of this involved with just about any leadership position. But, once the athletes become comfortable with who you are as a coach and what the expectations are for them, it is vital that a progressively more hands-off approach be taken. In this way, more responsibility can be had by the athletes, yielding the opportunity to discover their own role in the training process.
Responsibility from the athletes is important for many reasons. Certainly a major part of coaching is developing the whole person, not just the athlete. In this sense, giving the athlete some control over their program helps them grow as an entire individual.
We also want to encourage the understanding and development of routines. This is critical for the success of the athlete long term, and rightfully deserves its own post for further elaboration.
Finally, giving the athlete progressively more control over their own training will provide them with at least some ownership over the training process. Even if it is minimal – such as allowing an athlete to choose which variation of an accessory exercise they use, or to have extra work if they ask for it – this little bit of control will go a long way toward creating excitement and enthusiasm for training, both of which are critical pieces of the performance culture.
3. Hold Up Your End of the Bargain
Finally, it is important to give your athletes just as much as – if not more than – what you expect from them.
We expect our athletes to be enthusiastic about their training, focused and diligent with their efforts, and proactive in their preparation and recovery.
Coaches, too, then should be enthusiastic in each training session, always focused on the goals of each athlete and team, and proactive in their handling of the many situations that will occur in the weight room.
For the athlete, the expectations are pretty narrow. For the coach, though, they are much broader. It can be difficult to always be “on” – or enthusiastic and locked into training – especially at the end of a long day or week. But, if we expect it from our athletes after all that they’ve been through in their own right, then we must provide the same.
When you show your athlete that you are willing to fully commit your time, energy, and heart to the program – which is ultimately their program – you will go a long way to get them to do the same.
And, commitment is what the performance culture is all about – commitment to one’s self, team, training, and performance.
The tips presented here by no means are the only ways of establishing a winning or effective culture. In fact, what has worked for my athletes, in my experiences, with my circumstances may not work at all with your athletes and with your set of circumstances.
But, just knowing that you can build a culture centered on diligent and committed performance enhancement is the first step in making it happen.