Choosing a career path in coaching is not a decision to be taken lightly. This profession comes with a hefty price tag, that of a strong-willed commitment to personal development and the improvement of each athlete in which a coach is responsible.
This commitment takes great times, energy, financial resources, and mental reserves. The ladder that nearly all coaches will attempt to climb is very steep, for both strength coaches and sport coaches alike. And, any humble and heady coach looking to climb it would be wise to seek out knowledge and advice from those who have successfully climbed it before them.
I have personally made it a point to learn as much as I can from every coach I talk to, no matter their sport or position on that aforementioned ladder. I’m a young coach still, and I can only stand to better myself as I learn from others – for my own sake, and for the sake of my athletes.
In my relatively short time in the coaching profession I have learned so much from so many. But, two pieces of advice have not only stuck out to me, but have consistently rang true every step I’ve taken on my own professional ladder.
Today, I’d like to share with you these two specific pieces of coaching-career advice.
1. NETWORKING & CONTINUING EDUCATION: Who You Know Will Get You the Job, What You Know Will Help You Keep It
My first “real” position in the strength and conditioning field was at Stetson University as the sole intern/assistant under Director Brad Lokey. Coach Lokey not only allowed me to coach and learn on a daily basis, but he also provided me my first opportunity to network as a coach by taking me to the NSCA Coaches Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.
On our trip up to Coaches-Con, Coach Lokey stressed the importance of not just being a fly on the wall at this conference, but to be social and ask questions, to interact and network. He was the first to tell me that, in this field, “Who you know will get you a job. What you know will keep you there.”
After receiving that advice for the first time, and upon following through on Coach Lokey’s urges to network for myself, I began to meet, speak with, and learn from as many coaches as possible, and I’ve strived to continue doing so to this day – no matter where I’ve gone to coach. All the while, I’ve continued to hear this same advice echoed by many other great coaches, reiterating its value and importance.
Not only that, networking has in fact helped me get a job or two, and I am not ashamed to admit it. And, I’ve seen it do the same for so many others. It is simply a part of the profession; quite often who you know does help you get your foot in the door.
But, it is the second part of that advice that makes just as much of an impact on a career. Who you know may get you there, but job security is just as important as getting the job itself. If you want longevity, you have to earn your keep.
This means being good at your job, yes, but more importantly it means continuing your education (formally or informally) in order to ensure that you grow as a coach and provide your athletes with the best resources.
Altogether, this advice that I received from Coach Lokey and heard echoed a hundred times over from other coaches – who you know gets you the job, what you know helps you keep it – provided me with a helpful equation that I believe can help you, no matter what you coach:
Networking + Continuing Education = Professional Growth
2. Make the “Big Time” Where You’re At Now
I believe that I first heard this at the very same Coaches Conference. Coach Jost (formerly with Florida State University) and Coach McKeefery (created of the great podcast Iron Game Chalk Talk; former Strength Coach at nearly every level) were dishing out advice to young strength coaches on professional development and job searching. Coach Jost cited a piece of advice that I believe he attributed to the great Coach Joe Kenn (currently with the Carolina Panthers):
Make the big time where you are at now.
Essentially, what Coach is alluding to is that, while we should all strive to achieve our highest professional goals, we shouldn’t always have our mind in the future, waiting for the bigger and better opportunity – especially at the neglect of our current role. Instead, we should focus whole-heartedly on our current position. We should treat our current athletes with the utmost care, and bring as much passion and fire to this job as possible. Even if we are at the smallest and most unrecognizable of schools or facilities, it is our job to treat it like it is the most prestigious in the world.
Not only will this provide your current athletes with the best coaching that you are able to give them, but it also can help you build something worth recognizing. It may be a small or less prestigious institution right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build it into something more grand.
When I was a volunteer high school baseball coach (working as the strength coach and JV pitching coach) during my college years, you would have thought I was working for the New York Yankees. That job, those coaches around me, and those athletes that I served meant the world to me – and I hope that it showed. Not only that, I believe that this was one of the greatest reasons I was able to achieve “better” opportunities. Had I only given it half of my attention, passion, effort, or enthusiasm, I honestly doubt I would have progressed as much as I did. And, I would have been doing a major disservice to my athletes.
We always tell our athletes to “embrace the process.” As coaches we must do the same in terms of our professional development. This means branching out and making time to learn from other coaches – i.e. “networking.” It means learning on our own, and never getting comfortable with our current knowledge-base. And, it means giving every position we ever commit to our full attention, focus, energy and passion.
I hope this advice serves you as well as it has served me, and the many others I have seen it positively impact.