Strength & Conditioning in team sports, at least in my experience, has changed significantly over the last decade or so. When I started it was simply...
“You run ‘em for 30min and them we’ll do footy for 45min” or “You’ve got ‘em until Xmas, then after that it’s just football” (both specific quotes from my first pro job…maybe this sounds like where you work?).
Now days, things have evolved. At the higher levels S&C coaches have taken on broader responsibilities and morphed into the “High Performance Manager”, and further in terms of team based time management.
As the number of technical and physical elements required for professional team success increases and the time to train reaches what might be considered a ceiling (let’s face it…there’s only so many hours training you can make people do in a day), the responsibility has fallen to the S&C coach to “make it work”.
What exactly does “make it work” mean?
From what I’ve have seen and experienced it means basically being the architect and engineer of the overall team program. Now I don’t for a second refer to the technical and tactical design of the team. However, I do specifically refer to the entire training program and how it is put together. Integrating on-field teaching drills with specific practice, general and specific conditioning with off-field injury prevention, strength training and recovery modalities is in general the responsibility of the S&C or the High Performance Manager who in the majority of cases is from an S&C background.
Possibly the most challenging area of program management involves interpreting and integrating what the Head Coach wants to achieve, his philosophies on physical preparation and technical / tactical development and practice, and most importantly his capacity to work to a plan. Despite what you'd think, many are very good in this area.
Technically you need to be on top of your game to be able to influence a Head Coach’s decisions and/or core philosophies. Training quantification, load modelling, drill design, small sided game design, the impact of grid/field sizes, positional variations, individual nuances…the lot! Gordon Gecko famously said in the movie “Wall Street”…”when the subject of money comes up you want to be damn sure you are the smartest guy in the room!” It is the same as a team S&C coach…you want the coach to confidently defer to you on all matters of physical preparation, planning and loading. A coach’s level of confidence in you is the barometer by which you can measure your ability to influence the program.
- Know your stuff. See above!
- Know the head coach’s philosophies. The central tenant to making any team sport environment work. Use his philosophies as a design platform for the program. If you need to make changes ensure that you demonstrate your understanding of his philosophies and how they form the basis of the plan, irrespective of your intent to try to change it. Creating uncertainty, insecurity or worse, opposition in a Head Coach is basically the quickest way to find the exit doorway.
- Educate...don’t flex your brain. In pro sport nobody really gives a crap what degrees you have. When you are educating coaches to bring them around to your way of thinking don’t speak down to them or try to bull$%^t them with big terms. Equally don’t dumb things down. Just make sure you speak as an equal. I’ve seen very "cocksure” young coaches get shown the door because they simply come across as too arrogant.
- Be an energy giver, not an energy taker. Most Head Coaches I’ve known are energy takers...its just the way they are! Basically spending time around them drains you. If you put yourself in a position where you place a drain on the coach, he won’t want to be around you and that immediately limits your ability to communicate with him.
- Understand the basic elements of Neurolinguistics (essentially how the brain produces, comprehends and acquires language). Identify the “phrases” and “terminologies” that the coach uses to communicate and identify critical areas of the program. Use them as “keys” to open communication channels particularly when approaching challenging subjects.
- Understand non-verbal communication. Have you ever watched a dog’s tail? It basically has three positions: up and wagging (everything is good…let’s play), straight down (don’t bug me I’m concentrating here), tucked under (I’m scared!). People are exactly the same…just more complex. Learn your coach’s facial expressions, movement patterns and body language, this will give you immediate insight into how best to deal with him at that moment, which may alter your strategy with relation to implementing change.
At the end of the day S&C coaches focus their life’s study on how to develop the highest level of performance from their players. So it stands to reason that we will be significant Influencers when it comes to program design. That said, it's never our program…it’s the Head Coach’s. The sooner you understand that the easier your life will be! Our job is to provide counsel, direction and advice on how best to put the program together and how to alter it when it needs it. Your ability to work with the Head Coach will define how much scope you can achieve in which to express your core skills…athletic development.