When I get asked by people what it is I do for a living, after I’ve said that I’m a strength and conditioning coach, the most common follow up question is what’s that? Hopefully the growth of the industry in the UK over the coming years will see to it that it’s a question that comes up a little less. In the meantime though it’s quite an interesting one to answer and one that it’s sometimes nice to take a step back and have a think about. You might find that how you answer changes over time.
While I was studying, I used to feel that the single most important part of the job was the science. I thought that everything you do needs to be laid out in journals to tell you about perfect squat mechanics or optimal interval rest periods and that was what made the best strength and conditioning coach.
The more you practice though, the more you shape your thinking and while I obviously keep up to date with literature and analyse test data you start to see the importance of the coaching, psychology and communication side more and more. The need to get across what it is you want to say to your athletes in a way they understand and put into practice is paramount. Working with athletes from different backgrounds, different sporting environments or cultures, different ages and of both sexes means a need to be versatile with how you communicate. After all, what’s the point in knowing about optimal squat mechanics if you can’t teach someone to do it.
Then there’s the ability to get the most out of your athlete’s in every session. Obviously their intrinsic motivation is very important but the ability to create the right environment to foster it is a skill. Each athlete will also respond very differently to various demonstration methods and finding the best ones for each athlete also makes a difference. I also believe it’s important that the athlete knows why they do what they do, so teaching them some of the theory as you go along becomes part of the role.
So when you answer the question from the beginning, you might find the answer including the words coach, teacher, pyschologist, scientist, mentor and probably a host of others. You might also find that that list just keeps growing as time goes by.