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President Roosevelt: The Strength Coach?

I’ve just recently took a trip to Portland where sits Powell’s Book Store, the largest used book store in the world, or so they say. I’ve talked before about expanding knowledge in areas other than strength and conditioning, which I feel is extremely important. To this end, I have been more interested in biographies of the great people who have come before me. After all, it’s well known if you want to do something great, you should look to those who have been there to see what path they took to achieve such accomplishments. For me, President Roosevelt is one such person.

For many years I’ve been meaning to pick up books on Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th President and from whom comes the quote – “speak softly and carry a big stick; [and] you will go far.” I had heard many of the great things he had done for our nation that speak well to my interests; mainly within the realm of nature, but also in terms of perseverance over shortcomings to conquer that which was in front of him.

Anyway, I came across his autobiography in Powell’s from 1913 and had to buy it. I’ve just started reading the book, but already I am beginning to draw parallels of which to compare with strength coaches. Let me explain further…

President Roosevelt, a strength coach

Theodore Roosevelt, a strength coach?

President Roosevelt, The Man

The one thing I’ve taken to heart thus far in my reading of his life is that Mr. Roosevelt took challenges head-on and he did so with the utmost, unwavering integrity. In just the first two chapters, I can see that he was highly intelligent, very insightful, calm, creative, honorable, humorous, and the list continues.

He speaks highly of his father instilling in him the “stuff” that it took to be successful in this world; NOT the least of which include respect and understanding for others and regarding the responsibility of each individual to be aware of their possession of good moral character. Essentially, he states in his book that each person has a responsibility to themselves, and those around them, to work as hard as possible in their contribution to the world. This responsibility extended to that of holding all the values and traits that I previously mentioned as well.

What is really interesting to me is how highly he held the necessity of exercise; something with which we can all agree. Thinking of how it was in his time, though, makes it even more impressive. Though he is best known for his safari hunting trips to the Western United States and Africa, he speaks much of his time wrestling and boxing, which he continued into his presidency by inviting “prize-fighters” to duel with him. You wouldn’t see that from any of our leaders these days!

To me, the most impressive parallel that can be drawn is in that of his initial work to create physical standards for the military. At the very end of his last term, the poor physical conditioning of members of the military were brought to his attention. This is something that seems to still be a struggle today; creating better standards in physical capacities of our military.

As an avid outdoorsman, and someone who would often walk or ride a horse for many miles in a short time, he knew one of the qualities that must be in possession of a soldier (at least those in the Army and Marines) was to be able to walk long distances. He was instrumental in setting the first standards of which were to walk 50 miles, or ride on horseback 100 miles, in a day. While this is not ground-breaking, again, we have to realize that this was in 1909; training for the sake of improving physical capacities was not even a thought yet.

When these standards were set, many within the President’s cabinet said they were too high, some said impossible, even. To prove these were not, the President, himself, rode 100 miles on horseback in one day (what a badass). Unfortunately, these standards were only in place for what seems to be a short time before they were cut to 25 miles in two days, and then later they were cut down even further to a measly 10 miles in a month.

Needless to say, though he’s gone to us now, he’s someone of whom we can all learn and aspire.

Stand out from the rest with high integrity and values like President Roosevelt

The Connection?

I feel that many of these qualities that President Roosevelt possessed are among those that we as strength coaches should strive to possess to enable us not only to excel as professionals, but also in connecting with our athletes.

From what I can gather, he seems to have been very fitting of the situation; meaning that if the situation called for harsh actions, he would prove to be harsh at the time. However, if the situation called for a calm understanding, as well as compassion, he could just as easily be that person. This demeanor and ability to have the forethought and attentiveness to each individual situation is something to which, again, we can all aspire.

Examples of this would be a time where he shared many of his private collections with The Smithsonian Institute, or helped in preserving many lands in the United States as National Forests.

Alternatively, there was a story he told of a time when he was hunting with a guide – the guide didn’t like him much and basically told him to get a move-on and leave his possessions in the camp, including his horse (keep in mind that this was at gun-point). Keeping calm, President Roosevelt agreed to do as he was instructed and asked that he just be allowed to bring some food with him. The guide agreed and got a little lazy with his gun while President Roosevelt was packing. He noticed this laziness on the part of the guide, grabbed his gun, and whirled around on him, which completely changed the situation. After this, he simply stated he would leave the guide’s gun at a certain tree a mile away, if the guide promised not to come after him. Let this action sink in for a moment; not many people would do this in today’s world after just moments before being held at gun-point by the same person. Again, I say, strong integrity.

I believe we can all take much from President Roosevelt’s character and apply it to the way we coach/teach our athletes. I feel like the times have changed so much that we don’t see people with his demeanor these days. However, that’s not to say that we cannot try to instill these qualities in ourselves, our staff, and our athletes.

Think about it; some of our athletes, depending on our setting, see us nearly as much as they do their parents. We are role models; someone they look to for guidance. We can help shape these young people to be of strong character and high values. We just have to give a damn and be aware enough to demonstrate these qualities ourselves.

Solid Quotes

Just in case you needed an inspirational quote right now, look no further than some of these from President Roosevelt.

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”

– Yes, apparently he is the one that can be credited with first saying this that we in strength and conditioning often refer to when thinking in terms of coaching style (over-coaching, etc.)

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”

– Synonymous with what we have heard about doing the very best you can in your current position and letting the reward of moving up in ranks follow

“The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything”

“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground”

– Probably my favorite quote from President Roosevelt. My take on it is to dream big, but stay modest and never forget where you started.

I truly believe that, if it were a profession in his days, President Roosevelt would have made one hell of a strength and conditioning coach.

Bottom line – mean what you say, when you say it, and follow up with your actions, as they are louder than words (walk the walk, talk the talk). Hold yourself and others around you to higher standards of personal character….and just be a good person!

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