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Developing Well-Rounded Strength Staffs

After seeing different staffs interact over the years in both coaching and business, there are certainly some things that relate. One thing that sticks out to me is that everyone seems to have their “place” on a business team.

They’re responsible for certain areas of projects, presentations, etc. Much like the business world, I feel that strength and conditioning staffs are better off when tasks are delegated to those that have the best related skill set. Though, we don’t see this very often because of that pesky thing..what is it called? Oh, yeah, “seniority.” Stupid.

I agree that new coaches should not be held in the same authority within a staff as those who have been there for many more years, but it doesn’t mean that the specific work that they’re better at cannot be given to them. It not only increases the value and success of the entire staff to its institution, but also most likely increases subsequent success of that staff’s athletes.

The best staffs in this profession lean on the coach with the best knowledge and skills in the particular element in question. For example, when I was at the NSCA, my boss looked to me whenever anything weightlifting-related needed to be addressed. He didn’t try to handle it himself because he knew I was more knowledgeable in that particular area. He wasn’t incapable; he was just not as knowledgable in that area, so he delegated to me. That’s one sign of a true leader.

Seeing as most “higher authorities” will not be changing anytime soon, let’s look at typical development of a staff’s individual members and what might be a better approach.

Becoming A Better Generalist

We are truly all alike in many ways of development, but the one thing I see the most alike is our desire to help others achieve their goals. This really spans the whole physical development profession; strength and conditioning, personal training, physical therapy, etc.

If you take this desire as a collective, ultimate goal of each professional, we begin to see why we work so hard to gain all the knowledge that we can in order to fulfill this goal to the best of our abilities.

Right…where am I going with this? Well, just like any endeavor in life, it’s best to have at least a small amount of knowledge across the board (general knowledge) in order to be successful. From there you would specialize that knowledge into a smaller area of expertise (specialized knowledge). This is where we begin to differ…

Though, some coaches do not specialize in their knowledge and, instead, are more generalists in nature, leading them to be well-rounded in their knowledge and skills. I’ve heard something to the effect that “in order to be a good specialist, you must first be a good generalist” and I’d tend to agree.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with developing in this manner. In fact, it’s probably best to do so in this way. However, many coaches take a different path earlier in their career before they are the ‘best generalists they can be,’ so to speak. They may specialize too early without first learning more of the general world that surrounds that specialization, which would actually make them even better specialists, so the saying goes.

I’m certainly guilty of specializing a little too early in my career. The weightlifting bug bit me right out of the gate in my first field experience and I began to specialize my knowledge almost immediately due to my great interest in the movements and training methodology that surrounds the sport. Although, I’ve taken the time to go back and learn other topics to become a better generalist, but I digress…

Set yourself apart from the rest…

Specializing Knowledge & Skills

Specializing is an integral part to any coaching staff, as that is where we begin to see a staff’s collective value increase.

As an example, whenever we needed to present material on weightlifting at the NSCA, I was consulted. Likewise, whenever there was a need to present on endurance or nutrition, we had other staff members that were much more knowledgeable present on this information.

If an entire staff were good, or even great, generalists, there is no doubt that they would be a good staff. However, if there were another staff that consisted of great generalists who each had then specialized in different areas, they would be the better staff due to those specializations allowing them to further develop their practical skills.

Why? They can lean on each other for expertise when certain issues arise. Of course, we can all look up studies and information in areas with which we’re not as familiar, but isn’t it better to have an expert on staff in that area from whom we can consult and learn?

If you think in individual terms for a moment, the coach who is a great generalist, but who is also specialized, becomes more marketable for future positions.

In order to continue to climb the ladder of success, each staff should have scheduled reviews to see how they’re doing in terms of improvement in each area. How would you rate your staff?

Rating the Coaching Staff

There are ways in which you can rate your staff in each area that you think is important to the success of your coaches.

First, ask yourself “what is the ‘make-up’ of a good strength coach? From this question, you can begin to develop a list of qualities and knowledge that you think is required to become a great coach. Some things to consider would be what aspects are important to YOU and YOUR program. What coaching and personality characteristics do you feel are important to the success of your program? Start there…

For example, when we break down strength and conditioning into its parts, as well as the skills of coaching and everything else involved in the profession, we have a fairly large list. A list that includes qualities and traits like bioenergetics, strength, power, speed, coaching eye, cues, and the list goes on.

This list can be further subdivided into multiple categories within each item and given a scale. This scale could be a Likert scale (1-5 or 1-10) and can be used for ranking each staff member in terms of knowledge and skills related to that certain area (identifying and correcting errors, general knowledge of X, etc.).

Most strength and conditioning coaches walk in on their first day with the same base level of knowledge due to their undergraduate Exercise Science programs and limited practical experience. From there, they begin to add knowledge based on their professional experiences and individual interests; some like endurance, some power training, some weightlifting, some power lifting, etc.

The point is that each of us have different interests and THAT is the path to specialization because these interests (niche, sub-foci) are what we are passionate about the most within the larger, main focus of strength and conditioning in which we are passionate.

We become better, stronger when we are a little different. We’re able to “cover more ground” when we’re different, allowing us to handle varied situations at a faster pace with greater quality.

In short, don’t allow your knowledge to remain general. Master the basics, of course, but then move on to more specialized knowledge so that you can add greater value to your staff, your athletes, and yourself.

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