4 Tips for Strength Coaches to Connect with Baseball Coaches
The ability to connect with players is a topic getting more and more attention in the sports performance world these days. But, what are some strategies for connecting with the coaches of the athletes you train? This is a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I figured no better topic to get me back into blogging. I see a lot of articles on the science involved with being a strength coach, how to be a great programmer, how to teach the squat, top five accessory lifts for baseball players etc. But, as we all know, being an effective strength coach is more than just the nuts and bolts of a microcycle or setting up correctly for a deadlift.
S&C coaches need to be equipped with a certain set of interpersonal skills which allow them to communicate efficiently with the many different personalities they will deal with on a daily basis. Athletes are the obvious example that comes to mind, but here I want to focus on the importance of a good Strength Coach/ Sport Coach relationship and how it can make or break the progress of the athletes involved.
I have seen this relationship from multiple angles in my career, both as both a player and an S&C coach. If you’re not careful, the sport coach strength coach dynamic can quickly turn into a coach vs. coach relationship leaving an athlete in a tough spot. One coach pitted against the other can be escalated to even greater heights thanks to the infinite amount of training information available at your fingertips thanks to Youtube, Instagram, or some guy on Twitter, with little guidance on sorting out the good from the bad.
Most coaches develop their ideas and philosophies through personal experiences. Because no two coaches have the exact same background or coaching path, it’s unlikely they’ll see eye-to-eye on every training philosophy. (Enter a strength coach’s need to be adaptable!!) It is naïve to believe there is a one size fits all approach that a strength coach can use to effectively communicate with every sport coach they will encounter. So how does a coach with knowledge and expertise in getting athletes faster and stronger best communicate with a coach whose main concern is perfecting a jump shot or teaching how to throw a change-up?
1. Check Your Ego at The Door
In coaching, just like any other profession, there are egos involved. A sport coach is going to be slow to change the way he does things, especially if he has had on field success. Resistance or hesitation to implement a new training style or program should not be met with resentment by the strength coach. Instead, the strength coach must be able to communicate the basic tenants of their program to the sport coach. Explaining how the program would benefit the athletes and ultimately improving sport specific performance. Remember, the sport coaches measure success in wins and losses, not vertical jump height and back squat numbers.
Too often I have seen a strength coach get frustrated and “write off” a coach because they are unwilling to implement fully what the strength coach recommends. Avoid the urge to get upset, and keep being a professional! Understand where the coach’s reservations are coming from and do your best to overcome them! Make the sport coach see the “value” in your program, building trust as you develop a relationship. Start by getting small “training” victories and build these small victories on top of one another. These victories lead to players buying in you, which will hopefully eventually lead to their coach buying in as well.
2. Remember Both of You Have the Same Goal - WIN GAMES!
Another thing that is easy for strength coaches to lose sight of is the fact that they are there to elevate the on-field performance of the athletes they work with, through performance training. Performance training is not the end goal for athletes! This elevation in on-field performance manifests itself in WINS! When I feel I am having trouble communicating or getting through to a coach, I remind myself of this fact, WE BOTH WANT OUR ATHLETES TO WIN! Finding this common ground with a sports coach can create a very strong foundation in which a cohesive work relationship can be built. Again, patiently describing how you can help the coach and their athletes win will create value in your training program.
3. Give a Little to Gain A lot
Third, many times a strength coach must willing to adapt/compromise at times to achieve a greater overall goal. A quick example of this might be getting on board with a sport coach taking his team through an antiquated workout or training session once a week in order to allow those athletes to come train with you 3 other days that week. In this example, if you as the strength coach were to vehemently disagree or tell the coach how dumb of an idea their workout plan is, you may sour the relationship and lose the team as a whole. Remember it’s better for the athletes to see you 3 times a week and gut out their coach’s training session once a week than to not have any exposure to you at all. Trying to be a hardass or a “my way or the highway” S&C coach, is a sure way to drive them away from you and your training. This is especially true when you haven’t worked with a particular sport coach before.
By getting on board with the coach and the one session that doesn’t fit with your professional philosophy, you gain training sessions with the athletes. Yes, you know that the coach’s workout may be worthless to the athletes, but it goes a long way in building a relationship. As you continue to grow that relationship and that coach develops trust in you and your program, you can then attempt to slowly phase the coaches other workout out.
4. If You Want to be Seen as a Coach, be Part of the Team
This is a tricky point, one that I feel is vitally important, but can also be easily misunderstood. I have heard S&C coaches complain about how they don’t get respect from coaches and sometimes even athletes they work with. They get hung up on being called “coach”, complain about buy-in, scheduling difficulties, players being on time, the list goes on. Usually these are the same coaches that don’t ever attend games or practices, rarely to ever show interest in the athletes on-field performance and then wonder why they may be treated differently from other “on-field” coaches.
As a player, I wanted my S&C coach to be “all in” on me and the team! It made me feel like he was a part of the team/ coaching staff when I would see him at our games. I think it’s also an important way to show the sport coach that you care as much about team’s success as they do. Showing up at games, practices etc can go a long way to smooth over any bumps that may be present in a relationship with a sports coach. It can also begin to help coaches and player see you as an integral part of the staff. Demanding everyone call you “coach” will not earn you anything but a reputation as power hungry egomaniac.
All of this is great, but it must be mentioned here; YOU ARE NOT A SPORT SPECIFIC COACH! In no way should you involve yourself with any on-field activities/instruction unless explicitly asked to lend a hand. It is not unusual to see a competent strength coach playing catch with a rehabbing pitcher or maybe helping out shagging balls during bp, but again, only do so if you are asked to assist! Overstepping your bounds is the quickest way to a sport coaches dog house. Stay in your lane!
As the strength and conditioning profession continues to evolve, interpersonal relationships are becoming more and more important. Yes, the ability to connect with athletes is an integral part of the job, but so is the ability to connect with their other coaches. Understanding and employing the tips above will go a long way in making sure you are connected with the coaches in working towards a common goal for your athletes.