Professional Development

Commitment or Compliance?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the word “compliant” – particularly in the context of bringing a team of coaches together such to establish/improve standards and uniformity. I’ll start by acknowledging that standards and uniformity help drive replication and, in turn, predictable outcomes. This type of reliability is at the crux of systems that are developed and scaled by successful companies (think Starbucks). The more a company expands, then the more those systems are relied upon. Conversely, the absence of a sturdy system will result in an exponential drop in product quality.

So then, being compliant to the system is a key factor for success, but this is where semantics makes an entrance. Compliance is a word that I used fairly liberally in the past, and even then I’m not sure it inspired the type of behavior I was looking for. Looking back at some of those managerial days, when I reminded my coaches to stay compliant to the program, there was usually an initial response back to the company line. But it seemed somewhat reluctant, and inevitably I was having the same conversation a few months later. The compliance pep talk/overtone never really proved to be an effective approach.

I believe that words have more power than most folks realize. When I put myself in a coach’s shoes, the word “compliance” has the power to change the feeling of whatever is being discussed at the time – and not in a good way. Particularly when used among educated, driven, and high energy coaches. Generally, these are people who reject the notion of conforming to a formalized standard – especially one developed by a source/person that isn’t part of the daily work environment. In this way, complying is sterile and uninspiring.

As mentioned, it’s true that the quality of a company’s product relies on a certain level of structural/programming compliance; I’m just not convinced that speaking about it in a literal sense is the best approach. Consider that a “compliant coach” is a commodity – an ordinary and replaceable cog in the machine. The compliant coach conforms to the systematic rules of the machine so that efficiency and replication are maximized while waste and disruption are minimized. So what’s wrong an efficient, reliable, and therefore, sustainable machine? Nothing…if you’re the machine. Furthermore, this Industrial Model is built on two beliefs. One is that the coaches, or cogs, are easily replaced when they aren’t interested in being cogs anymore. And the second is that the machine can perpetually thrive using only the creativity of few (cogs do as they’re told, they don’t innovate or ask hard questions). If, however, this doesn’t jive with your beliefs, then it’s time to change the way we think, talk, and act when defining coaching and leadership in business cultures.

I believe that it is the coaches within the system, the human element of the machine, that will innovate and drive continual success. In as much, they are held in the highest regard, despite the easily seen results produced by the machine. I also believe this is where the conversation of greatness starts and finishes. Likewise, an organization without a tangible strategy to honor the personal and professional development of its coaches – is living on borrowed time. Soon to be made obsolete by former cogs.

One way to look at this is creating a culture (overarching philosophy) of commitment, instead of compliance. What if each coach approached everything they did (athlete interaction, programming, equipment maintenance, etc.) with an entrepreneur mindset? What if they planned and executed their work as if they all had financial/emotion ownership of the facility? Then the conversation changes from a compliance reminder to an excellence and commitment agreement. An agreement that high level coaches can get excited about, because they are made to feel as if they are critically important to the success of their company. The easy way to do this is to respect, support, challenge, and serve as their advocate. Additionally, few things make someone feel more important to “the cause” than being genuinely and strategically developed. Consider these excerpts from a recent Harvard Business Review blog post :

Investment in professional development sends a clear message that they matter now and in the future…And don’t forget to have fun. Celebrating exceptional work, big wins, and milestones brings people together and acknowledges their value to the business…Ultimately, everything you (and your people) do should be about the business. One way to strengthen that commitment is to align an individual’s interests with those of the business.

All that said, even within a philosophy that emphasizes ownership vs. compliance, it’s probably smart to examine the tenure and evolution of each coach as an individual. It’s possible that some coaches require a higher level of actual compliance than others (although I might not call it “compliance”). Here is a breakdown of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition and it’s application to athletic development coaching. I believe most coaches naturally develop along this progression when they work under an established system. As such, identifying which stage a coach is at can help to set expectations (know the rules before you break the rules) and speed the rate of progression. (Seth Godin definitions in red)

1. Novice

-wants to be given a manual, told what to do, with no decisions possible.

Coach one exercise at a time. Moving from one exercise/drill to another during a singular training session with no real reference or forethought about how the exercises/drills relate to each other. Scripted demonstrations and cues. They crave compliance.

2. Advanced beginner

-needs a bit of freedom, but is unable to quickly describe a hierarchy of which parts are more important than others.

Coach one workout at a time. Starts to understand the relationships between exercises/drills within a single workout. Still doesn’t grasp the full context of the global system and how the workouts are pieced together. They accept a moderate level of compliance.

3. Competent

-wants the ability to make plans, create routines and choose among activities.

Coach the system. Fully comprehends the entire system of training and the relative role of each workout, and, by extension, the role of each exercise/drill. They now “know the rules”. Only short-term response to compliance reminders.

4. Proficient

-the more freedom you offer, the more you expect, the more you’ll get.

The ability to make appropriate adjustments within the parameters of the “system”. These individuals will begin to make the system better with their strategic tinkering without the risk of disturbing the overall plan. They begin to resent compliance.

5. Expert

-writes the manual, doesn’t follow it. If you treat an expert like a novice, you’ll fail.

Remove the guard rails and let them proactively redefine the system by “breaking the rules”. They reject compliance.

A final quote that simplifies coaching development and compliance;

Master your instrument. Master the music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.

– Charlie Parker, Jazz Musician

– Coach Hall

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What Does a Coach Make?

Occasionally, someone will ask me if I make a good living as a coach. It’s usually pretty clear that they’re talking about money, so I catch them a little off guard with my answer. First off, I believe that money is only one form of currency that we receive from our chosen career. In his book, “The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness”, Vance Caesar provides a list of career currencies that won’t show up on a W-2 or 1099 Form, but are arguably more valuable and deserve ample attention;

  • Knowledge and Growth – This one is critical for me. A systematic personal and/or professional development plan will pay dividends long after you retire.
  • Relationships – Leadership and influence are contingent on strong relationships. As a coach, I thrive on them, particularly the ones that give me positive energy. You know that feeling of being more alive after working with a group of exceptional athletes?, that’s the value of relationships.
  • Fun – Don’t forget this one.  Do you have fun at work? If so, then you can hardly call it work.
  • Life Choices – When assessing a potential career opportunity, or even your current situation, how well does it fit into the type of life you want? Can you live close to family? Are your nights and weekends free to spend time with your kids? Are you able to travel the globe and experience other cultures?
  • Legacy – If you enjoy building something from the ground up, then legacy is important to you. Particularly if what you build outlasts your own career. Knowing that you’re contributing to a cause that will in turn benefit others for a long time can be way more rewarding than a paycheck.
  • Reputation and Brand – Most coaches would take a pay cut if it meant they were able to become part of an industry-leading organization that they respect.

Of all these currencies, the coaching profession is rich in Relationships, Fun, and Legacy. Certainly, there are opportunities to maximize Money, Knowledge and Growth, Life Choices, and Reputation and Brand, but most of us are in the game to connect with athletes, play every day, and make lasting impressions.

One of my favorite video clips looks at this concept from a teacher’s perspective, but the coaching applications are obvious.

So, what does a coach make?

  • A coach makes athletes work harder than they thought possible.
  • A coach makes athletes develop discipline, focus, and work ethic.
  • A coach makes athletes realize how special they are.
  • A coach makes athletes think critically.
  • A coach makes athletes more self-confident.
  • A coach makes athletes aware of the path where the heart leads.
  • A coach makes it possible to fail without fear.
  • A coach makes personal connections that last a lifetime.
  • A coach makes a difference.

– Coach Hall

Wise Words from Busta

There are a handful of factors I consider whenever approaching a professional opportunity. One of them is Professional Development. When an employer or manager doesn’t have an established system of development, there is a good chance I’m not going to be interested. At the very least, I am looking for regular evaluations so that I can make the appropriate steps to address my critical areas of improvement. However, in the athletic development coaching industry, these employee development programs are few and far between. Additionally, guided professional development becomes exceedingly difficult when you become a Head Performance Coach or Director and are now responsible for the development of others. Who is left to develop you? Or what if you’re an entrepreneur and run your own business?

Although development systems are great, especially when individualized, I might also look at the prospective coaching staff that I would be joining. Early on in my coaching career, I felt like I made the biggest strides in my professional development when I was working with coaches that were more experienced and simply just better coaches than I was. Having models of coaching excellence to learn from cannot be replaced by an employee development plan. However, there may come a time when you are the best coach on staff and you are the model of excellence that others are learning from. Again, what about you?

Well, I think Busta Rhymes said it best in his late 90’s chart topping hit Gimme Some More.



If I ain’t gonna be part of the greatest,
I gotta be the greatest myself.

When you work somewhere that doesn’t have a development system in place, where you are the best coach on staff, and you lack the opportunity to access a suitable mentor; it is time to take control of your own development. Listen to Busta. After all, he does own a green Lamborghini Murciélago nicknamed “Peppermint”.

Here are 10 ways to become master of your coaching destiny:

Self Reflection: Across the board, all great coaches are constantly evaluating themselves. Much of this happens internally, but you could also have someone take video of some of your training sessions so that you can assess yourself at a later time. The point is to be consciously aware of what is working and what isn’t working, then seek more optimal behaviors.

Circle of Peers: Establish a group of fellow sports performance coaches that you can bounce ideas off of. The key is to make sure each member of your group has their own strength and is willing to offer honest feedback and analysis. A group of coaches that are so like-minded that they agree on everything and are afraid to provide constructive criticism won’t do you much good. Before recently relocating, I was part of a small Mastermind group like this.  We met twice each month to talk shop, discuss training and leadership, review industry products, and troubleshoot dilemmas. It was invaluable.

Observation: Take time every few months to remove yourself from your own coaching environment so that you can visit and observe someone else in their facility or gym. Visiting local competitors can be a little tricky, but when handled professionally, most folks realize that sharing amongst coaches is a win-win. Additionally, observing sport coaches during their practices is great to find new ways of organizing and communicating with large groups of athletes.

Literature: Combine a library of classic training and coaching books with industry journals and/or online articles. Make it a priority to read every week. My book and article collection is a point that if I stopped adding to it today, I would still have material to read until I retire. I might not ever get to read all of it, but the process of searching and sifting through literature always leads me to interesting concepts that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

DVDs: For those that don’t enjoy reading, there is a plethora of DVD or video products on performance training. The growing trend is for industry experts to re-purpose live presentations, which typically have poor production value, but the information is readily available nonetheless.

Conferences and Clinics: Not only a chance to get with other coaches and “talk shop”, but the presentations at the NSCA and Perform Better conferences are also an excellent way to see what other people are doing and hear what concepts are being refined. Big events also draw the exhibitors anxious to show you new products. Hard sells are annoying but being aware of new technology and equipment is part of being a great coach.

Mentorships: These aren’t cheap, but being able to spend 5 days with Mike Boyle, Athletes’ Performance, or Vern Gambetta is probably well worth the cost if you can swing it. I haven’t attended any but the Boyle Mentorship is first on my list.

Discussion Forums: For the quick sharing of information, ideas, and opinions with tons of other coaches; you can’t beat online discussion forums. The ability to ask questions that are answered by some leading minds in the industry is completely unique to online forums. Even if you don’t post on the discussion threads, you can get great information from old threads. My favorite forums are on http://www.strengthcoach.com/ (paysite), Supertraining Yahoo Group, http://www.nsca.com/, and http://www.charliefrancis.com/.

Blogs: If you are reading this, then you have already figured this one out. Find a handful of good blogs that you can check throughout the week to stimulate thought or just remind you of stuff you already know. I’ve listed my favorite blogs by category on my Resources Tab.

Podcasts: These are great for commutes or if you want to torture your wife and kids on long road trips. Best of all, they are usually free. Some of my all-time favorite podcasts are interviews with Mark Verstegen, Al Vermeil, Brian Grasso, Loren Seagrave and the stuff Gray Cook does for the Strength Coach Podcast. I also like the Strength and Power Hour internet radio show.

Sierra College Regional Fire Academy

I had the pleasure of stepping in as a Guest Coach for a physical training session with a group of fire academy recruits this week.  Their full-time instructor, Coach John Hofman, does a fantastic job with this program but was gracious enough to allow his recruits to get another perspective on training to be a firefighter.  He gave me 2 hours and free reign, which provided plenty of opportunity to sweat, laugh, and learn.  I took an Athletic Development approach with them and expressed the occupational demands for sprinting, lifting, throwing, and reacting.

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of athletes.  They were extremely respectful, well-organized, fast-learners, and hard workers.  I haven’t seen many groups that can hold a high level of focus and intensity like they did.  Coach Hofman should be proud of the way they represented themselves.

Being able to get out my everyday environment and work with 34 new athletes was a blast, and I definitely recommend doing so if you ever get the chance.  Likewise, I hope Coach Hofman was able to pick up a few things by observing my coaching style and will have me back next year.

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– Coach Hall

FrankenCoach

Vern Gambetta urges coaches to be generalists. One of his points is that by being a generalist, a coach is able to avoid over complicating what should be fairly simple training concepts. Moreover, he asserts that a generalist is able to keep a clear view of the big picture, whereas a specialist can often be limited by a narrow outlook. I tend to agree with Vern about the value of being a generalist. It’s probably not a coincidence that the coaches I respect the most, all share the unique characteristic of being able to answer just about any training question you can throw at them. They seem to know something (many times having an in-depth knowledge) about everything. In this way, they too are generalists.

However, I’ve also had a conversation with a major Division 1 Head Strength and Conditioning coach in which he mentioned that he is looking to add a Corrective Exercise Specialist to his coaching staff. For him, there is value in a coach having a specific area of expertise that fills a need within his particular program. So while I do agree that we should endeavor to keep a strong focus on the big picture and span our training knowledge across various training disciplines, I also don’t think we can ignore the state of our industry. The reality is that nowadays it is becoming increasingly difficult for a coach to be set apart from other coaches WITHOUT an area of expertise. In fact, if you aren’t currently developing an area of expertise, then you might get lost in the shuffle.  Alwyn Cosgrove calls this TOMA (Top Of Mind Awareness).

So which is better? Generalist or Specialist?

How about both? Is it possible to be selective with the areas that span our general knowledge? Not only do I say yes, but I see this as critical piece of professional development in an industry that is demanding more and more. If the title “Strength and Conditioning Coach” was sufficient 20 years ago, it certainly isn’t anymore. I foresee progressive athletic development coaches expanding that outdated title by taking on characteristics and training practices from other relevant disciplines.

If I was Dr. FrankenCoach and was building a coach for this evolving industry, these are the parts I would use:

The Gut of a Strength Coach – Above all else, I want my coach to be a strength coach…always instinctively operating on the fundamental objective of getting athletes stronger and more explosive.

The Brain of a Physical Therapist – The more I read and listen to folks like Gray Cook and Dr. Stuart McGill, the more I like the thought patterns of Physical Therapists and researchers. I envy their understanding of the kinetic chain and injury pathways. That said, I like strength coaches who think like physical therapists, but NOT necessarily physical therapists that think like strength coaches. The latter tend to be too conservative and clinical for my taste.

The Eyes of a Biomechanist – My coach should have a high attention to detail when it comes to observing movement…joint angles, alignment, timing, coordination, and compensations are all things my coach should be able to accurately analyze and correct when needed.

The Heart of a Sport Psychologist – In order to maximize an athlete’s ultimate potential and motivation, my coach must be in tune with the variables that athletes encounter beyond the physical environment. This involves uncovering and highlighting key emotions and aspects of training/competing that athletes hold most valuable. The work that Jeremy Boone is doing in this area with Sports Axiology, http://www.innertactics.com/, could prove quite useful for athletic development coaches.

What would your coaching monster look like?

– Coach Hall