This time of year always reminds me of why I enjoy being a strength & conditioning coach so much. Of course it’s exciting to help athletes improve, compete and reach their potential, but the past week has really brought out the real reason I’ve been able to stay passionate about this for so long.
Most of us don’t get into this field to build relationships or to make an impact on people’s lives. More often, we become enthralled with the world of athletics and the excitement that goes along with it. Sure, we want to help people, but the thought of developing relationships is probably not what motivates most young coaches.
Most realize the probability of getting rich in this field is far lower than in many other professions. Sure, there are coaches out there doing very well for themselves, but the majority of the professionals I know are somewhere between living comfortably and barely making it. Still, we plug along, knowing full well that we’d make a lot more money selling photocopy machines or medical supplies. There’s just something about this field that makes so many of us want to chase the “dream.” The dream of making it big. The dream of landing that “perfect” job. The dream of…..you name it.
But, I can pretty much guarantee that most of us don’t chase the dream of getting to know some great people and making close friends. I know I didn’t. That’s a “dream” that takes a long time to even understand, and I feel blessed to have come to that point in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to make money, help athletes reach their potential, blah, blah, blah, but there’s another underlying theme that has emerged.
Because it takes a while for many coaches to grow their income, there is plenty of attrition before the “real dream” is realized. This is not any easy business, and I’ve seen a lot of trainers drop out after just a few years. Not too many coaches get the satisfaction of starting a kid out in middle school, working with him through high school, staying in touch with him through big time college sports and professional preparation, and eventually have him come over during the holidays to spend time with the family and help pick out ice skates for their kids for Chistmas.
That might sound silly, but it is just one of the experiences I recently had that made me really realize why I keep getting after it day after day, year after year. Having been in this “game” for nearly twenty years in both the college and private settings has taught me a lot, and I always seem to learn the best lessons when I’m not expecting them. I’m been fortunate enough to be involved in the lives of a lot of athletes, but the impact that they eventually have on my life is a true blessing.
The holiday break brings a lot of college athletes back to train while they’re on vacation, and it’s a thrill to be able to catch up with them, see how they’re maturing and share some stories about life. As a former college strength coach, I know how hard athletes get pushed in college. For them to come back during their time off to get some more training in is a big statement about the experience they’ve had at our training center. It’s not just that they want to work out. They want to see us, share stories, and continue the relationships. They want to re-connect with people who made an impact on their lives and get re-energized at a place they feel helped them get ahead at one point in their lives.
I experience this kind of thing every year, but this year it really hit be right between the eyes and made me realize how important we can be in people’s lives. Possibly more important, it made me realize how important that feeling is in my life. Knowing that I’m not just here to help a kid improve his 40 time, add a few reps to his bench press or alleviate some back pain is a big deal for me. It makes me realize that I’m part of something bigger – the lives of people – that is the real reward.
Here are some of the things that recently happened to me and helped me realize what my job is all about. I hope you’ve had similar experiences and that reading these makes you think about how important they are to you, too. The impact you had on person’s life comes full circle when that person has an impact on you.
- A female college soccer player whose family moved out of state, came back to train for a couple of weeks during her holiday break. She doesn’t even live near us anymore, but she wanted to spend time with us during her break. The big hug and smile I got from her along with her stories of college life meant a great deal to me.
- A college football player came in to train during the break, but after recognizing there was a lot on his mind, we ended up talking for nearly two hours about a difficult situation he was experiencing. School wasn’t what he thought it was going to be and he wanted to talk about whether he should transfer or talk to the new coaching staff about changing some things. The two giant hugs and thanks I got after that conversation were priceless.
- The hockey player who came over for dinner to spend time with my family and help pick out skates for my kids. I’ve made an impact on this man’s life, and now he’s making an impact on the lives of my children. Wow, what a great feeling.
- The NFL player who called to see if I’d like to bring my kids to watch him play when he comes to town next week. I don’t get to work with this guy during his long season, so to know he’s thinking about me and my family is really meaningful.
- The college track star who comes back every year to beat his brains out because he loves seeing everyone and getting re-energized by different workouts than he does at school.
- Getting a call from two athletes I coached in the college setting who wanted to have lunch and catch up. One is now a nun and the other a new mom. What an honor it was to see how far they had come in their lives and for them to share photos and stories with me.
- Numerous calls, texts or e-mails from athletes I worked with as a college coach wishing me a Merry Christmas.
- A call from a co-worker asking if I wanted to bring my wife and kids out to dinner. Having co-workers who are good friends is a big factor in my ability to stay motivated.
- Former interns calling or stopping by when they’re back in town.
- Seeing two former athletes I trained (one a college football player and the other a student) working out together during break even though they go to different schools. It reminded me of myself at that age, wanting to work out with friends at other schools when we came home during vacation. They told me that working out together is “bonding time” just like I feel with certain people.
If you’ve had things like this happen to you, you know what I’m talking about, but you may have never really thought about it this way. It’s a realization that you’ve impacted someone’s life, and now that relationship has an impact on you.
For those coaches who haven’t been in the game very long, you probably aren’t even looking forward to this; it really doesn’t sound that great if you haven’t experienced it. It’s kind of like listening to people talk about their kids when you don’t have any. You just don’t get it. But, once you have your own kids, it’s almost fun to listen to other people talk about theirs.
For me, having these relationships energizes me and makes me feel like the time and energy I spent with these athletes was worthwhile. More than just sets and reps, my staff and I have made an impact on a lot of lives. Those experiences don’t necessarily pay the bills, but they do motivate me to continually work hard, chase my own dreams and inspire others to chase theirs.
The field of sports performance is exciting, but it’s easy to burn yourself out chasing false dreams and arguing about which training philosophy is the best. In my opinion, keeping in mind the best interests of everyone you work with is like a compass that will guide you in the right direction. It can keep you focused and ultimately help you achieve your own dreams. The field has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, but one thing I believe will never change is the fact that coaches have the ability to influence a lot of people and impact a lot of lives. When you get to the point where the people you have worked with make an impact on you, you’ll know things have come full circle, and that you’re living the dream.
Jim Kielbaso MS, CSCS
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