Lessons From A Baby Strength Coach: A Retrospective Review of Private Sector Entry

Recently I came across a photo of myself training during my first year at a private sector facility in Virginia. It was my first non-Uni job, and my first job that required me to set my own hours and get my own clients. I was very excited for a new experience and to be out of the NCAA internship system, as I had only even known public sector. 

I stayed at that facility for three years, eventually gaining some upward mobility and more responsibility. It had its pros and cons, like everything, but I am extremely grateful for the experience and what allowed (read: forced!) me to learn. It was sink or swim/win or die sometimes, but it did make me fall more in love with the cutthroat nature of sport. 

Here are some of the takeaways I remember from that first year:

  • Balance is key.

We got in the door by 05:00, had some kind of midday break to get in a lift ourselves, and usually stayed until 21:00 or so. I very quickly learned how to make my priorities - Uni, training, sleep, and some level of socialisation - work.

  • Aesthetic isn't everything.

I took a lot of pictures of my abs and a lot of video of myself doing athletic things, trying to make "the look" happen. In reality, nobody cares about your abs when you can really coach. And I mean NO ONE cares. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't make training a priority; society-imposed self-obsession and worry just shouldn't be on the list.

  • Sweating is an indicator of your body's ability to cool itself.

It doesn't indicate how hard you worked, how intense the workout is, how fit you are, or how tired you are. I had just come back from Europe, where I was doing actual athletic things again for the first time since my knee surgery. At that point, I deeply mistook sweat and pain as a sign of effort and progress. It's not.

  • It's not a race or a conveyor belt.

veryone has to (and wants to) make money. But a system that is 100% based on authority and profit will ensure that no one is happy with the result, that you burn out quickly, and that you don't make the difference that you wanted to. You get refocused by the cash and clout. Don't let that control your approach to work. Focus on something else - authenticity, accountability, learning, connecting, motivating, empowering, etc. 

  • What you learn in school won't cut it.

niversity curriculum, as "general education" as it may be, doesn't cut it too far out of the classroom. Learn more things and do more things. Read everything you can about anything. Ask questions. Create conversations. Seek out opportunities that make you uncomfortable. Hear more than you speak. Also, ask for help if you need it. 

  • Know when it's time to go.

mistook a lot of my actions and a lot of things done toward me at work as (tough) love and respect from my peers, management, and clients. It wasn't that. Sharpen the radar early and don't be afraid to call out. Also, look for opportunities always.

  • It's okay to be unsatisfied.

ust don't be discontent. Learn something in the process of getting to where you want to go instead of commiserating about not being there yet and how unfair life is. Take the fullest advantage of those opportunities to gain something, but just don't stay stagnant! 

  • Act, dress, and speak how you feel confident.

This may be more relevant for female (S&C) coaches, but this isn't a marketing gig. Your job description is  "Strength & Conditioning Specialist" (or whatever), not "Mascot", "Media Person", "Hook", etc. When you are comfortable with yourself and in your environment, people will notice and be drawn to that. Don't let people influence how you see yourself, your ability, your wardrobe, or convince you that sex sell - unless that's your style (in which case, get it, girl!).

  • People being rude and closed-minded aren't your problem.

ome people will shock you with their ability to be demeaning, domineering, sexist, etc. It's not your problem to correct, because you didn't invoke it. If you have to be around that environment, get creative in working around it, but don't take it to heart. Earn your keep, but you don't have to prove your worth. We all come with that part.

  • Connect with athletes on a personal and professional level.

There is a balance between professional and personal, for sure. It would be much easier to connect with athletes immediately by being "bro" with them instead of waiting it out and earning their respect as an expert (I call this the Bro vs. Pro Dichotomy). Wait it out, but also speak to them on their level, connect with them, and care about them. Find the balance of what is appropriate and what works. It'll be different for you and for everyone you work with.


So, what did you learn in your first few years of coaching? What lessons did you learn the hard way that helped shape how you coach now?