MBSC with Sam Leahey: The Best Coaches Don’t Live in “Internet Land”
Last week’s blog was lighthearted, but this week a more serious matter comes to mind. I’ve gone through plenty of coaching experiences this summer and one epiphany that comes screaming out into the open and obliterates my little world is simply this: the best strength & conditioning coaches do NOT predominately reside on the internet. They’re actually spending most of their days training people! Though it sounds simplistic, the implications here are pretty profound. This idea stemmed out of a conversation I had with MBSC staff member Kyle Holland.
Preceding this summer internship, one of my ideas in defining a “big time” coach was an individual whose reputation and influence was clearly seen in cyberspace through various mediums such as forums, e-products, articles, etc. I can honestly say now that I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I currently believe the opposite. My feeling is that the more one is known in cyberspace the more justified I am in being skeptical of their actual coaching competency. Now, before you turn into keyboard commando and start sending me hate mail, let me explain a little more.
As an up-and-coming performance enhancement specialist (strength & conditioning coach if you’re older than 30) I LIVE on the internet. Every day I check the strengthcoach.com forums, the t-nation.com forums, and a few others, as well. I attempt to keep up with 20 blogs. These are just my online continuing education outlets. The more I read online, the more I post in forums, the more answers I get back, the more articles I dissect, the more I feel I “know” stuff. The truth is, I don’t know crap! I know that I don’t know crap because all the head knowledge I had went right out the window when I was put in charge of a large coed group of 15 year old hockey players. My understanding of the macrocycle and rationale for using Olympic lifts doesn’t mean jack if I can’t teach little out of shape Timmy to perform a hang clean. At first, I’ll be lucky if it looks half way decent given the amount of time it takes to perfect Olympic lifting technique. Furthermore, I can eloquently articulate the nuances of self-myofascial releases on some internet forum, but if I can’t get 14 year old little Susan into proper position to roll out her latissimus dorsi, then my internet dissertation means NOTHING!
I love the experience I get from the strengthcoach.com forums. The sense of camaraderie on that site is above reproach. Constantly, there are knowledge bombs being dropped, and for young bucks like me it’s priceless. The whirlwind of knowledge that’s being tossed around continuously from great coach to great coach is fascinating. It’s a privilege to be on the sidelines and observe how forum debates unfold. I love to post questions on the internet and learn from the guys who have been there, done that, and are still doing it. Bottom line: for me, continuing education through the internet is HUGE!
Here’s the problem though and I’m hoping my readers can see it as well. Technically, I could post my opinions and answers on the internet all day and be “right.” I could make valid points and say justifiable things. But if I’m neither training anyone myself nor assisting in the coaching of athletes, then my entire cyberspace blabbering is near worthless and utter crap! I could post myself into a frenzy, but it means nothing without REAL experience. I wouldn’t have agreed with myself a few months ago, but after working 62-hour work weeks doing nothing but coaching, I clearly see that the ability to coach in many cases may be superior to my knowledge base. My athletes don’t care what I know; they need me to help them get stronger and more athletic. They’re depending on me to steer them in the right path and equip them with the tools necessary for a successful athletic season. Anyone who’s been around the iron game for a while knows that process takes time, and time is essentially the whole point of this blog post. If I spend all my time COACHING, then I won’t have much time for internet fantasy land. If I spend all my time posting on forums then I’m obviously not spending that much time COACHING!
Again, I used to believe that it was possible to do both in full capacity. I would point to examples like Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, and others saying, “Look, they’re all over the internet, and they all coach, too.” The truth of the matter though is that Coach Boyle spends the majority of time coaching and NOT in internet land. This summer I’ve worked with Coach Boyle in the mornings at Boston University helping with the BU hockey team. From there I’ve worked with him at MBSC in the afternoons. I can tell you firsthand that he spends time coaching college and professional athletes as well as kids. The same is true for Eric Cressey. Neither one of them sits there on a computer all day long. They’re out on the floor coaching! So how do they still get their internet rounds in? Coach Boyle gets up at 4:30am everyday and begins doing computer work right away. He also does internet work well into the night sometimes. Eric gets up early as well to do the same things.
Having training philosophies, ideas, and systems is great but it must be PUT INTO PRACTICE. Otherwise, you’re just another internet guru who writes about training and debates it over the internet but has no experience in the real world. Again, this summer internship has taught me much, but when it comes down to knowledge and coaching ability the latter may be more important in most cases. You can gain knowledge through effort and determination, but your ability to influence groups of people and make them do what you desire is not easy. Many times this skill comes from the individual rather than be taught how to do it.
I’m not sure why I chose this topic for the week. Maybe it’s an existential cry as the end of my internship approaches. Whatever the reason, this semi-new concept for me resonates so deeply. From now on I’ll be sure to do a little background check on “famous” internet coaches before I take their advice and see if they’re actually training people and with what success. In case you’re wondering though, training high school athletes in your garage doesn’t count!
Sam Leahey CSCS, CPT
P.S. I encourage all comments below. . .