More Sam Leahey on Building Relationships

MBSC Internship with Sam Leahey: Part 2 of Building Relationship in The Weight Room & Part 2 of Explaining The “Whys”

     To be quite honest, I thought the people who would most appreciate my blogging would be fellow MBSC interns and a few others that know me personally. But apparently my perspectives are farther reaching than I assumed. I’ve gotten some great feedback in my inbox as well as people commenting on the blog, especially regarding the last post. So much so that I decided to elaborate even further on my coaching resonations and allow my blabbering to continue on. Below is part 2 of building relationships in the weight room as well as part 2 of trying to explain the “why’s” to everyone instead of actually coaching. It’s not as much content as before but more of a “finisher” on the topic at hand.

More on Building Relationships

     I began this week by remembering the big lesson from last week. I made it a point to engage in small talk more frequently WHEN APPROPRIATE and tried to find out more about the athletes’ lives outside the gym. Honestly, I found a new passion for learning more about other people’s lives beyond the barbells and slideboards. Beyond the rusty iron (shiny iron in MBSC’s case) I discovered how much people actually enjoy other things besides strength & conditioning (NO DUH, SAM, YOU STINK’N DORK!). As it turns out, my athletes were more inclined to do what I said the more I talked to them about things other than the workout. I didn’t want to get too carried away, so I slipped it in between sets and during transitional times between circuits or conditioning. I can’t even begin to tell you the difference in responses I would get between athletes with whom I planted friendship seeds and those with which I did not. Take this basic example for instance. . .

Situation A – Trying to coach two people when no one knows each other’s names and you previously didn’t take any time to learn about his/her life outside of training.


First Athlete’s Response: “I guess I’ll throw this ball harder because I know it’s the right thing to do, but not because he said so.”

Second Athletes’ Response: “I’m pushing this barbell as hard as I can guy, leave me alone!

Situation B – Trying to coach two people whose names you know and they both know your name as well. You’ve also talked to them before the workout to see how their feeling, what sports their training for, and what their goals are for the summer.


Brian’s Response: “He better watch out because I’m about to put a hole in the wall with this med ball!”

Chelsie’s Response: “You’re right! I got this! GRRRRRRR!”

The only difference was I knew and addressed each athlete by name, and we had built a little foundational relationship beforehand. I’ll be the first to say this is as generic and simple as an example gets, but it gets my point across and I’ve found this to be pretty realistic actually. I’m starting to realize it’s just that simple sometimes. Call people by their names and make sure you talk to them about something other than training and good things happen!

     When I began helping Coach Boyle at BU with his hockey team the same concept applied. Yet it was a different “progression” if you will. The group was mainly comprised of freshman with only 4 seniors. I thought about my own college athlete experience. As an upperclassman I had been working hard for 4-5 years, and the people who’ve coached me the most and earned my respect were the actual staff members, not interns. That said, I wouldn’t appreciate some intern coming in my senior year and telling me what to do. So I decided purposely not to coach the upperclassmen hockey players at BU. I focused completely on the freshman since they needed the most help anyway. This went on for a 2 workouts. I brought the best coaching energy I could to the freshman and pretty much ignored the seniors. I think they realized this pretty quickly after the first workout. BUT GUESS WHAT?!?!? After only the second workout EVERY LAST ONE of the upperclassmen came up to me and introduced themselves, asked where I was from, and yada yada. A couple actually said they appreciated having me there! What? I didn’t even coach them. I quickly realized that by me respecting their seniority and not attempting to order them around THEY in turn took the initiative and started building a relationship with ME! WOW! I didn’t even have to do anything this time. I’m sure in time the next step will involve them being welcoming of my coaching, but for now I’m pleased to have build a good report with all the athletes on the team. As time goes on the dynamics of coaching a group of individuals becomes more apparent to me and I’m realizing every day that it’s not as simple as blowing a whistle or starting a clock. Knowing how to win friends and influence people is critical!

     Back to MBSC. The next thing I realized in the whole building relationships theme was that I naturally took more time to invest in the lives of the older athletes: asking them what year in school they were, what colleges they attend or want to attend. I caught myself actually just coaching the kids I worked with instead of trying to show interest in them as people with identities. So I readjusted.

     In one case, I was coaching a group of young kids and on the walk over to the conditioning area, I made sure I went through everyone’s name aloud and asked them about what they did last weekend for the fourth of July. Then as we began doing drills, I showed them how excited I was to coach them by showing passion and energy. In return, they gave me the same energy back with big effort, screaming, and hollering! Our group got pretty loud, and other coaches and groups’ starting staring at us wondering what the heck was wrong with everyone. Believe it or not I had them yelling “HOO-AHH” after every rep of speed drills they did. The energy was so awesome that morning, and I made sure we carried it over into the weight room. I got a better response from the kids than I did from the older groups! I’m almost convinced that if i didn’t talk to each person individually before the workout they wouldn’t have reciprocated my energy the way they did. Though not fail proof, this technique has the potential for big returns as child athletes might personally invest more in their workouts. I stepped out of my comfort zone of college athletes and found commonalities with and showed personal interest in a demographic I normally wouldn’t. This technique is integral to succeed in coaching people from backgrounds different than one’s own.  I’m sure I’ll see this concept manifest itself more and more as my coaching career progresses.

     Furthermore, though the equation isn’t always this simple, I’m finding it’s a great starting place for this young coach:

Plant Relationship Seeds + Good Coaching = Positive Responses from Athletes!

One of the comments from last week’s blog penetrated my coaching thought process so much that I want you to read it also:


In my mind the number one thing in coaching is the coach-athlete relationship, something you are clearly learning here and getting a great grasp on. In other groups (non-pro), a lot of what the athlete’s will remember from the summer is the relationships they have made in the process (probably because this is easier to grasp than the great coaching you are giving them). Keep up the good work on both and I think you will continue to have rewarding experiences.

Coach Brad Stoffers

This is so true. When I read that bolded line above I couldn’t stop thinking about it all night! The fact that the number one thing influencing them was their experience and NOT me telling them about the “whys” of their training lead me to seek out even more information on the topic. . .

More on Explaining the “Whys” of Training

     In fact when I was speaking with Coach Boyle this morning he said something similar to Coach Brad – “most athletes don’t care about the “whys” of their training. They care about the experience they have and the results they get”. This was actually a surprise to me at first, I guess I thought everyone was like me, having an overwhelming passion for knowing why I’m doing Y,T,W,L’s and why I’m doing interval training instead of steady state cardio. Coach Boyle again had to set me straight – “when you try explaining internal/external rotation to them all they wanna know is if it helps their bench press or not!” At Athletes Performance I’m told the first thing athletes try and skip out on is the education component, which is about a 5-15 minute block where they’re educated on their training and its implications. I’m not suggesting this is a good thing or that we should all together stop educating our athletes. It was just sort of surprising to me that the “whys” were not as important the mass majority of athletes as they are to me.



“I don’t care about increased intra-thoracic pressure, engaging the lats, or the scap-packed position! Just tell me how to get more plates on here!”


So all in all my current thought process is this: (1) Build relationships (2) Provide top quality coaching (3) Begin to educate the athletes on the “whys” that are pertinent to their goals. We’ll see how far this takes me and what changes I make to it as time goes on. As I said, this week’s post is a finisher/icing on the cake to two previous blog posts. Thanks for all the feedback and I encourage all your comments below in case there’s anything I’m forgetting in my thought processes.

Sam Leahey CSCS, CPT

7 Responses to “More Sam Leahey on Building Relationships”

  1. […] Week With Mike Boyle Week 3: Week One of Fourteen Hour Workdays Week 4: Building Relationships Week 5: More on Building Relationships Week 6: Positioning While Coaching Week 7: The Beast & The Little School Girl Week 8: The […]

  2. thanks Rob. Things i took for granted previously are starting to surface as much more important than i ever imagined. Todays blog ( was a little more simple but this new ah-ha moment was still worth a blog post i thought. Thanks again.


  3. Attitude and effort are two things all of us can control. Be open to new experiences and listen when someone is attempting to communicate with you. Going the extra mile to show that you were paying attention, care for them, and are there to help will help take your coaching relationships and workouts to new levels. Keep up the outstand work. I enjoy reading your blog.

  4. Sam,
    Good stuff, young man. Keep with it and you will measure leagues above those timid souls who never dare to venture forth.

    Always remember, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”


  5. Great stuff Sam! Keep it coming.

  6. I agree Chris. Im all about the HIT Coaching Method now 🙂 I just hope no one steals my idea and try’s to write and ebook on it before i do. . . only after i get my 10,000 hours experiance first of course 🙂

  7. Chris Shah Says:

    Sam, great stuff!

    I can really relate on being overzealous with poring on the Why’s in my athlete’s faces. At times we feel the need to show how smart we are or think we are as the coaching opportunity passes us by.

    I have tried many different fuels to get my athletes to put out their best effort and no fuel gets more gas mileage than “interest”. A genuine interest in their well-being wishes, goals and fears. I love the “High intensity short duration” coaching idea.

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