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.

Kyle Holland, a pretty big “big timer” at MBSC 

      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. . .

9 Responses to “MBSC with Sam Leahey: The Best Coaches Don’t Live in “Internet Land””

  1. Melanie Driscoll Says:

    Kyle Holland is outstanding. He is encouraging, compassionate and devoted. I had the pleasure of working with Kyle last week, and let me tell you–he was a pleasure to work with and I am looking forward to learning more form him. Sam: great article, by the way.

  2. ” In case you’re wondering though, training high school athletes in your garage doesn’t count!”

    Why? Isn’t that viable coaching experience?

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  4. […] I thought Sam Leahey wrote a great blog on Mike Boyle’s Strength Coach Blog. It should be required reading for all up-and-coming […]

  5. Nice blog Sam. The day and age of actually getting out there, putting your body in the trenches, and grinding out more than one internship and/or volunteer position for experience, networking, and gaining your own coaching philosophy are practically gone. Unfortunately too many young “specialists” look to make the big bucks right out of the gates. Here is a hint, ask around when you are with some of the guys that have been in this industry for awhile. You’ll find out that there really isn’t a golden ticket. You have to work, and work hard, every day to lead, inspire, and coach people to greater heights then they thought possible. Use the internet to network, gain some know how, and begin to see the many, many ways there are to skin a cat. When you think you finally understand a concept though, jump into the fire and begin to learn how to effectively communicate with players, coaches, support staff, as well as your staff, interns, and volunteers. Being successful isn’t about how many posts you have on the web, but maybe it is about how many people you help become successful so they can boast about their journey to become a strength and conditioning coach.

    Keep these coming. The more honest the more insightful. Thank you for speaking your mind.

  6. Noel Piepgrass Says:

    You’re right on Sean. Over the last year and a half I really learned first hand that I needed to worry about becoming a better coach, not learn more Ex. Phys or training methodology. Not that those are bad. Great blog.

  7. Great post. The one coach that comes to my mind is Lee Taft. He does have an internet presence, but not quite as much as some of these guys. However, if you haven’t had the chance to actually see him work with athletes you are missing out. His ability to get the most out of his athletes is hard to match at any level. I’m sure there are many more like this example who have figured it out in the trenches.

  8. Sam ,

    While we can all strive to be the best “us,” do you think that coaches like Mr. Boyle and Eric Cressey are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to being able to juggle all those real world hours coaching with time online?

    These are coaches who would be the sporting equivalent of all-stars or even hall-of-famers, whereas a lot of us would be doing well just to work up to being 2nd-line centers or vital role players.

    The internet can be a powerful learning resource and a tool for expanding a business, but I find that it often ends up leaving me feeling like “computer guy” from a physical perspective even though I should know better on account of being aware of all the postural implications (especially due to my atrocious typing skills). Following along with a few reputable forums and blogs can become a monumental task, even when trying to keep time online to a bare minimum.

    In any event, I have enjoyed your series of posts and thank you for sharing your perspective. Great stuff!

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