Explaining the Why
Your ability to explain “the why” has a direct correlation with your players buying into you as a coach and the work you prescribe in the weight room. As my long-time friend and mentor John Murray, an NBA strength coach for 10-plus years, once told me, “What we do as coaches isn’t rocket science, it’s people science; if you can work well with people you’ll do great.” Players want to know what they are doing and why they are doing it. During a power phase, if you’re able to tie the importance of triple extension to increasing vertical jump and going up to get a rebound, then you’re making the Olympic lift movement relevant to your athlete. For example, take these two scenarios:
You write on the whiteboard: “Today we have 3×3 of Back Squats at 80%. Get after it.”
You tell your players, “scheduled today is a lower-body strength lift. We play in 72 hours, so we will keep the volume down and do 3×3, a total of 9 reps. Now that we are in-season, it’s important for us to hold the strength levels we worked so hard to achieve during pre-season training; and we will do this by staying at 80% on all three sets. Our strength exercise is Back Squats. This is an exercise you’ve been doing for the past five weeks, so your body is used to the movement. The familiar movement and limited volume means we won’t run the risk of shocking your body and creating any soreness for Friday’s game. Let’s get after it.”
Yes, the explanation takes more time, but it gives your players an understanding of why they are training the way they are. Success won’t be viewed as an accident, but as a result of your players buying in and following the blueprint you’ve set out for them.
Another factor that promotes buy-in is the training environment you create, whether, it’s in the weight room, on the basketball court or a hill outside. The expectations you set for your players regarding energy levels, positive attitudes, and daily efforts brought to each training session have a direct impact on your training environment. Having a clean and well-organized place for your athletes to train affects the training environment in a positive way and improves the efficiency of each workout. Everything that makes up a training environment is ultimately in the coach’s control.
Which leads me to one of my favorite quotes, “You get what you tolerate,” meaning, for example, that if you tolerate players showing up late to a lift, leaving weights all over the place, or expending low energy during a workout, you’ll continue to get this behavior until you do something to change it. I recommend “dropping the hammer,” holding your players to a high level of accountability early and often during the year.
Set the tone and establish expectations for your workouts. It is always easier to take the edge off accountability down the road than to increase accountability if things get sloppy. This doesn’t mean berating or disrespecting a player who’s out of line or late. Ideally in a solid player/coach relationship, expectations have already been established, so holding the player accountable should be understood and accepted.
If a player is late to one of my workouts, the whole team does a four-minute Weighted Wall Sit. If it happens a second time, I add a minute to the Wall Sit, and so on. After every accountability challenge, I bring the team up and reiterate what is expected. I then immediately move on. I never hold grudges or stay mad at a player—that is a waste of energy in my opinion—and who wants to coach angry all the time (that gets old, fast).
What’s more important to me is why the player is acting out and what I can do to connect and coach the player to improve his behavior. If a player continues to be defiant, I remove him from the training environment and follow up with an individual meeting to find out the real reason behind the “baby gap” attitude.
You can have accountability and a compliant training environment without a plethora of rules hanging at the entrance of your weight room. I have two rules for my players:
Always be respectful: Respect the training environment, the equipment, your teammates and everyone you come in contact with.
Be on time, all the time.
The problem with having a ton of rules is that you have to enforce them all. With fewer rules, you spend less time being a cop and more time coaching. Not to mention, every situation is slightly different and requires a judgment call by you on what behavior you’ll accept and what behavior you won’t accept in your training environment. At the end of the day, it’s on your shoulders as a coach to determine how the training environment looks, feels, and runs. The overall culture of the weight room is up to you.
The next factor that impacts a training environment is the coach’s energy. The attitude you bring every day is huge in creating a positive training environment, and it must be a constant in your players’ lives. I preach daily to my players how important it is to bring energy daily, to chase greatness, so it’s important that I too bring incredible energy to every training session.As a coach, you must always bring your “A” game. There is no “B” game. A quote I often use with my teams I stole from Gregg Gottlieb, assistant basketball coach at Oregon State University and a good friend of mine: it says “you’re either a drain or a faucet,” meaning you’re either giving energy to the group, motivating your teammates, encouraging them, and pushing yourself, or you’re a drain, taking energy away, going through the motions, skipping reps, and not pushing yourself to get better. In training, there is no middle ground. I never have and never will tolerate players bringing down the energy of a workout, and neither should you.You can’t chase greatness with a mediocre work ethic.
To be a coach who brings high energy to every training session means being the epitome of selflessness. No matter what is going on in your life, it is all about your players and the training session that is about to start. When it is their time with you, nothing else matters. Your smile, fist pound, and greeting to them as they enter the weight room, asking them how their day is going, will mean the world to them. Eventually, they’ll look forward to your training sessions, look forward to your positivity, your enthusiasm, your passion for coaching, and the high expectations you have for them. They’ll want to reach those expectations and make you proud. The weight room will be viewed as a positive place, where bodies change, magic happens, and goals are accomplished. That’s “buy-in.”
Thanks for viewing and create a great day! —Scott Thom