I have been listening to quite a few James Smith podcasts and interviews in recent months. I’ve shared some of his ideas via links with friends of mine, and some of those people aren’t even in Strength & Conditioning. The amazing thing is that without exception, he seems to make two very distinct impressions:
- It makes a lot of sense (James’ message resonates with most people).
- He uses a lot of big words (Some people actually think he sounds pompous).
Now, let me explain the significance of these statements. If you actually listen to the links above you will have a better frame of reference, but it’s not completely necessary. James comes from a very unusual background compared to most Strength & Conditioning pros, but I think that has proven to be more of a blessing than a curse. He doesn’t spend a ton of time talking X’s and O’s of Strength & Conditioning, but he does spend a lot of time talking about overarching tenets of effective programs. That includes communication and the relationships between people involved in the success and preparation of the (student-)athlete.
It seems to me that there is a pervasive obsession in our field with a ‘high-performance’ model. This includes the formation of a support system for (student-)athletes which involves a nutritionist or dietitian, a sport psych resource, sports medicine staff, strength coaches, and academic support folks. All of these in addition to the sport coaches themselves, who are ultimately on the hook for the win-loss record.
As James so eloquently states in the interviews, what you’re left with is a factionalized system of support where everyone ultimately starts looking out for their own interests. This is understandably frustrating to coaches who have been in the game a long time. Sport coaches used to run practice, conditioning, other workouts, and even tape ankles before games. In that situation, there was ONE person with all the information they needed about every single one of their athletes, all the time.
Naturally, these people weren’t likely specialists in any area outside of actually coaching their sport. So it should make sense that when you can hire highly qualified and trained people to handle each separate component of preparation you would have a “high-performance model” staff, right? The trouble (as James puts it) is that really it’s not just a factionalized, but a balkanized group of people ironically working toward a mutual objective. Everyone wants to win a championship, but nobody is willing to cooperate or make concessions.
Component staff members have to earn their salary and therefore they each are primarily concerned with success in their specific area. The ATC values treatment time because they need to get athletes back to participation, the Strength & Conditioning coach values weight room time and objective measures of performance, the academic support values tutoring and attendance because they can’t have kids failing academically or they become ineligible. Of course the sport coach values practice and travel schedules because W’s pay the bills.
When everyone is so far gone on these ideas, you end up with kids who have 13 hour days and stop caring because they view it as just having to do each of these things. Imagine ONE person being responsible for all of those things, I’m sure things would run much more efficiently. The coach who wants to hold practice at 4pm has no problem with a 5:45am lift because they themselves, don’t have to be there all day. What ultimately gets lost is perspective, and they can’t figure out why kids are tired at practice. So when they’re dragging around what do we do? Run them of course, that should change their attitudes.
Anyways, the point is that you can save a lot of time and resentment on the part of your athletes if you’re willing to communicate with the other staff members. Is an athlete’s time better spent in the training room than at practice or in the weight room? Send them there, don’t waste everyone’s time. The reason most people don’t do this is probably communication. Sure, you’re going to encounter some stubborn people but if you can’t communicate, don’t blame them. I’ve seen more cases of frustration simply founded in the fact that people can’t express themselves verbally or form logical arguments. Sure, you’re a specialist in your field, but don’t expect everyone else to understand what you know. Your job is to bridge the gap as well.
So how do you communicate better? Try this:
- Have an objective first and foremost. Lay out an ideal end goal and figure out how to translate both the means and the outcome to your audience. ALSO: have a back-up plan, if the first idea is met with resistance even after exhausting yourself explaining, what and where are you willing to compromise. Keep plans B and C in your back pocket (and your notes) so you can at least walk out with most or some of what you need.
- Speak slowly, be confident in what you’re saying. You are being paid to do what you do for a reason. If you’re not smart enough to get your ideas across, that’s your fault, not the person who hired you. Enjoy your job, lol.
- Ditch the “um” and the “uhh”. People who know what they’re talking about don’t use sounds like that. In place of where you might have used one of those fillers, just pause. Be thoughtful, and free up some of those cranial resources for forming your next sentence.
- Ask questions. When you give people an opportunity to weigh in on the subject, they get the impression that you care what they think. Whether you care or not, you’re sending a message. Help them understand that either way (truly or otherwise) you want them to offer an opinion as well. People will be far more likely to sign off on an idea if they feel like they’ve been heard in the planning process. A lot of times, you can go back to that person with a new plan that has none of their ideas in it at all, and they will agree.
- Don’t use sloppy body language. Present yourself like an expert.
- LISTEN – Don’t spend the whole time talking. Squeeze everything you can out of that meeting so there is mutual understanding. If something is unclear, don’t just nod like a bobblehead. We’ve all been in situations where we’re finishing a sentence and your brain is going “that doesn’t make sense you idiot”. If the person across from you is just nodding, they’ve checked out. Don’t be that guy.
- Take notes and bring talking points. If you take notes, you can re-visit ideas with that person using their own words. It’s an insurance policy on building trust. You’re going to look like an idiot if you ask a question in the future about something you went over in the past. It will also help you retain the information better. On the same piece of paper, you can bring your talking points. Take some time in advance to evaluate the purpose of the meeting. Consider your own objectives and theirs pertaining to the topic. The worst thing in the world is walking out of a meeting and remembering something you should have said.
If you do these things well, you are going to create the impression that you know what you are doing. In the future, people will view you as not only an effective communicator but they will leave you alone when it comes to handling your business. The word for that is trust, and it’s invaluable. So instead of sitting at your desk for an hour and reformatting your spreadsheets or trying to decide whether you should be doing a 5×5 or a 6×4, go talk to the people who you work with. The sets and reps aren’t as important as the trust you’ll gain by doing that. You might even learn something, or be surprised by the strength of a professional relationship you never really cultivated.