Here’s a short list of collegiate strength and conditioning myths. This is an opinion piece and is based on what I’ve seen. I do realize that many will disagree and some will not like what I write here. That is cool. I do ask that you try to step back and look at the profession and see if any of what I write here is true.
Realize, I have been out of collegiate strength and conditioning full-time for two years now. Distance and time have given me a chance to reflect upon the career I once had. Before I delve into my thoughts, I must disclose what I currently am doing for work. If you know me then you know I am the general manager at Union Fitness (UF) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was lucky enough to take over for Casey Willams. Casey set the gym up for great success. He built a great environment to train and assembled a very unique gym experience. When I arrived at UF, I used my connections in the world of college athletics to connect with some local universities. With the help of Charles Jasper, we now oversee the training of two local universities. We have the best of both worlds, we (as a staff) are a collegiate strength and conditioning department as well as running Pittsburgh’s strongest gym.
So there is some back story to what I’m about to say. I am removed from collegiate strength and conditioning, as a full-time career. Yet, I do still train two college teams. We as a company now have more teams and athletes than most strength and conditioning departments.
7 Myths of Collegiate Strength and Conditioning
1. “We are a family.”
At almost everywhere I worked, someone has said, “We are a family.” This is a myth to the highest degree. Family takes care of each other, college athletics is a cutthroat competitive profession. Athletes who don’t perform lose their scholarships, coaches who don’t cut it are fired, and the head coach is extended for winning. If this is a family, it is dysfunctional at best.
2. “Successful athletes are on time, work hard, and are team players.”
I wish this was true. I have been lucky enough to coach some amazing athletes, as well as amazing humans. There were times that those two were in the same person. There were other times that they were not. Athletics has some amazing humans as well as some lazy and selfish people throughout this subculture of humans. We need to admit that sometimes the lazy, yet athletic person, wins the day.
3. “Young coaches should commit to 2-3 years at a job.”
Until the industry gives contracts to strength coaches, you are committed until your next paycheck. The university you work for probably has you as an “at will” worker. Depending on the laws in your state, they are more than likely can fire you at any time. So my advice is if someone asks for a multi-year commitment with no commitment from the university, then say, “Sure, I can do that.” Here is a big BUT. If something comes up, you have to move on because this is not a loyalty issue. If you remain loyal to someone who has no loyalty to you then you will lose.
4. “Coach XYZ is the best in the business.”
I know some amazing coaches and I rarely visit a coach without being mad at myself for not doing something better. To paraphrase Buddy Morris, “every program is incomplete.” This is a fact and there is no room for debate. There are great coaches, yet we are all just a work in progress. We must continue to move forward and understand that each of us is imperfect and we can all do better. We must also stop making some coaches and ideas perfect.
5. “Exercise A is better than exercise B.”
I intentionally didn’t name exercises here so that I can protect the innocent exercises. There are some exercises that, in my opinion, are overrated. Yet, few are worthless, and comparing exercises out of context is dumb. Front squats are good for many reasons, squats (not back squats, JL) are good for other reasons, and overhead squats also have their place. Trap bar deadlifts are not better or worse than straight bar, but they are different movements. Stop fighting battles over exercise selection. Instead, ask why someone is using certain lifts or movements over another variation.
6. “You must be willing to do the lifts you have your athletes do.”
I’m guilty of this line of thinking. I still believe you should train and train hard. It reminds me of when I was at GW visiting a coach, (who is now a good friend) who was training with me and asked me what I take for pre-workout. I said we had that coffee together. He was shocked that I didn’t take some other crap. My point is bring some intensity and life to your training. If you are preparing for the same sport as your athletes, then train like them. If not, then train for your lifestyle not theirs.
7. “Tie yourself to a good head coach.”
Sorry about hurting feelings on this one. Head coaches will fire the strength coach as soon as they get any pressure. I have been lucky to see some great head coaches from many different sports. Yet, I have also been around some that I wouldn’t trust with my car. Stop worrying about tying yourself to the head coach and start doing everything in your power to empower your students. Don’t forget each day is a job interview and if you train 100 students then that is 100 interviews. I am old enough now that more than a dozen of my former students have been or are college head coaches.
That is my list. As with any list, it is not perfect and neither am I. I do hope it got you thinking. If one thing on this list upset you then I ask you to re-read it, try to reconsider it, and see if there is any truth in the statement. If I am wrong, then tell me.
Todd Hamer is the general manager at Union Fitness. He has 20 years of Division 1 strength and conditioning experience. Prior to Union Fitness, Todd was Director of Strength and Conditioning at the George Washington University where he oversaw all 27 teams and a staff of six strength coaches. Before his time at GW, Hamer spent time at Robert Morris, George Mason, The Citadel, Pitt, Penn State, as well as UNC-Chapel Hill.