By Jen Foust
Potential is defined as “a quality or ability that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.” In a strength and conditioning setting, the lessons taught in a weightroom can have a direct and lasting impact on an athlete. It might be the perfect place to maximize potential.
It is our job as coaches to recognize methods that go beyond strength and allow the athlete to maximize their potential once they leave the weightroom.
In July of 2019, we sat down with Jason Pullara, now the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Purdue University, and asked about his strategies to challenge athletes, build weightroom culture, and develop potential.
He had three primary recommendations: 1) Build Trust 2) Teach Athletes to Fail and 3) Provide Positive Feedback.
Build Trust. Pullara suggested that building trust is foundational to who he is as a coach and providing some reassurance could be the first step to maximizing the potential of an athlete.
In developing this coach/athlete relationship, let them know that you have prioritized their safety, be honest and authentic in your approach and take extra consideration to teach them the movements thoroughly as that will build confidence. Finally, reframe negative language with a positive word or phrase. The specific language we use around our athletes can have a direct impact on their personal self talk.
When an athlete comes to us with the “I can’t” attitude, how do we get rid of that thought process? How do we develop more positive language around stigmas of the weightroom?
If you think back to your first experiences in the weightroom, you probably recall memories of fear or self doubt. It’s normal. The first step away from fear and doubt occurs on a solid foundation of trust.
Teach Athletes to Fail. The ability to fail gracefully is a life lesson that athletics has taught time and time again.
Nobody enjoys failure, but failure is inevitable. The ability to learn from failure propels athletes to the top of their game. The weightroom can be a valuable tool to teach this lesson if coaches know how to apply it.
As strength coaches, we know that muscle grows from a stimulus or a challenge/stress. The mind works in a similar way. It is our job to remind athletes that maximizing potential cannot occur without getting out of one’s comfort zone. If you’re not willing to risk failure, you limit your ability to grow.
Teach your athletes to push through a comfortable amount of uncomfortable moments. After developing confidence with that process, challenge them to run faster, pick up heavier weight, or try something new. Develop some resiliency and understanding that it’s okay to fail in a safe place.
After all, it’s not if or that you fail, but how you respond to failure that matters.
Provide Positive Feedback. Once you have built trust and a safe place to fail, remember that it necessary (and fun) to celebrate progress together.
Human nature feeds off of positive feedback and even the most talented athletes are no different. When your athlete is successful, tell them, celebrate with them, let them know you’re proud. Build such a relationship with your athletes that they want you to be a part of their training milestones.
Coaching in the weightroom is a series of cues and corrections that can lead to (or at least feel like) negative feedback if we forget to celebrate with our athletes.
Remember that the purpose of training is to improve, set personal records and accomplish things you couldn’t do before. As the coach, set these standards for your weightroom culture, make the process fun, and encourage your athletes to be excited for themselves and their team when they succeed.
The weightroom provides countless opportunities for us as coaches to teach life lessons. If we want to be successful in maximizing athlete potential, we have to start by building relationships around trust.
Once trust has been established, it is our job to challenge the athletes we work with and build a safe culture in which failure is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
As those challenges lead to accomplishments, remember why you chose to coach in the first place and celebrate the wins with your team.
Pullara concluded by stating, “To really be able to celebrate, getting excited about those moments is fun for me. Probably the most joyous moments, and not necessarily the wins and losses, but seeing the kids do things that they haven’t done before, because you’re there to help them.”
After all, it’s about results and relationships. There’s no other way.
Jennifer Foust is a strength and conditioning coach, working with track and field at the University of Arkansas and running a local barbell club. She has previous publications with Stack and Beyond Strength.