So You Want To Train Athletes eh?

People who want to work in the strength and conditioning industry often say that they want to work with athlete. When they say this to me I always ask why. Usually they cite some belief that athletes will work harder than the general population and that it will be fun to train them. When I ask them why they think this most are left scratching their heads because it is based on the belief that ALL athletes work hard.

Then they join the industry and their preconceived notions disappear very quickly because most people who come to strength and conditioning centers do not train like athlete, at least when it comes to their time in the gym. They play higher level sport and are considered athletes because they are talented, have been given an enriched head start or they have enjoyed some sort of political advantage when it comes to joining the best teams. There are not a lot of them who have the work ethic to excel in the gym and that is why most of them are there.

Working with elite athletes can be very rewarding as they are able to learn faster, train more effectively and train using more diverse training methods than the general population BUT this is only true for elite athletes. It falls on its face when dealing with talented general population athletes because, unless they have had to work hard to get to their level, most are not prepared for the demands of intense sessions in the gym and their talent may actually work against them.

If we think about it, great hockey players are great because they are able to do things that other players can’t. One of the key difference I have noticed is that great players achieve equal or greater results with LESS effort. Their efficiency means they move less than other players. This works great on the ice, but when it comes to the gym where efficiency of movement isn’t the goal, they are at a big disadvantage because they are programmed to cut corners and get the job done in less time. This translates into incomplete reps, increased rest time, decreased loads and a difficulty understanding why they are not make progress or why the strength coach is riding them so hard. Some of the time, the laziest people in the gym are the best athletes or the most talented players.

When I ask them how they are playing, what line they are on, how many points they have it is more to find out if there is a possible mental predisposition towards slacking than for any other reason. They answer the questions with pride and I gain a sense of what their work ethic may be. With anyone under the age of 14 or 15, the best players are likely going to be a complete pain in the ass when it comes to training because they are ill prepared for the true demands of intense training and they are prone to frustration when they cannot acquire skills immediately.

With these individuals the first goal of training is to help them break down the mental barrier that talent creates – that which dictates that success should be effortless. This is a draining task and it is, in my opinion, more draining than working with the adult population because adults KNOW their is a connection between hard work and success, the young and talented tend to have no idea. The good news is that with some the break down occurs very quickly – usually within a few months – but there are some people I have been working with for the last 3 months and they are no closer to working hard now than they were when they started training with me.

Other than elite athletes the best group to work with is the moderately talented – those individuals who are not the best and have had to work hard to enjoy any level of success. These athletes do what they are told, when they are told and they follow direction to the letter. They have learned that listening and applying the lessons with as much effort as possible is the first step in achieving their potential. But they also know that reaching their potential isn’t a certainty. They are well aware that it will take sustained effort for a long time to reach it and even then it may not happen.

If you are thinking of making the jump into the strength and conditioning field you need to be aware that MOST of the people you will be training will not be elite athletes. Most of them will not be untalented hardworking athletes. Most of your clients will be talented players who have yet to learn that their talent isn’t enough to move their play to the next level and they may fight you the entire way until they actually realize that hard work AND talent make great players. Your effort as a coach is worth it when you finally break through and help them, but until that moment your time with these athletes it’s pretty thankless.