This article is authored by Erik Schwager. Opinions expressed may not be that of SMARTER Team Training, STT sponsors or constituents. Coach Schwager is currently the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Hartford. Erik designs and implements training programs for numerous teams for Hartford Hawks. Before becoming the assistant at the University of Hartford, Coach Schwager owned his own business in Tampa, Florida. He also spent time working in the minor leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals with their single-A affiliate, The Batavia Muckdogs, as well as interning for numerous Division I institutions such as The University of South Florida, Michigan State University, and Princeton University.

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If you ask a hundred strength coaches what makes a successful program, more than likely you will get a hundred different answers. One thing all great coaches have in common, and what makes their program successful regardless if they admit it or not, is how their athletes’ respond to them. If you spend a day with some of the best strength coaches in the country, you can easily see why athletes become fully invested in whatever strength and conditioning program they are performing. If I could relay one crucial piece of advice to young coaches in the field, it would be to pay attention to whoever they work/intern for and learn how to develop relationships with your athletes from the coaches who have been doing this for years. Below I have listed a couple of reasons why it is important to build relationships with athletes.

If you build strong relationships with your athletes, you will:

O Gain Athletes Trust: If an athlete trusts you they will work hard for you. Athletes need to know how much you care about them and a program before they will care about how much you know.

O Establish mutual coach/ athlete respect: Able to evaluate program by receiving opinions from coaches and past athletes.

O Enables you to establish athlete’s personality type: Athlete’s respond to different stimuli and coaching styles. It is important to know what each athlete responds to.

O Increase awareness of external factors affecting athlete’s performance: External factors affecting mood/ performance, such as schoolwork, team issues, family issues, social issues, etc.

We need to build relationships with our teams. How do we as coaches gain their trust and develop a professional relationship where kids are engaged? Always remember to provide the amount of energy that you want from your kids. If they see you engaged, they will be engaged. Energy is contagious! Being energetic shows that you care about making them better and you are passionate about what you do. Confidence is key to helping you gain the trust of your athletes. The more you coach and develop your knowledge base the more confident you will have. Speaking in a firm direct tone helps allow athletes to believe in what you are saying and trust that what you tell them will make them better. Take the time to get to know your athletes. Be able to have “quick exchange” conversations. Which is as simple as asking them how they are feeling, how practice is going, or even saying hello or good morning. This is to be engaged socially with your athletes but not over stepping your boundary from coach to friend.

Building strong relationships with your athletes will create a strong foundation to develop a program that will develop great results and a great team oriented atmosphere.

Erik Schwager believes that strength and conditioning is both training the mind and the body. Athletes need to be physically prepared to perform on the field, but if they are not mentally prepared it can be just as detrimental to performance as not being physically prepared. You can contact him at [email protected].