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Strength & Conditioning Coaches as Program Leaders

Article from earlier post at

I have had the pleasure and privilege of training under and around some of the best strength & conditioning professionals (S&C) in the game. The impact that many of them have had on my life goes far beyond learning how to hang clean. The measurable outcomes of a good S&C program can translate directly to the field, and continue with the individual athlete as they continue up the ranks. Why then, is the title not consistently in a higher position of power?

Phil Emery was, aside from my father, the best coach I ever had. Coach Emery was the S&C coach at the Naval Academy before heading to the NFL on the personnel side, working his way up to a General Manager position with the Bears. Coach Emery was tough, demanding, and also caring, compassionate, and supportive. I’m sure the same can be said about performance coaches in many other sports as well, I just don’t happen to know many. Importantly, Coach Emery has become a highly regarding NFL evaluator of talent because of his intimate understanding of mechanics, movement patterns, and demeanor.

The success that our team had was a result of the importance that has been placed on human development inside the Midshipment training center. They did, and still do, train hard, they take pride in their training. They are disciplined, detailed, and precise with their movements. They have a process and understand the process. Every thing they do on that side of the sport is broken down into small bites. Every movement pattern is coached so that the athletes can see how it applies to the field.

Coach Emery was a great coach and leader of men. I have spent time with him on a number of occasions, and can tell you his passion for his profession rivals anyone I have met before or after. But he is not alone; I could say the same for Dave Puloka, Mark Lovat, and Ted Rath, to name a few coaches in the NFL game. The professionalism, knowledge, and understanding of the entire athlete is what sets these men apart.


These men are unique; they have the capacity to lead, command a room, and gain the respect of young men from all different backgrounds. They also have the unique ability to identify problems both in patterns and process. Think about it: if there is a movement issue, a strength issue, a coordination or reflexive issue, who is charged with fixing that problem? The S&C coach is tasked with building the ideal athlete, identifying any areas of opportunity, providing prescriptions that will facilitate progress on both the strength and mobility side of things. Importantly, they are also most aware of all the outside stressors (environment, physiological, etc.) that an athlete has to deal with, and how to adjust and adapt.

Great coaches have to teach the how and the why; how we perform a complex pattern, and why it applies to improving on the field of play. S&C coaches have the ability to spot the simple patterns that can create problems in complex systems, and fix those problems by breaking down big ideas into digestible bites.

Many of them, particularly in the pro ranks, have to do this without the total support of the building. It has certainly progressed from the 'box tick' mentality held by many of my former coaches, but not nearly enough considering the direct and ancillary benefits derived from S&C training. Improved focus on the process, improved attention to detail in all aspects of preparation, superior physical qualities, enhanced routine development, to name a few. I'm not suggesting that we all become zombie powerlifters. I am suggesting that the emphasis in total development will greatly improve the efficiency of uploading the right culture.


So here is an novel idea: put them in charge of running the operation. The whole operation. Why not? They spend more time with the athletes than any coach or teacher. The have a unique insight to the true character of the athletes under their jurisdiction; their platform is built on work ethic, discipline, detail, and persistence.

Moreover, as I have alluded to on the Process 2 Perform podcast in recent weeks; the standard of coaching in the US model is different than many other countries. And it stems from our outcome-based teaching model. S&C coaches, on the other hand, stress the process in everything they do. Learning how to Turkish get up, planning out how to gain 10 pounds in the offseason, or improve your vertical leap. These are all process moves, built on the backs of discipline and adherence to the mission. Looking at development through the long term lens; projecting the impact of a player in 2-3 years based on what their traits are now. Who does this better than a strength coach that spends their entire lives assessing and planning the development of aspiring athletes?

Sure, there would have to be a unique separation of power concerning play calling duties and input from the head coach. But I remember vividly in college that our head coach, Charlie Weatherbie, had very little to do with running offensive coordinator Paul Johnson’s offense. What Coach Weatherbie did so well was act as a unifier of men; a leader and a delegator of responsibility. We enjoyed great success there during my time. Not surprisingly, Coach Emery had a large hand in how business was conducted.

So this may seem like a far-fetched idea, but I can tell you first hand that the lessons you learn ‘under the bar’ are the ones that stick. Imagine the collective identity of a team if the strength coach is calling the shots; competitive mindset, mental toughness, physical superiority, discipline, and process-focused athletes.

That’s the type of program I would be happy to send my kids to.

Maybe this movement is still too far away to see - possibly second in command is more realistic. But players and parents, I cannot stress the importance of having a top flight performance specialist (new name for S&C) in your circle of trust. There is no single individual outside of your family who will be more concerned about the complete development of your athlete; building the physical and reinforcing the character traits that are so important to success in life and sport.

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