July 6, 2015 • Strength & Conditioning

Establishing standards and leadership in the weight room

It would not take a great deal of evaluation to determine that most of your athletes’ time is spent training for their respective sports. Much of this time is spent in the weight room with teammates and coaches, thus creating an environment and opportunity to develop in ways that far exceed the sought-after physical improvements.

In accepting that fact, it’s only appropriate that some serious thought be put into devising a plan to take full advantage of this quality time, with an emphasis on establishing the standards that are the foundation of your program.

Powerline Michigan State UniversityIn the Spartan Strength/Conditioning Facility, every single day presents another standard-building opportunity, and we take full advantage of the moment. Melded into the sweat, effort, enthusiasm and intensity that are staples of our training sessions, something much more meaningful and enduring is also being built.

The chemistry of the team can be nurtured in this setting, as everyone is involved in the shared work ethic — including the inherent adversity — that is inextricably linked to the offseason training program.

Let’s take a closer look at how coaches can utilize their training environment to build leadership, character, integrity, perseverance and the aforementioned team chemistry in addition to the strength, speed and power goals.

It must be understood at the onset that this set of standards is blind to the style of training or methodologies that are in place; it is a universal template for nurturing courage, character, heart, spirit and resiliency in your team.

No finish line

We ask our student-athletes to adopt an iron-minded mental approach to training, their sport and life in general: There is no finish line in athletics or life. Instead, there are daily opportunities to grow and improve.

Everyday work ethic and commitment to the task at hand are cornerstones in our program. Being pleased with yesterday’s efforts and results are certainly warranted for self-confidence, but being satisfied to the point of complacency is unacceptable. We speak of “sustained excellence,” which demands a daily competitive attitude.

That competition should begin within the individual in terms of self-assessment long before it branches out to being a competition against others. We ask our athletes to have a personal “showdown” with themselves to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to develop a plan for self-improvement.

Within our framework of self-reflection and improvement, we encourage athletes to adopt a mentality of conducting every phase of their lives like there is no finish line, and that includes physical training. This mindset projects a committed resolve to work hard daily, embrace an over-achieving persona and to realize that no matter where they are in their quest at day’s end, there will be another opportunity for improvement tomorrow.

Every day a small step can be taken in the direction of their dreams, and every day presents a clean slate. If yesterday was not everything you wanted it to be, another golden opportunity will rise with the sun of a new morning.

Every day is game day

Running parallel to this approach in building a championship mindset is to impress upon our athletes that what we do on any given day contributes to our ultimate success. A sign in our indoor facility reads, “Champions are built on a thousand invisible mornings,” and it is a strong statement on the importance of unseen hard work. In what most people on the outside might tag as “ordinary days,” we revere as being the foundation of success.

On cold, snowy February mornings at the start of an offseason workout, there are no fans in the stands, no media, no cheerleaders and no pep band. All that is evidenced is a team full of motivated, enthusiastic players and coaches pushing to the limits to build something great in September, ushering-in the start of the “special days” of the football season.

Encourage your athletes to understand that the substance of greatness goes largely unnoticed by the masses, because it is almost always constructed in small, inconspicuous steps.

Wins and losses are not tracked during this period. But, most assuredly, much of what will or will not be accomplished during the season is determined long before the stadium lights shine bright. In that sense, every day of preparation is game day.

Developing differences makers

Roger Staubach, of Naval Academy and Dallas Cowboys fame, once said, “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” This statement on true dedication, work ethic, commitment, mental strength and physical toughness is a tribute to those who travel that road, and an indictment on those who are unwilling to do so.

Basically, it brings you to the city limits of good, just before entering the highway to greatness.

Leadership is about making a positive difference, not just during times that are comfortable and at ease. It’s about stepping to the front and making an impact when things are difficult beyond comprehension.

In our leadership training, which has its genesis at the start of each and every year in the weight room, we demand a singleness of purpose and elucidate the tenet that leaders take control and use their imagination, enthusiasm and past experiences to take positive, meaningful and powerful actions.

We strive to develop leaders whose vision inspires others and adds substance to their lives. Everyone has an unspoken desire to be motivated to aim for something higher than what he or she feels can be achieved. They simply need the right person to follow.

This then defines the essence of leadership for each individual: Be someone worth following.

A person worth following has a positive influence on human behavior, has a knack for bringing everyone together for a common cause, can effectively delegate responsibility, takes ownership of the program and brings a special value to the team every single day. There is no question that these traits can be manufactured in the daily grind of the weight room setting.

We ask that our players train, compete and live on the extra mile Staubach described. And rather than just passing through the extra mile on occasion, we encourage them to make it their home. 

Live a life of courage

It has been said that life expands or shrinks in proportion to one’s courage. A basic tenet of success states that what we are able to achieve is heavily based upon how much we want it. When it means enough to us, and we have the courage to pursue it, we have a much greater chance of achieving it.

In my 40-plus years as a coach, I can state unequivocally that this seed for future success in your athletes’ lives can take root through the trials, errors, good times, adversities, losses and wins experienced with their teammates, coaches and your program. They will learn that whatever is beyond their reach now will one day be there for the taking as a result of all they have learned under your wing.

I urge you to never take that gift for granted — embrace it.

Ken Mannie is the head strength and conditioning coach Michigan State University. His column, Powerline, appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine. 

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