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Gary Roberts Performance
November 27, 2023
If you have been following the GR brand for some time, you'll notice that we have made some changes over the last 12 months. Of course, like everyone else, the pandemic impacted us – in-person elite hockey strength and conditioning is difficult to deliver from a living room – but more importantly, we saw the detrimental effect that this period has had on so many of our younger athletes.
It hurt to see.
We're huge advocates of physical activity and feel for every single player that was, or still is, stuck in their home.
As the pandemic progressed, we realized that many people lacked quality education on how to train, eat, and recover for the game of hockey. Unfortunately, we often take it for granted after several decades in the sport. Still, the start of the pandemic shone a light on the disconnect between the desire for quality information and the ability to find it.
This kicked off a multi-week long discussion on how we could help better educate, inspire, and service those with a passion for hockey training, regardless of their location, stuck in their house, or living in Twillingate, Newfoundland. How could we help provide the tools these athletes, young and old, need to reach their on-ice goals and improve their quality of life?
So, how can we?
Well, we decide to upgrade our website, hire some more amazing people, and launch an education initiative that will continue in perpetuity.
Our goal is to be the premier hockey training company in the world. What's that mean? It means that we help over a million players directly; through education, in-person training, online options, and more. This will, in turn, indirectly impact millions of players and help to elevate the game we so deeply love and respect.
It's certainly a lofty goal, but so is winning a Stanley cup or cracking a new team's line-up. We like lofty goals; they drive us and motivate us to improve. We hope that you'll help us improve by sharing your feedback, questions, and challenges. We'll do our very best to answer all of the messages both directly and through future information.
With all of the above said, it was no easy task to decide what article to kick off our brand new website and education initiative.
It certainly feels like there are thousands of different topics we could – and plan to discuss – across our Fuel-Train-Recover spectrum, but it seemed fitting to start with coaching, and more specifically, what makes a good coach. After all, it does form the foundation for sharing our knowledge around these topics.
So, what makes a good coach and how do you pick one?
It's not an easy question, and several components of the answer will pertain to the individual. To help, we'll highlight some of the hard and soft skills that we look for when bringing a new coach into our family. Hopefully, this will help you separate the wheat from the chaff when choosing a coach for yourself or your child.
We'll preface this all by saying we have been exceptionally fortunate to spend over a decade helping guide and support some of the very best players in the world. It is not a task we take lightly. Being a coach is a serious responsibility, as they will have a profound impact on the player, you must choose the right coach for that player's development.
The initial characteristics that we look for in a new strength and conditioning coach have nothing to do with the technical skills of the industry. As crucial as physiology and anatomy knowledge is, it must be accompanied by integrity and communication.
We all know that integrity is an important characteristic, but how do we determine a new coach's integrity in the initial conversation?
An easy first assessment is their punctuality. Does the coach respond to your emails promptly? Do they call when they say they will? Are they early and waiting for you when you visit their training facility? Punctuality shows respect for the other person's time. Despite being the expert in their arena, it means the coach is not above anyone and will treat their athletes properly.
Additionally, listen for how the coaches speak about past experiences with athletes. For example, do they frequently use statements that start with 'me' or 'I'?
'I did this for them."
"My athletes did this last weekend."
It's important to be passionate about your athletes but realize that at the end of the day, the athlete did everything themselves. We, as coaches, help provide some of the tools and guidance they needed. This attitude will also spill out into the way the coaches speak about co-workers and peers. A coach that is confident in their craft is humble enough to give credit to other coaches and highlight what they do well without feeling threatened.
The ability to articulate thoughts and accompanying concepts is vital for a successful coach. It does not mean overloading an athlete with a series of technical terms to illustrate intelligence. In fact, the opposite. Clear communication means distilling concepts down to the most easily digestible form for an individual athlete. A good coach can move through a room and training session, offering something slightly different to each player while staying true to who they are as an individual.
As an athlete, it's essential to know what style of coaching resonates best with you. Finding someone with a matching style will allow the coach and athlete to speak the same language throughout the training sessions and go a long way in achieving maximal results.
It can be challenging to determine a coach's communication skills in one meeting. We always allow new athletes to watch and participate in a training session before committing to training with us. The level of communication will quickly become apparent, and you will be better positioned to make a decision on the chemistry between you and the coach.
Knowledge & Accreditation
We focused initially on the softer skills; picking a coach with high integrity and communication skills will make for a positive relationship, but results in the gym are driven by solid principles acquired through industry education.
One of the positives and negatives of the strength training industry is that the barrier to entry is relatively low. Although there are plenty of positives, the most concerning negative is that a coach may lack the prerequisite information required to help guide an athlete. Even worse, they may be unknowingly negligent and set an athlete up for injury. Different than other medical professions, there is no unifying body that signs off on new coaches. Instead, it's high decentralized, which is not a negative. It just means that the athlete or guardian must be discerning.
We look for a few different markers in relation to knowledge and accreditation. The first is an undergraduate degree in exercise science. Nearly every post-secondary institution offers a 2-4 year course in the field, and the education will help provide a baseline framework for a coach to grow and develop. It will also introduce them to the basic health risks that they will potentially interact with on the job. After that, the CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) is arguably the most reputable accreditation and shows that a coach has learned the baseline skills to their craft and is willing to take the next step.
The undergraduate degree and a CSCS accreditation form the initial backbone of a coach's education, but we also look for continuing education upgrades. The field is vast, and we're less concerned with what specific courses they've taken than we are with the process. Coaches that are passionate about learning will reinvest in themselves. It shows a commitment to craft that is important as an athlete looks to form a long-term relationship. Your coach should push themselves to improve just as hard as their athletes, not stagnate on past accomplishments.
The industry continues to evolve, and we're seeing more and more coaches enter following a Master's or Ph.D. We also know several great coaches who turned to it as a second career and hold none of the above accreditations. These are not hard rules but rather suggestions to help guide, and regardless of how it is acquired, knowledge is a critical attribute.
Walk The Talk
There may be some debate on this point, and there are certainly exceptions, but it is important to us that our coaches walk the talk. We believe it should matter to you as well. This isn't to say we expect single-digit body fat and an 18-hour/ week training routine, but we want coaches who believe in and practice the principles they preach.
It also indicated a level of discipline - it is harder to rule yourself than a city - and that discipline will like it carry over into other areas of life and work. Look for coaches that believe in and embody their principles, it is a sign of true accountability, and they will be better equipped to relate to your struggles throughout the training process and help guide you to success. They will also be able to demonstrate all the necessary exercises to help you learn proper form and technique.
These are a few of the attributes that we look for in a new coach. They are certainly not all that matters but can act as a starting point for you as you search for a coach. Reach out to your community - we always do in new cities - and find out where they train. If you want a suggestion for a specific area, send us an email. We're happy to provide a reference if we know a good coach nearby. Of course, if you're in Toronto, we would love for you to check out the facility and meet our coaches.