I had an excellent conversation this week with a mentor of mine who is the head strength & conditioning coach in the NBA. One of the things that we talked about was how the attitude of team leaders impacts the effectiveness of a strength & conditioning program. He gave the example that most NBA athletes fall in the middle area of a bell shaped curve in a graph as far as their attitude and effort with strength & conditioning goes, or in other words, they respect it and put the necessary effort into it. He went on to say that there are usually a couple of guys at each end of that graph, the ones who go above and beyond, and those at the other end of the spectrum. From there we talked about the huge impact the team leaders have on the team based on where they’re found on the bell shaped curve of attitudes toward strength & conditioning. If a team leader is one of those top few who go above and beyond, the rest of the athletes for the most part will fall in line. Conversely, if the team leaders are at the other end of the spectrum as far as their attitude and effort towards strength & conditioning, it’s going make it all the harder to get the rest of the team to buy in and give the program the effort necessary for it to be successful. From my experience, I have found this to be an extremely accurate assessment. The following experience with one of my teams is a good demonstration of the concept.
With our offseason football workouts we had two lifting groups. There were a couple of very defined and obvious leaders/stars in each group. Group one’s leaders were on the extreme positive end of the graph, as they always were ready to give maximum effort, encourage their teammates to do the same, and go above and beyond the minimum/expected. This attitude permeated to the rest of the group as they consistently gave exceptional effort as a group, obviously adding to the effectiveness of the program. Group two’s couple of leaders would be classified more as being right in the middle of the bell curve. It’s not that they didn’t work hard, but their attitude towards the program and their work ethic didn’t compare to that of the exceptional leaders of the first group, and they definitely didn’t stand out as the hardest workers and best attitudes of group two. Group two did have a couple of guys who were at the extreme positive end of the bell curve when it came to their attitude and effort towards strength & conditioning. However, they weren’t the natural leaders/stars of the group, so it was harder for their attitude and effort to transfer to the rest of the group. Instead, the less than desirable attitude of the leaders permeated to the group.
So, what can we do as strength & conditioning coaches when we encounter a situation like group two? Something I did that made a difference was partway through the semester I met individually with both of the leaders of group two to discuss with them how important they were in the weight room, during conditioning sessions, etc., and let them know that I and more importantly their teammates needed more out of them in that regard. By helping them realize the power of their attitudes and how their attitudes impacted their teammates, I started to see a positive change in these leaders that started to have a positive impact on the group as well. Our approach may need to be different depending on the leader that we are dealing with, but if we know our athletes as we should, we should be able to recognize what some successful approaches could be. This is the type of conversation we should probably have with leaders before the start of a program, or at least after the very first sign of trouble, to help them know that we (both their coaches and their teammates) need and expect them to be at the top of the group with their attitude and effort. This obviously may not always work, but it’s a preemptive action that I feel could make a big difference in a lot of situations.
These examples bring back the importance of developing leadership skills and qualities in our athletes. Also, even though we don’t have a heck of a lot of control over this part, it’s extremely important that high character athletes with a great work ethic are recruited and brought on board. It will not only make our strength & conditioning programs more effective, but the work ethic and attitude of athletes in the weight room will often be the same in practice, the film room, etc. We can never underestimate the importance of the attitude and work ethic of the leaders/stars of our teams and how it affects the rest of the team. Just talent is not going to create champions.