This is my first contribution to CVASP. Relatively new to the profession, I’ve wrestled with what I could possibly contribute of any substance. Many things have run through my mind, and constantly ringing in my ears is a statement often echoed by veteran performance coaches everywhere I’ve been thus far. It goes something along the lines of “early in my career, I thought I knew everything”. This is not a problem for me – and I don’t mean in a good way. On the contrary, I am acutely aware of how little I know. Perhaps I just haven’t been at this long enough, but right now I just don’t feel like many coaches want to hear what I have to say 9 months through my first year running my own program(s).
It occurs to me that the best thing I can contribute is a recount and maybe even a little advice regarding moving from a high major program with abundant resources to a program that does not compete at the same level in terms of funding and resources.
I am sure that some will chuckle at the notion. Certainly, many have worked years to achieve a position at a major institution, and some are still on the way, having worked their way up the proverbial ladder. I will be the first to explain to you how lucky I have been in my career thus far, but that is a conversation for another day. So, I am under no illusion that everyone will relate to this situation. However, given this profession’s turnover rate and the rising number of internship and GA positions all over the country, particularly at the larger programs, my hope is that somewhere there is a coach who will find themselves in a similar situation that can get something out of this.
With that said, here is what it has been like to move from a high powered athletic program to one fighting with less in their pockets:
All things considered I am doing pretty well in the facilities department. Sure, it’s not the same now as it was at a place like Texas, but so what? I have everything I need in our facility. The only major difference is that we share ours with Olympic Sports. Now, for many coaches this has been all they’ve ever known. Beginning my career at the DIII level I understand what it is like to be limited in time and space. However, it is different as an intern, volunteer or assistant than it is when actually running one of the programs that shares the weight room.
The most important thing I’ve learned regarding the shared space – and I will reference this several more times – invest in people (Full Disclosure – This, like many of my ideas, is stolen shamelessly from my former employer, friend and mentor, Daniel Roose).
Everyone is in the same boat, especially the strength coaches, attempting to get their sport coach to nail down a schedule so that they can understand their own training schedule and how it fits into the full weight room schedule. The ATCs also need to know and account for the training schedules of their respective sports. Facilities operations is at the behest of each head coach who views their program as the most important in the building. So, when change inevitably occurs just about every day, each one of these puzzle pieces has to move and adjust to make things work.
Quite simply, it is far easier and more pleasant to move this process along if you have spent the time to develop a relationship with those in the building. Admittedly I need to do a better job of this as well, but I have found that the more time I spend with others in the building, the easier it is to get what I need, especially when a curveball is thrown.
Equipment & Purchasing
This one doesn’t take a lot of explanation. Clearly the budget, especially for strength & conditioning, or in my case Men’s Basketball Strength & Conditioning, is going to be different depending on where you are. Moving from a high-major to anywhere other than that is going to put you in a different purchasing situation. However, my head coach doesn’t want to hear that he can’t have what I tell him we need. So, how to determine what is really needed?
For me, a bare-bones look at our facilities, personnel and desired training methodology helped to reveal need vs want. Are there things that I would enjoy having and could employ frequently to help our players? Sure. Do I absolutely need them to do my job? No. But what can we get?
Again, we come back to investing in people. The more time I have spent with our Director of Operations, Associate AD, ATC, and finance department, the clearer the picture has become of when and where I have some space and leverage to purchase. Early on this was difficult because we just hadn’t spent enough time together. As trust is built, so is an understanding between myself and others involved regarding what I need to do my job and how we can help each other to make it work.
Surely each coaching staff is different, but the biggest change for me is how the rest of the pieces of a staff fill out at a smaller institution.
For instance, our ATC is one of the longest tenured members of the department. He is an Associate AD and is the Head ATC, overseeing every other sport and their respective ATC, as well as administrative level operations. He remains as the Men’s Basketball trainer in addition to his other responsibilities. Like everybody else in the building, he is spread pretty thin. I’m not the only one who needs to be able to talk to him during the day.
The more time I spend with him, the better things go. The more we have gotten to know each other, the better we have gotten at communicating effectively and accomplishing our common goals. Some of this occurs naturally over time, but much of it is a concerted effort to get to him when he is available and discuss things, even if it’s a quick meeting. In our case, we are located in different parts of the building (because my desk is in the basketball office and not the weight room), so it is vital that at some point we take the time to find the other and talk. Sometimes there is much to discuss, sometimes not. Either way, the ATC relationship is critical and requires effort, which may have to be more regimented at a smaller institution due to the increased time demands of both parties.
When I was at Texas we prepared our weight room (and our interns) every day and night with the understanding that “you never know who will walk through the door”. It could be a high-profile recruit, a player’s parent, or the Athletic Director that randomly walks in. At all times we prepared such that we were represented well in our appearance and behavior, and at various times this situation arose and everything was okay because we had prepared. But, it was a rare occurrence.
However, it was our facility. We shared the weight room with the women’s basketball team and that was it. Because of our scheduling, just about all of the time we were not even in the building at the same time as the women. So, while we prepared for anybody to come through at any moment, it was largely our world. Our facility was across a highway from the rest of campus. Nobody came there unless they meant to, and in that event we likely knew about it.
At Rice, our Athletic Director runs on the treadmill in our weight room just about every day. I’m serious. Just think – are you prepared (and have you prepared) to do your job with the Athletic Director literally in the room with you?
This is my reality. Our administration is smaller. Fewer people cover all the normal responsibilities of any other athletic department. Their offices are just down the hall from mine. If we play the music loudly in the weight room, they can hear it. They know my name and my responsibilities. There is no hiding, and I think this is a positive. It has forced me to evaluate every word I say and every move I make. Because our weight room is shared, I am frequently not the only team lifting. Sometimes there are a few other athletes, sometimes there’s an entire team. Sometimes another team may bring a recruit through. Such is life for the majority of coaches across the country, but depending on your school, you may have varying levels of transparency.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t ever get upset with my athletes. Sometimes I raise my voice to get a point across or when I feel like one of my guys could use some extra fire. But things change when so many members of the administration can actually hear what you are saying. It has helped me to assess the manner in which I address my athletes at all times. One thing I learned is that I’m more likely to be offensive when we are having a great day, not the other way around. What can I say? I get excited. Where I am now though it is imperative that I be mindful of who is in the room and who might be listening – and that’s a good thing.
I used to be one member of a large team. From the nutrition staff to sport scientists, basketball team managers and graduate assistants, there were hands everywhere to get the job done. Moreover, on the strength and conditioning side alone, I was an assistant under someone’s direction, and we also had two interns. All in all, plenty of people around to get things done.
Things are a little different now. First and foremost the important concept is that even though we are smaller, the expectations for a college basketball program remain the same, or at least they do where I am. I played and have worked at the high school and DIII level where resources are limited, but clearly the expectation is different, alleviating some of the challenge. *Please do not take this to mean that at the high school or DIII level coaches do not expect quality work and winning effort. That is not my intention. I’m simply speaking of the expectations of time and energy allocation of the strength & conditioning coach, which is more thinly spread at the high school and DIII levels. So, while we don’t have the same number of people, the same level of quality is expected. Great, I love attacking challenges. Here’s the difference:
I assist in all operations of the program. In many ways I feel like an assistant to our Director of Operations. He is the hardest working person in our program and most of the time we are helping each other to get something done. This also includes our video coordinator. We simply don’t have the number of GAs, managers and interns around to accomplish everything that you do at a major program. Don’t get me wrong, we have a few that are able to pitch in when they can, but it’s simply different. Most importantly, it’s a two way street. Because I don’t have any direct assistance, I need help… a lot. By investing my time and energy in helping our operations staff, I get the same thing in return when I need help.
Here’s the other major difference: We just began conference play. I am micro-dosing our athletes in season which is fantastic (and a different article altogether). Even with a lift every day I would still estimate that about 80-90% of my time is currently occupied by nutrition.
We don’t have a training table (strictly speaking), so I am responsible for as much of our nutrition as our budget allows, which in my case is a fair amount. I actually love this. I get to be as hands on as possible with what my players are eating (or at least what I can reasonably control within the rules). I also have the benefit of working with some very intelligent and driven athletes who have been very receptive to basic nutrition education and continue to expand their knowledge of how to properly care for their body. However, I was completely unaware that it would take over my life the way it has.
Our snacks, meals, recovery shakes, etc. all obviously get stepped up a notch when travel comes into play, and our conference schedule has us traveling on Wednesdays to play on Thursdays, and then directly to our next site for a Saturday game and a return flight on Sunday. That’s a lot of travel meals and snacks to consider.
Compounding the challenge is the fact that we fly commercial. At a Power 5 or some of the larger mid-major programs, charter flights are a game changer (as anyone who has experienced it can attest). No longer do I have the ability to simply pack up whatever I need and throw it under a plane. I need to get creative and figure out how to find water and proper nutrition on the road, not just for one night, but for multiple days at a time. I have found that, as obvious as it sounds, the more planning I do ahead of time, the better. Also (say it with me), invest in people. The developed relationships with the rest of my staff go a long way in acquiring whatever I need whether we are at home or on the road.
Hopefully this is obvious, but your athletes are going to be different. Don’t walk in with any assumptions. I made more mistakes than I can count based on assumptions about what my athletes could do or couldn’t do, as well as my understanding of their daily life. Each school is different, each program is different. This is simple. Spend as much time as you possibly can with your players before you lay out your plans. Ask them questions. Learn about them. Their training history, injury history, personal lives, etc.
For instance, the finals week on the academic calendar may not be when the players actually take finals. No way to learn that without talking to them.
I don’t know much, but I do know that ultimately there are challenges no matter where you go. I have been incredibly lucky to land in some great spots with fantastic people around me to help address any and everything to help the program. For me, that’s what this comes down to, no matter where you are – invest in the people. The most important time I have spent since arriving at Rice is not the time programming, booking catering or stocking water. It’s the time spent with people, and not just because they can help me when I need it, but more importantly because if you ask me, that’s why we do this – for the relationships we build with players, coaches, administrators, ATCs, etc. that last a lifetime.
This is where I am as I come close to finishing my first year at Rice. If this helps just one coach out there then I’ll take it as a win. As a closing, there is a lot of talk in Strength & Conditioning about helping one another, and I did just write an entire article based around the idea of investing in people. As such, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I’m making it my mission to be one of the guys that actually answers the call/email.
Who is Sean Brown?
Sean Brown is in his first year as Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Rice Men’s Basketball team. He comes to Rice from The University of Texas at Austin, where he spent the last two years working directly with Men’s Basketball.
In his current role, Brown is responsible for all year-round strength & conditioning aspects of the Men’s Basketball and Men’s Golf programs at Rice.
Prior to Rice, in 2016-17 he served as an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at The University of Texas at Austin, working directly with Men’s Basketball under the guidance of Director of Basketball Performance, Daniel Roose. Brown was hired into that role after serving as a Men’s Basketball Strength & Conditioning Intern during the 2015-16 season.
He also has held volunteer/internship positions with Southwestern University where he worked with football, volleyball, basketball, swim & dive and soccer, as well as University of Texas Athletic Performance.
Brown is a Strength & Conditioning Coach Certified through the Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association, as well as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He earned his B.A. in English from The University of Mary Washington in 2009, and an M.Ed. in Kinesiology – Sport Sciences & Nutrition from The University of Texas at Austin in 2016.
A native of Fairfax, VA, Brown lives in Houston with his wife, Kate.
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