The relationship between a strength coach and a sport coach can be tenuous, especially when one is new to the team. The solution is to build trust, communicate well, and never stop collaborating.

By Dr. Terry Favero and David McHenry, PT, DPT, COMT

The championship is won, and the head coach stands at the podium, accepting the trophy and thanking a list of people who have had a significant effect on the team’s success. That list usually includes assistant coaches, administrators, and other program personnel. Increasingly, however, the team’s strength and conditioning coach is among those recognized.

For those who work in a weight room every day, a sport coach thanking the strength coach is a no-brainer. It’s obvious that a well-developed strength and conditioning program can turn a good team into a great one. Therefore, the relationship should be straightforward. As the expert on strength and conditioning, the sport coach should give you free rein to develop the athletes off the field.

This is rare, however, especially when either coach is new to the program. Sport coaches are often reluctant to turn over control of the strength and conditioning plan to someone new or unfamiliar.

Getting from an introductory hand- shake to acknowledgement on the podium takes a lot of work outside the weight room. And much of this effort is centered on one task: developing a relationship with the sport coach. If you can’t make that happen, your expertise will never be put to full use.

There’s more than one way to build these relationships. Terry began working with the University of Portland women’s soccer team more than 20 years ago after a few players asked him to organize their summer training regimen. Since he was a full-time faculty member with no soccer-playing experience, the reaction from the team’s head coach was somewhat skeptical. But by showing he was dedicated to learning about the sport and could produce results, Terry laid the groundwork for a positive working relationship.

In David’s case, he had already been a physical therapist with the Nike Oregon Project for a number of years when legendary distance running coach Alberto Salazar asked him to take on the joint role of Lead Physical Therapist and Head Strength and Conditioning Coach in 2011. Because David was already familiar with the existing training program, he decided to continue it instead of incorporating radical changes immediately. As his relationship with Coach Salazar grew over time, David became more comfortable making incremental adaptations, and Coach Salazar was more confident in David’s ability.

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