Wednesday, 28 June 2017

A Decade of Training Athletes: My perspective

Mack Warren
(Wellington Dukes - OJHL /
Owen Sound Attack Draft Pick -OHL)
It's been a decade since I started working with athletes full time.  I can't believe that much time has gone by!  Within those years, I've been able to accomplish every goal I wanted to achieve working with athletes, as their Fitness & Conditioning Coach, and then some. But as my career continues to evolve, my goals and direction change paths to stay aligned with my passions and the point in my life, that I'm at. 

After 10 years, I've grown out of it. I'm onto a new chapter in my life, and therefore, my business naturally shifts with it. I'm sure I will always have a few athletes I will work with at various times. However, my passion has turned towards the everyday people and my general clients

Granted I'm still a sports fanatic (and always will be), but in working with athletes, parents, coaches and teams over the years, I've learned that it takes a certain kind of person to work in that "world" long term.  It's a different world, that's for sure.  You have to be a passionate sports person (fan and professional) and put your heart into it, while at the same time not letting your heart get in the way of your work. 

A Decade of Lessons - my perspective:

Athletes, Coaches (and their parents) have one thing in mind - NOW.  My approach with my athletes over the years has always been the same;  have their overall, long term health in mind. Teach them how to be healthy, not only to benefit their performance now, but to how to take care of their mind and body in their life after sports.  For sure, some get that concept and are receptive, but many are not. After a decade, I've seen athletes mature and become very successful in and away from their sport. Those ones "got it".
On the other hand, I watch my general clients while they journey through their weeks, months and years taking care of their family, paying bills, going to work etc.. and working to find a healthy balance. I was ok with teaching athletes this for so many years, but now where I am in my life, I understand more where the everyday client's mind is with trying to find the work-life-health balance. So passion and drive naturally has gone in that direction. 

I loved setting the foundation for athletes. When I first graduated college, and a couple years into my career, my long term goal was to work with a professional sports team as their Conditioning Coach.  Then reality set in, and all the factors I would have to consider came into play; 
-I'd have to live in a big city more than likely (I'm a small town country guy)
-I'd have to move my family
-I'd have to travel a lot (I'm not a big traveller)
-It's not a secure job
-I'd need additional schooling....

I spent a short time lost, in terms of where I should be aiming with training athletes after realizing all these life factors.  But once I started working with local athletes (amateur to pro), and in particular a lot of junior hockey players, I realized that my passion was setting the foundation for these young men and women.  Being the coach who prepared them for the next level and allowed them to advance more quickly with their Conditioning Coach at the next level. I loved it.

You have to be able to care - but let go. 

Hanna Bunton (Cornell University -
NCAA Women's Hockey /
U18 Team Canada World Championship Gold Medalist)
& Nathan Moon (Elmira Jackals - ECHL /
 Pittsburgh Penguins Draft Pick - NHL)
This was the part I hated most about working with athletes over the years.  As a person and Fitness Coach, I like working with people. I like being with people; sharing stories, coaching them, laughing with them, sharing successes and failures with them on their journey to their goals.  I genuinely care for my clients.  Athletes are no exception. However, when working with athletes.... they grow up and move on.  Whether they get older and start working so they don't have time to train, or they move away to school, or they move on to the next level and new Conditioning Coach..... It didn't matter the reason, it was hard for me.  Some of my athletes I worked with as long as 8 years, and suddenly... they're gone.  I watched these kids grow up and do amazing things in their sport (and outside their sport) and then they disappear into adulthood. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to work with them and watch them go, without it hitting you in the heart. I've learned, that's just not me. 

I don't like the inner workings of hockey teams.  This goes along with my comment of it taking a certain kind of person to work with athletes.  I learned over the years, that I am a sports fan through and through, and that being behind the scenes with teams (although it brought a lot of great memories and experiences) it also brought some disappointing ones. The hockey world is a cruel and shady place at times.  Bottom line is, it's a business (and I hate that side of sports at any level). The way I heard players being spoken of while working with junior hockey teams, is just not for me.
You grow up watching local junior hockey and always wondering...
-What's happening behind the scenes?
-What are the players thinking or talking about at certain moments?
-What's being said on the benches or during the pre-game talk
- What goes on in that world?
Granted, I loved talking with players about the game the night before and getting their views of how things are going or what they thought about a play that happened last game, but I hated the business side of itI found that whenever that came up, it just took my heart right out of the game.  For me, it
was best to leave it to my imagination as a fan and wonder what the world is like behind the scenes, rather than learn how cruel it can be (no matter what level).
I'm a guy who enjoys people and like when people feel good and are happy - not when they're treated or spoke of like a number or a piece of junk. It's just not for me anymore.  

It's a different world they live in. Sort of along the lines of my last thought, athletes live in a different world.  Granted I've worked with some incredible human beings in and out of their sport; smart, respectful, hard working, high performer.... amazing athletes and people. But I've also seen (more often) athletes who have no concept of reality at all.  All they know how to do well is play their sport.  Responsibility doesn't exist for them. Even within their sport. Kids today can't even tell you half the time when their next game is, what time it starts and where they even play! Sad but true.   They wait for the Coach or Mom and Dad to tell them and they just go.
This was part of my work to always do what I can to teach them skills not only for their performance but for life in general.  Easier said than done. Some responded well to that. Others not so much. I would just get blank stares sometimes. HAHA!  Some athletes didn't have to get a job before college/university because it would interfere with their sport.  For some, it made sense, but for most, it really only set them back I felt. Some athletes get that they have to work for success, and it takes effort away from their sport as well to be successful in life. Others think that everything in life is handed to them, and it was sad to see them slide backward rather than forward. 

Megan Quinn (Syracuse University -NCAA Women's Hockey /
U18 National Gold Medalist)
Athletes are respectful people when they need to be. In all the years I've worked with my athletes, I can't remember one time where I was ever disrespected by my athletes.  Athletes show respect and know when to show it, I feel.  Regardless of whether they were AAA, OJHL, OHL, ECHL, NCAA, NHL... I was never disrespected.  I admire that in my athletes and thank every single one of them. 

2015-2016 Trenton Golden Hawks (OJHL)
Buckland Cup Champions
Dudley Hewitt Cup Champions
RBC Cup Semi-finalists

The 2015-2016 Trenton Golden Hawks in particular (yes the whole team) had an amazing respect level for all the staff.  A large part was the culture that was created at the rink - respect was a must or you were out the door. Those young men acted incredibly professionally and their season spoke to that, losing out in the semi finals of the RBC Cup National Championships.

Parents want the "magic bullet".  I've dealt with some wonderful parents over the years. My goal was always to have a connection between the parents and I, as well as my athletes.  If everyone was on the same page in terms of how we're progressing the athlete, habits we need to work on away from the gym etc... that athlete would increase his/her chances of success immensely.  I can think of some parents-athlete combos who really took to this. These were the most successful ones not just in sport, but life as well.
Unfortunately, I dealt with parents at times who would pay me to help their child perform better in their sport, but then not take my advice or not do their part in helping their child (nutrition at home, tournament day habits etc...).  There is nothing more frustrating to deal with parents who think the act of paying for their child's Fitness Coach will somehow magically make their child a superstar athlete. The sad part is, that attitude can filter down to the child as well and impact his/her work ethic as well.

I don't want to paint a negative picture of the last 10-years, as I wouldn't trade it in for the world and I'm proud of those I've worked with and what I've accomplished. But, as with everything in life, there are positives and negatives, time changes and careers evolve to bring new chapters and exciting journeys.

I'm hoping that athletes and parents have/will read this with an open mind to really think about their attitude towards their respective sport and training.  Very few get through to the professional ranks, so the best bet is to prepare mentally and physically, with health and well-being as your priority for life after your sport.  Healthy lifestyle habits first - Sport second. 


One more (personal) lesson.... 

Work hard, be passionate and good things will happen.  Good things and memorable ones at that, can happen to those who just put their head down, and work for it.  I had many of those times during my decade in sports conditioning;  

-Working behind the scenes with the Belleville Bulls in the OHL (Whom I grew up watching year after year)
-Designing their off-season conditioning manual 
-Working with National level Gold Medalists 
-Being named to Hockey Canada's Regional Trainer's list in 2013
-Working with professional athletes and being part of some of the journeys from Junior hockey to the big leagues
-Being the Fitness Coach on staff with the Trenton Golden Hawks Jr. A hockey club for 2-season (whom I grew up watching year after year during the Trenton Sting era)

... just to name a few.  And to be able to do it all here in Quinte where I grew up, where I am raisin my family and where my wife and I run our businesses has truly been a blessing.

Tyler Donaldson
(Trenton Golden Hawks 2014-2015 team Captain)
Long time client.
 Presenting me with a surprise gift when Living Energy did it's expansion in 2015

An end note...... 

My current direction of "Shift the Focus" has evolved from the above lessons I learned.  
We all have so much illness, death and unhealthy habits surrounding us DAILY that I want to help coach people to remind them, that without a solid foundation of HEALTH, we truly have nothing. 

This is Living Energy's next chapter.

 To all my athletes past and present, all those who supported me, taught me solid lessons and made my 10-years as a Conditioning Coach mean so much....