“They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”, were the famous words of Benjamin Franklin.  I know these words were not originally intended for athletics, but I think they hold true for any position of authority, and coaching is no different.

I see a lot of articles and books discussing reps, sets, exercises and program design, but not on handling the athletes. I remember the first time I heard legendary Strength Coach Al Vermeil speak back years ago in Salt Lake City. It was my first strength conference, and I was just a green graduate assistant.

My then new boss and college strength coach ”Robb Rogers” leaned over to me that night at dinner and informed me I was coming with him the next morning to listen and meet Coach Vermeil. I must say, I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t want to go listen to that old guy. What did he know about training I said? I want to go listen to the bench press guy, he incorporates boards and chains and before I could get it all the way out Robb said “you’re coming with me.”

That morning Robb introduced me to Coach Vermeil, and I was amazed. He was just full of priceless knowledge.  I still remember him saying “Coaching is as much an art as is a science. You can have the fanciest workout card, and top of the line equipment, but all that doesn’t mean a damn thing if the kids don’t buy into you.”  Ten years later I can’t agree more with Coaches statement.  I want to give 5 tips on the art of coaching, which have nothing to with reps or sets to help you connect with your athletes.


One of the fastest ways to winning over your athletes is looking the part, and remember, perception is reality.  I am not saying you have to look like Ronnie Coleman, but athletes need to know you train.  There is nothing wrong with letting them see you strain and sweat.

One of my favorite ways to get to know the guys is train with them during non-peak times of the year, or if a guy has a schedule conflict and has to come in at odd hour.  Be a role model and demonstrate the same work ethic and dedication that you expect from your athletes.


This is a major flaw by coaches, don’t treat them like number on card.  Get to personally know your athletes. Call them into your office for chat or hang out on the floor with the guys before the training session starts.  For example, you’re in season and it’s squat day… Couple of guys have class from 6:50am – 1:20pm, barely had time to grab lunch, and have been slumped over a desk for over six hours.   That may not be the best day to squat them.

In my opinion some sort of split single leg exercise may be better option for those athletes on that day.   Just move their bilateral lift to the next lifting day or maybe even arrange for them to lift the next day.  So just because the program calls for a particular lift or weight, doesn’t mean you are a slave to the card.  Knowing what’s going on in your athlete’s life will help you become a better coach.  I always say write your workouts in pencil not pen.


Most guys will welcome and embrace structure, once they see you care and want the best for them.  From day one the law of the land has to be laid out, if not you will never have control.  This does not mean degrading and verbally abusing a kid.  It means teach and educate them on how you want things done.  You can’t depend on 18 – 23 year old kids to create the environment.  That’s our jobs.  As strength coaches we are around the kids 12 months a year, and can have great impact on their growth as a young man.


I want to be honest on this one.  I have no desire to help someone who has no desire to better themselves.  With that said, I will do anything and everything I can to help my athletes that have one ounce of good in them.  You never know how you can change a kid’s outcome, and that’s why we all got into this coaching in the first place.  Going the extra mile is as easy as sending text messages.

I send around 10 text messages a day, every two – three hours to my weight gain athletes simply stating one thing “EAT!” Other things like trips to the grocery store with athletes to show them how to eat, copy motivating quotes and placing them in guys lockers, having open door/phone policies meaning my guys know they can call or come by and see me anytime they need something.  For example, guys text me all the time with pictures of food asking for my thoughts.


Honesty is huge with me.  I will always be honest with my athletes and I expect the same from them.  One thing I have never been big on, and to be blunt is “bull shit my athletes.”  I will not tell them they are doing fine then talk bad about them to a coach.  I want them to know exactly how I feel. You want to lose your athletes, be two-faced with them.  If you think one of your guys has had a productive off-season and demonstrated leadership qualities.  Stand on the table for them, because we all know coaches have their favorites.  Always remember guys will work for you if you fight for them.

Jason Spray

Jason Spray MS, CSCS, SCCC, USAW, a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (NSCA), Strength Conditioning Coach Certified (CSCCa),USA Weightlifting Club Coach, Functional Movement Specialist Certified (FMS) and National Association of Speed and Explosion (NASE), Certified Physical Therapy Aide and has been nominated for the 2011 Assistant Strength Coach of The Year by the NSCA. Coach Spray has been a Strength & Conditioning Coach at the collegiate level since 2002. Spray is currently employed at Middle Tennessee State University, and serves as director of Strength and Conditioning for the Men’s basketball program. Coach Spray is also the assistant director of strength and conditioning for football, and aids in day-to-day physical and nutritional development. Coach Spray is an expert contributor for STACK magazine, and has been featured in Premier Players, also is Brand Ambassador and spokesman for Team Fast Fuel with RSP Nutrition. Coach Spray has trained a variety of athletes ranging from high school to the professional and Olympic levels. Follow Coach Spray @jasonspray - twitter or visit his website,

One thought on “BEYOND SETS AND REPS

  • September 23, 2011 at 5:35 am

    Great tips Jason! Most coaches and trainers could pick up some good advice in your article.


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