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Are You Feeling Like the Middle Child? 3 Ways to Take Your Coaching From Good to Great

May 31, 2020

If you're a not so new coach struggling to find your place, this blog is for you. Find out how to leverage your personal experiences to make an impact and go from good to great. 

By Steve Banh

When first approached about writing for Rebel Performance, my first thought was “oh shit”. What could I possibly offer up to a community of educated meatheads who eat, sleep, and breath all things performance? Kettlebells? Speed development? Conditioning? After some reflection, the answer came to me while taking a shower (as all good answers do) - The Middle Child. Yes, the song from rapper J. Cole, who is recognized as one of the best hip hop artists of his generation and has drawn many comparisons to the legendary Nas. Coincidentally, both are in my personal top five and are known for their ability as great storytellers. 

But why The Middle Child? In summary, the song reflects on his career and how he recognizes he’s pretty damn good, but continues to struggle with his own self esteem and he where fits in among the greats. The song just clicked with me. I am a “Middle Child” of the industry and many of you may be floating on a similar floatation device.

“To the OGs, I'm thankin' you now

Was watchin' you when you was pavin' the ground

I copied your cadence, I mirrored your style

I studied the greats, I'm the greatest right now”

I have been coaching for about eight years now. It’s not a lot, but at the same time it’s not a little. Sound familiar? You are not the young kid on the block anymore, yet you are not the alpha of the pack. You would like to establish your voice, but you are not necessarily sure where your voice will provide value. How can you provide value when there’s seemingly already fifty other coaches talking about the expansion and compression strategies of differing squat variations?

Growing Pains

You have been doing our best to sharpen your knives by seeking mentorships, internships and other learning opportunities. From each opportunity you fail, you also grow and learn how to apply your knowledge to your specific situation. There’s a pretty good chance you have already slammed your heads against the wall more than once, because you thought you had everything figured out. You know...“If you do A and then B, you will get to C!” Only for you to somehow arrive at X? 

We have also attempted to mimic those we hold in high regard and from again our own failures, slam our heads against the wall. Yet as you mature and learn, you realize failure is not so bad, if anything it is a learning experience. And so from each experience, a lesson you evolve from. 

You continue to improve our working model and flawed as it may be, you continue to tweak, improve and make it better. In fact, if you listen to many of our industries’ leaders, they have done the same thing. Just more times than you have and probably at a level of efficiency you are currently working to achieve. 

When the Student Becomes the Teacher

“I studied the greats, I'm the greatest right now”

The braggadocio of being the greatest is a big stretch, so I won’t go there, but the previous part of the line clicks with me. You have no doubt studied the best practitioners out there and piece by piece have worked on developing your craft. You have a more refined “coach’s eye” and the wisdom to be able to say a lot with few words. 

At a certain point in your career, those with less experience will seek you out for guidance. 

I know for me, the first time it happened I just kind of tilted my head to the side and blankly stared for a second (kind of like Homer Simpson’s blank face stare). Yet, it did hit me at that moment, “Hey, this might happen again and I do want to help.” So how do you provide direction for the younger generation? You have obviously done something well enough to elicit a positive response and effect. I believe we are doing the industry a disservice by leaving them to their own devices. The little push you give them could be all they need to take their next big step.

“I'm dead in the middle of two generations

I'm little bro and big bro all at once”

You are beginning to see a paradigm shift. I would argue for the better. When I was just starting to dive into continuing education back in my early twenties, I noticed you had two distinct groups of strength and conditioning professionals that wandered the planet. It was almost like Bruce Banner and the Hulk. You had the “We are going to focus on evidence based everything, no weight until you can control your body weight,” and the, “All of that is malarkey, I’m going to powerbomb that nerd into the table, let’s- crush-weights” crowd. It was difficult as a young coach to navigate those murky waters. 

Fast forward to 2020, we have Smart Hulks, lots of them. Cerebral and deadly, they will drop knowledge bombs on you and then immediately proceed to dropping a powerbomb on you. In reference to the verse, we are living through this shift. Younger coaches coming out of school right now won’t remember those years. 

We Can Coexist: It Starts With You

From my own experience, it was frustrating to attend one seminar to be taught one thing, immediately to have another seminar counter the previous one. It got me thinking, “Sheesh, both sides have good principles and concepts, how can they not coexist?” Fast forward, we realized that principles from both can co coexist. Many of who I feel are current leaders of the profession have been providing us a better direction. A deeper understanding of biomechanics and our body's structures can truly complement our training without turning it into a balloon animal contest. As the “Middle Child,” you have to keep improving on the systems and models that are currently being presented and provided to you.

So, how can you help? Your effect does not need to be large. It can get larger if you want or you can be happy keeping it small. Helping one person will keep the wheel rolling. Many others are already doing it, but I encourage you to do the same. Here are some options to consider...

1. Start Local

Keep it local and connect with the community. There are plenty of organizations related to the fitness industry (restaurants, small shops, etc), I have been surprised numerous times at who I meet and connect with through these related areas. Local colleges are also a great option. See if they have undergraduate programs related to the field. Once again, you may be surprised how many college professors are looking for speakers they could bring in to cover some class time. Link up with local school districts and see if they are providing internship opportunities to students. Just keep in mind, with school districts you may need further background clearances. Yet, if none of that is your cup of tea, no big deal.

2. Share What You Do Know

Social media, writing blog posts, and making videos are all easy ways as well to share your knowledge and experiences. Many before me have reiterated the importance of teaching when it comes to your own personal development. Explaining a concept, allows you to poke holes in your own explanations and where you are still not understanding a concept. Teaching someone can be one of the best ways to solidify knowledge. Sometimes all a person needs is to hear or read about a certain topic from a different perspective and the light bulb will go on for them. From my own learning experience, I find it very valuable when I am trying to grasp a new concept to read or listen from varying voices and to then go back to the source (infrasternal angles anyone?).

While this is an easy way to share your experiences, I have had some of my own doubts on what to post or write about (case in point my struggle with what to write about up until this article) I have often asked myself “Isn’t this the same thing as someone already said? Didn’t someone already blog about this? What are coaches I respect going to think about it?” At the end of the day, someone will see it and probably appreciate you for helping them connect the dots in their own personal development. Chances are, it has already been said, but not by you. 

3. Mentor A Younger Coach

Take a young coach under your wing. Be that person that they can safely go to, to ask questions, bounce ideas off of and allow them to safely fail (it’s good to fail big too occasionally). Many coaches entering into the industry, often are flying blind. Give back, pay it forward. Many organizations are already offering highly structured curriculum, but sometimes keeping it relaxed and less organized is not a bad thing. This is also a great opportunity for you to continue to refine your own model and question your current practices. Mentoring is one of the best ways to not let your blade become dull.

You Do Have Something to Offer

Your experience is valuable. There are always doubts, but the profession will benefit from your failures, your lessons, your wisdom and your guidance. There are constantly newer, eager, younger coaches arriving in the industry and they will need someone to ask a question or in search of a mentor. There are more numbers in the “Middle Child” rankings than those that have come before us. We can be a bridge and a medium for these coaches to improve their tool box. If you aren’t willing to provide your wisdom, who will? 

About the Author

Steve currently serves as a high school coach (Sports Performance, Asst Track & Field & Wrestling) and history teacher in beautiful Lancaster, PA. By day, he is dropping history knowledge in class and during his after-hours he can be seen in the weight room, the track, the wrestling room or the turf helping student athletes become their best selves. Outside of school, he also serves adults trying to keep their weekend warrior skills up to speed. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, fiancé, loaf of a dog, training to keep up with his students, food and naps. Steve holds his B.A. in Secondary Ed. Social Studies, M.Ed in Sports Administration and finalizing his Phys. Ed certification. To learn more, visit his Instagram @banh_sc or email at sbanh90@gmail.com.

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