We live in a data-driven society.
People want to find knowledge in numbers to ensure they're making the right decisions.
In strength and conditioning, data is an important part of the job. We often use assessment data to plan an individual's training approach, sport-specific injury data to target correctives for a team, and volume-load data to ensure we're doing the right amount of training.
But as a strength and conditioning coach, I believe there's one statistic that matters most for long-term athletic development.
It's not a certain amount of weight that needs to be lifted or a 40-Yard Dash time that should be achieved. It's not about points per game or how many inches they can vertical jump.
For me, the single-most important statistic for athletes hoping to develop through training is attendance.
Consistency wins. It always has. If you want to see legitimate progress through your training, you've got to commit to it.
On the coaching side, many of us research periodization models and the best methods to make our athletes run faster, jump higher and be more resilient.
But how much time do we think about creating an atmosphere in the gym that helps our athletes actually want to be there?
I don't care how great your programming is—if the kids aren't consistently there to execute it, their development won't be very impressive.
I've found four keys that've helped me increase buy-in tremendously and led to greater attendance from my athletes.
1. Embrace 'Why'
Sorry, but "because I told you so" isn't an explanation that works for many modern kids.
Explaining why we may be doing certain drills or exercises can absolutely build buy-in and commitment. You don't need to wait for them to ask, either.
It gives you a chance to build trust, display your expertise and educate your athletes on the importance of each session.
When they start thinking about training not just as "lifting weights" but as a way to make them more dominant at their sport and increase their odds of their winning, they tend to get more invested.
2. Build Personal Relationships
Kids like to work hard when they feel their coach cares about them.
A great strength and conditioning coach knows more than just their athletes' one-rep maxes.
Take the time to learn about each individual who steps inside your gym or weight room.
Questions as simple as, "What did you do this weekend?" or "How was school today?" can break the ice and lead to some meaningful connections.
If an athlete learns how much you care about them and their success, they're more likely to make training a priority.
3. Be Flexible
Giving your athletes some flexibility on when and how they're able to train can increase attendance dramatically.
Young athletes have extremely demanding schedules. Most of them are running on insufficient sleep. They've got sports, school, social and family obligations all on their plate.
Asking questions as simple as, "How are you feeling today?" can give you insight into their current physical and mental state and what else they might have going on.
Say you've got a tough session scheduled for that day. A basketball player comes in who just played multiple games in a span of a couple days, and they're feeling worn down.
If you ignore their current state and order them to complete the full workout, they make think twice about showing up the next time they're tired. But if you work with them to find a workout that might be a bit lower in volume, it's a win for both of you.
You still want them to stick to your program when they can (or something very close to it), but proving you are willing to be flexible lets athletes know they can show up no matter what and still accomplish something.
4. Make Hard Work Fun
Not every athlete will love the grind as much as we do as coaches—not yet, anyway.
So how do we make working hard fun?
Every day, we can bring positive energy, we can play music the athletes enjoy, and we can consistently track their progress and point out improvement.
Getting stronger and faster is ALWAYS fun!
When things may start to get stale, incorporate some competition, or let the athletes choose the workout for the day. You may be surprised how much fun they have with it.
It's these little things that can help develop an affinity for training and hard work which will stick with our athletes for a lifetime.
Think about a coach who represents the inverse of these points I just covered.
When asked why, they respond, "because I told you so." They don't connect with the athletes who come into their gym or weight room on a personal level. They're inflexible and have a "my way or the highway" attitude, and they don't believe hard work can also be fun.
Does that sound like a coach many young athletes would be interested in spending time with?
There will always be that handful of kids who quickly fall in love with the weight room and who rarely miss a workout. But how do we reach the other 80-90%?
We embrace telling our athletes why we're training the way we're training. We build personal relationships with them and foster trust. We're willing to be flexible and find solutions. And we find ways to make hard work fun.
Photo Credit: miflippo/iStock
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