Comfort Zones are Death Zones


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Well, here we are. This is going into my seventh year in strength and conditioning. In this time period, I’ve been to seven different schools and had 11 different positions. I’ve been promoted from within four times out of my seven jobs (batting at an over 50 percent promotion rate) and have been promoted to a director position (interim or full-time) two of those four times.

Now, all of that is just a way for me to lay the groundwork for this article. I promise it’s not to brag about myself. Those stats are just for the haters… just kidding! I want to illustrate the point that in seven years of doing this, I’ve had an uncommon journey thus far. And it starts with a conversation I was having the other day with a peer of mine.


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I had been talking with a fellow peer about the youth of our industry and about their hesitation to take the next steps in the process of their career. Now, I can’t speak a blanket statement for every young strength coach, but I am finding, over and over again, a group of comfort-seekers. Now, I know, I know my resume looks like a map drawn by a three-year-old, but let me point this out. If I had never been to so many places, I would have never diversified and honed my craft. How does any organism change? By introducing a new stressor to it. If we just stay in the same spot and never encounter new experiences, then we never grow. If we don’t allow our minds to think past what we’ve always done, we will be what we’ve always been. Comfort zones are death zones in terms of evolution of the mind.

Road to the big world.

 Vera Kudryashova © 123rf.com

Let’s look at this example. Now, I’ve never been a fan of basic linear periodization for all athletes. Do some need it? Heck yeah! Someone who isn’t as far along in their strength/physical development does benefit from it — that’s been shown. But I would bet my bottom dollar that no one with experience in the world of strength and conditioning would agree that it is the most effective means for every single college athlete. Now that I’ve said the statement, I’m not a fan of basic linear for all athletes. Where have I collected the information to make me think that statement is true? From my different experiences. I’ve seen basic linear work for some and fail for others. I’ve also seen an undulated model work great for a bunch of different athletes but have never seen it run for a whole year, so the evidence is incomplete. Point being, had I been in one tree or system my entire career, I wouldn’t know any of this information.

Someone asked me the other day, “What has prepared you best for being a head guy?” and I said it was the leadership of my mentors. I have a strong personality and a strong will. I am the human equivalent to a German Shepherd. I need a strong, caring leader for me to be a willingly loyal follower. Thankfully, in my career, I’ve had strong, caring leaders who have taught me that it’s not all about the X’s and O’s. Management and leadership are the most important qualities of any successful business. That isn’t something I always knew, but something I’ve learned as I’ve gone through my career and been around different coaches. It’s something that may have never been instilled in me had I never gotten out and had other experiences outside of my first internship or graduate assistantship.

Fortune favors the bold, and boy, have I been bold. Right now, if you look at me, I look like I’ve established some sort of success (whatever that means). I’m a director again (thank you, God), and I’m in a great place with a great support system and the best supervisor in the nation.

Quick detour: What makes my new boss awesome is that she challenges, empowers, and believes in me. And I love the situation I’m in. But let me tell you what, I didn’t get to where I’m at without countless amounts of personal and professional failures. At 25 years old, I turned down a power-five job off of sheer arrogance; at 26, I walked away from a director job out of spite. And there’s been countless other things that I have either forgotten or tried to forget. But if you aren’t failing, you aren’t attempting something big enough.


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And as we talk about failing and being bold I will say: Do not be afraid to admit your failures or try something new because you may fail. I was talking to a different colleague the other day, and we laughed about sometimes we mess up and just openly admit it to our athletes. It’s OK to admit you messed up or you’re changing something you don’t like. Accepting criticism comes with being in a new system at a new school. I think a big part of why younger strength coaches seem so unwilling to take career risks is because they are, in fact, utterly terrified to fail. I promise you, there is good in every bad and something great to be gained in failure. So take the calculated risks. Go grow, go be great, go fail, go forward, and do not stay in the same spot forever.

The new position I have as the director of strength and conditioning is a rather large position. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back but to illustrate a point. There’s a lot of management, meetings, set-up, preparation, and administrative duties that come along with it. That is something I could have never handled at 23 while having a good work-life balance and being a good husband. Having been at different places and having a multitude of different experiences, I know now how to do this. I’ve seen it done by watching how different bosses have managed situations and because I’ve done it one time before myself. I know what’s important, what’s urgent, and what’s both important and urgent. I have a better understanding of time management and work-life balance.

I can confidently say I would have had none of that without putting myself in different situations throughout my career. Staying put and waiting for someone to leave isn’t always the most beneficial way of upward trajectory for the long term. Sure, short-term gains are imminent as chances are — if you wait somewhere long enough, you’ll get the chance to move up.

But the questions I pose to you are: Will you really be transforming as a strength coach waiting in line like a sheep only having ever been in one system? What is more beneficial: staying put in one system or diversifying yourself across multiple ones? I find those who are in one system for too long become like mindless drones… What I mean by that is they become robots without the ability to critically think. Go on an adventure and find a better way of doing something each and every year because what works at State School A isn’t exactly what will work at State School B. And don’t fall under the guise of your program is what won the game.

Let’s recap what we learned today: Staying put at a young age may get you a job but doesn’t necessarily make you a better strength coach; exploration and growth are two of many parts (in my mind) of the keys to success in this industry; and if you aren’t evolving, you are getting passed up on the proverbial evolutionary chain.

I also want to add this extra tidbit… just because you are moving up the chain doesn’t mean you aren’t “being where your feet are at.” I’ve been told a lot to “be where my feet are,” but as humans, our feet are meant to move us forward, not to keep us at a standstill. I now know after years of roaming that I am ready to sit down and stay put, but had I always just “been where my feet are,” I would’ve never traveled to southern Georgia and found my permanent home. I would have always been wondering, “What else is out there?” or “What would this experience be like?”


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I now know from my different experiences what is important to me, what I want in a working situation, what I want in a boss and most importantly what I don’t want in a job that I’m in. I’ve always “been where my feet are at” by giving my absolute best to any situation I’m in no matter what it is. A conference championship, bowl eligibility for the first time in years, one of the biggest turnarounds in NCAA history… these are just a few examples of no matter what situation you are in, you can always give your absolute best to that current situation, even while looking for another. So go forward, young padawans, spread your wings and fly.

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