4 Biggest Mistakes I've Made as a Strength Coach

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee



I’ve been a strength and conditioning coach for nearly six years now. Every six months or so I look back at old programs I had written and I can’t help but shake my head.  I hope six months from now I shake my head at the programs I’m writing now.  If I don’t – I haven’t learned nearly enough in that time.  Here are four mistakes I’ve made that other aspiring strength coaches can hopefully learn from.


1. Not taking full responsibility for an athlete learning an exercise.  Everyone learns differently – and you need to have multiple ways of teaching and cueing a certain exercise.  What may work for a particular athlete could have a different athlete scratching their head.  As a coach it’s your job to take full responsibility of the learning process.  If an athlete doesn’t understand something or isn’t performing an exercise properly then I flat out didn’t teach it or explain it well enough.

Let’s use the squat for example. If you cue an athlete to spread their knees on the descent but they continue to cave in, continuing to state “spread your knees” is the equivalent of banging your (and their) head against the wall.  Instead of getting frustrated with the athlete, and probably making them feel really bad about their squat, you need to remain patient and try a different approach.  It’s up to you to figure out how to get your message through to improve their squat pattern.

2. Putting Too Many Correctives into the Warm-Up.

For too long I’d make athletes’ warm-ups too long, filled with too many correctives. I looked at every weakness they possessed and suddenly they’d have thirteen warm-up drills as I tried to solve everything from improving ankle dorsiflexion to world hunger – and everything in between.  Now I keep the warm-up short and sweet; and while still addressing weaknesses I try to keep the correctives to a couple of the most glaring areas.  It is much more beneficial to do more volume of a particular mobility exercise in the actual training session.  I have learned there’s a difference between mobilizing and actually impacting lasting change.

Also, correct movement is corrective – and I’ve moved much more towards full body mobility drills in the warm-up that are going to get the body primed for the day’s task, rather than a bunch of individual mobility drills.  With that said isolating individual joints is very important and absolutely imperative but we now do those as supersets with a strength exercise, an explosive medicine ball drill, or if it’s really needed – as a separate session altogether.

Squat to Stand w/ER

This is one of my favourite catch all mobility drills.


“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials” – Bruce Lee

3. Not Programming Conservatively Enough Initially.

Let’s say you have a new fourteen year old client. He came in for his assessment a few days prior, everything went great, you wrote up a killer program for him and now he’s arrived for his first lift.  You take him through his warm-up and now it’s on to the lift. His A1 is front squat.  You went with front squat instead of goblet squat because his squat form was decent enough on assessment day.  He proceeds to get absolutely buried by the bar. It’s an awkward set up and he’s not able to keep the shelf and now he’s getting flustered.  To top it off a couple of the college athletes have arrived for their lift. Now this fourteen year old who may have very little experience up to this point in the gym is feeling extra self-conscious.  You do the right thing for the athlete and you regress him to the goblet squat for the day. His psyche has taken a pretty serious hit, not to mention he doesn’t feel all that comfortable in the gym on day one.

Now imagine a different scenario. You program in goblet squat and he crushes the first couple of sets – so much so you tell him he’s killing it and very few fourteen year olds do front squats on day one but ask him if would he like to give it a shot?  You’ve set up a scenario where now even if that lift proves to be a little too difficult or awkward it’s not going to be nearly as self-defeating as the previous situation was.

It’s always better to progress a program on the fly instead of regressing it. 


4. Not Involving the Athlete in the Process Enough.  

Ultimately as a strength and conditioning coach I want to be the person who writes the blueprints, and then oversees that each of my athletes is building their house properly.  They’re going to feel much more empowered and motivated if they can feel like we are in this thing together. Small things like involving an athlete in the program writing to an extent can go a long way to achieving this. For example, some baseball players really want bench press in their programs.  Simply asking them what they’re favourite lifts are can give them a sense of ownership over the process.