Short answer: Have something that is worth selling.
After the “nuts and bolts” of training, the “buy in” question is the next most often asked by coaches. It’s a logical question and for many programs, it’s going to be a tough road.
First, let’s explain what “buying in” means. “Buying in” is when people believe in your coaching/training and trust in what you are saying and what they are doing. Why is that so important? Because if you believe in what you are doing, it will most likely work. Thus if the athletes (and coaches/parents) buy in and believe in you, they will likely have success. This is very hard for young coaches who don’t have the credentials or background that can earn them instant respect.
Let’s dispel a couple of myths. No matter who you are, you have to earn the buy in. If you think other coaches get automatic respect, you might want to adjust your meds. For some, the earning process may be only a few months and for others, it may be a couple of years. If you aren’t the best coach in the world then there is room for improvement and becoming a better coach will speed things up. So before you go pointing the finger, jab the thumb. In other words, you’re the reason people don't respect you.
Things You Can't Control
As always, there are variables you can’t control in terms of the buy in. If you find yourself facing these, you have to put on your big boy pants and keep on fighting the good fight.
- Sport – Some sports have strength training built into its culture; football being the most obvious. If your sport has little to no history of training, it will be more difficult to get the coaches, athletes, parents on board. This doesn't mean your training program is doomed, simply that you'll have to circle back to the earning portion repeatedly until you have the results and trust to back it.
- Coach – If you have the support of the head coach, your job will be 100% easier. Any team (military, business, sport, etc) will only go as far as their general will lead them. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good you are or how amazing your facilities are; if the head coach doesn’t make training a priority it will make your job that much more challenging. Accept it and cycle back to the earning portion.
- Program – Some schools and programs have a long history of making strength a priority. For decades, the University of Nebraska was the benchmark for training. It was ingrained into the sports, the school as a whole, and was recognized and celebrated by the community. If that doesn't sound like your current situation, you've signed up to try to change that, and that's how you're going to have to look at it.
- Negative parents/lack of culture – If the parents of the athletes don’t see physical preparedness as a priority, you have a very steep, uphill battle ahead. You will be at constant odds with them and what they deem appropriate or are willing to commit to. Also, many times the culture of the school, city or area may suffer from low expectations. I hate this more than anything; it creates weak people who have no fight or drive. Low expectations is a cancer and unless you have a head coach and several families who are willing to fight and endure the endless criticism – your results will be minimal.
Things You Can Control
- Be awesome. This may seem obvious but you better be awesome at your job before you start demanding people buy in. I see way too many coaches blame everything else but themselves; too young, too old, wrong race, wrong gender. You need to get results before you demand respect.
- Be honest. No one likes a fool and a liar. Being honest doesn’t mean you have to be brutally honest but sugarcoating issues and weaknesses or withholding information does no one any good. One thing that ALWAYS drove me nuts was when coaches would “hide” the conditioning; if the players came up to the coaches and asked what they were doing after lifting, they’d smirk and hint at how bad it was going to be. This is what weak coaches do to get some type of control over the kids. I have had many kids over the years take me aside and thank me for never lying to them by either hiding or surprising what was next. This garbage coaching habit is a great way to teach dread and instill conservation of effort in your athletes.
- Be yourself. This may ruffle some feathers but this was another thing that drove me and others on the team crazy. I’ve seen many, MANY coaches (strength and sport) suddenly adopt certain cultural characteristics in order to “fit in” with certain athletes. In other words, some white coaches would suddenly become “urban” or “street” when addressing black athletes. This is how you lose respect with ALL players. This does not make you more likable or approachable; it makes you looks like you have no spine and are ashamed of who you are. No one, outside of racists, cares about race, language or mannerisms. The athletes just want a great leader who will help them. So stop the idiocy.
- Communicate clearly. I’ve talked about this ad nauseum so I won’t spend too much time on the importance of communication. It doesn’t matter how much you know if you can’t correctly communicate it to your athletes. It also doesn’t matter if you can’t control and maintain the attention of a large group of athletes. Command the room .
- Exhibit BETTER discipline in your training/life than you expect from the athletes. You may be able to fool the athletes and coaches for a while but if you lead a weak, undisciplined life it will be exposed. And once you are exposed, your words and expectations will mean little. Hold yourself to a higher standard than you expect of your athletes. And this goes farther than training; this includes all areas of your life. Remember: People can smell a dirty, lying rat.
- Have some kind of accolades – you are training people to be successful, then you better have some kind of successful past. This doesn’t mean you have to bench 500 pounds. However, it sure helps when athletes know that YOU KNOW what kind of commitment and sacrifices it takes to succeed. Again, it doesn’t have to be just lifting related; but at the very least, it has to be sport related.
In short, if you want people to buy in, be awesome and hold yourself to the highest of standards. Be an example of great character and discipline. And only then can you expect to begin to be a great leader. But don’t expect others to follow if you can’t lead yourself.