Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Truly Strong Coach

Last post I told the story of our team attending a football camp at UNLV a few years ago. One component of the camp was a visit to the UNLV Athletic weight room and some instruction from the strength and conditioning coach. At that time the head S&C coach at UNLV was a guy named Mark Philippi. If you are into strength sports at all, that name should certainly ring a bell. Mark began his career as a great Powerlifter, then entered the world of Strongman competitions where he distinguished himself as one of the best in the world. He is now a very successful trainer in Las Vegas.
The camp schedule called for us to meet in the weight room in the evening after dinner. Because it was important to me, I made sure we got there first and our boys were seated on the floor in the first row.(crosslegged, Indian style lol) Coach Philippi began by explaining the basics of the Back Squat and Bench Press. With his powerlifting backround, he was very detailed in his explanations. Next he explained that there were some quick lifts that were also helpful. He called out one of his Grad Assts. Who he introduced as a Collegiate National Powerlifting Champ with deadlift of 650 lb. He was going to demonstrate a Power Snatch. There was 50 kg on the bar. While he did manage to get the bar from the floor to overhead, it was pretty awkward and really slow. It was obvious that he really didn’t grasp the finer points. One of my boys seated in the front snickered a little. Coach Philippi is a take charge guy and doesn’t tolerate wise guys. He called my player out saying, “Do you think something is funny?” My player honestly replied, “He doesn’t know how to do it, we have girls at our school who can do more than that.” I held my breath and mentally reviewed my CPR skills. I tried to think about what I was going to tell the boy’s mother and what I might say at the funeral. Mark had the next move and he said, “Maybe you would like to come up here and show us how?” Well, the young man walked up and performed 3 quick explosive snatches then a few overhead squats and set the bar down. I will never forget (and am still grateful for) Coach Philippi’s reaction. He didn’t get defensive or exercise a need to exert authority. He said, “Hey, that’s really good. Where did you learn to do that?” the player pointed towards me and said, “Our coach taught us!” Afterwards we had a long conversation about the Olympic style lifts. Coach Philippi explained that he wanted to use them more in his programs , but he didn’t have a real extensive backround in that area and wanted to learn more. We talked about a few technique basics and parted friends. He and his asst. were out on the field the next day encouraging our kids. Later that summer I gave a brief welcoming address at the NSCA Convention as it was held in Phoenix and I was the Arizona state director. Mark and his staff were there and we conversed some more. Needless to say, I have always been a Mark Philippi fan. He sets a great example of what a truly strong man is. He could have crushed a smart aleck high school kid and his small-town coach. Instead he chose to treat us with respect. He wasn’t afraid to admit that while he knew and had accomplished a great deal, there were some things he was still learning. He was still willing to learn and wasn’t too proud to be taught by anyone whom he thought could help. I have tried to be the same way.
When a man has confidence in himself, he doesn’t have to carry around a huge ego. I have met far too many “Strength Coaches” with far less accomplishments and much more attitude; Coaches who are afraid to show that they might not know everything or who feel the need to exercise authority and crush any differences of thought or opinion. It seems that the profession is full of these. I am grateful for the real coaches who are confident enough to value discussion and always ready to learn something new.

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