NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Episode 74: Eric McMahon and Nate Palin

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Nathan Palin, CSCS
March 2020

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In this special Season 4 podcast kick-off, NSCA’s Tactical Program Manager, Nate Palin, introduces the new NSCA Coaching Program Manager, Eric McMahon. McMahon discusses how he got into strength and conditioning, transitioning into new roles and the challenges it brings, and the direction that he wants to bring the NSCA with this new position as a bridge between strength coaches and the organization.

Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs | Find Nate on Instagram: @natepalin

Show Notes

“…the relationships and networking is a huge part of our profession, and I think the NSCA that's our role in terms of creating those communication structures and creating those conversations…” 1:43

“I wanted to pursue the field. I just wanted to make sure it was the right choice for me… it's a huge commitment in terms of, you might have to pack up and go.” 3:32

“We are people that are sought after as communicators, as presenters, as influential important people in their organizations with potential to move up the ladder in terms of athletic directors or CEOs or presidents of their organization. We're educated professionals.” 5:13

“I would have never touched the field in college if it wasn't for strength and conditioning, so I credit any success I had as an athlete to my training during those years and changing my body, getting strong, and winning that starting job. That meant a lot to me at the time and inspired me to pass it forward here.” 15:44

“I'm new to this job, but I've been with the NSCA for a long time, and I want every coach to feel like they are just as much a part of this organization as you and I are.” 24:17

Transcript

[00:00:00.00] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:00:01.03] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast episode 74. I want to be that funnel for the coaches to the NSCA, just as I want to be a person that will communicate what we're doing internally out to the coaching audience, because I think it does go both ways.

[00:00:20.50] This is the NSCA Coaching Podcast, where we talk to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know, but probably didn't learn in school. There is strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.

[00:00:30.91] Welcome to the NSCAs Coaching Podcast. I'm today's guest host, Nate Palin. More importantly, I am here at Coaches Conference 2020 with our new coaching program manager, Eric McMahon. Eric, welcome.

[00:00:47.56] Thanks, Nate.

[00:00:48.76] I looked through actually the transcript of the previous podcast you were on. So if anyone hasn't caught that and wants to know a good chunk about two things, Vermont and baseball strength and conditioning, please tune into that. However, I'm going to try to avoid those two topics, and bring it outside your comfort zone a little bit.

[00:01:09.10] [LAUGHTER]

[00:01:11.11] We should specify. How long have you been in this role?

[00:01:15.19] This is my second day on the job here at the NSCA, getting right into it at the coaches conference.

[00:01:22.12] Perfect.

[00:01:22.69] Second day, and I said I would try to provide some stress relief for you, and instead, I'm already coming to you for answers. So you're going to be the answer guy, not just within the NSCA in the building, but for your audience. You're pretty excited about that.

[00:01:38.44] Yeah, absolutely.

[00:01:39.54] Awesome.

[00:01:40.18] I think it's a-- the relationships and networking is a huge part of our profession, and I think the NSCA that's our role in terms of creating those communication structures and creating those conversations, and to me, like we were just talking about off air, today, things start moving quickly with the conference, and just talking to all the coaches coming in, and it's just exciting to see all the faces that you might have worked with five, six years ago or all my old Springfield College coaching buddies, and just going back on your network and continuing to build those relationships over time, and I think that's a huge part of this role.

[00:02:26.65] Absolutely. It's such a small community-- the coaching world-- and it's about to get even smaller for you, right? You're going to be hitting the road as certainly the face of the organization. I'd say, most importantly, though, you're an ear for the organization to the coaches out there. That said, I think we jump right in. How do you see your role as your starting just now to step into it, and what are you most excited about?

[00:02:55.76] OK, yeah. So getting into this field, for me, I had some reservations to just getting into this profession just from a standpoint of what the career looked like, in terms of even having a family and travel, and what that would mean in terms of your life. The life you're committing to. I knew what my coaches in college had gone through just to be coaches. And even though I was passionate about it, was something that I put a lot of thought into. I wanted to pursue the field. I just wanted to make sure it was the right choice for me, and when I talk to young coaches now, those are conversations I have a lot, where this profession is-- it's a huge commitment in terms of, you might have to pack up and go.

[00:03:53.80] I heard someone say, if you want to move up, you got to move on. I don't know if that's always the best advice for people, but there is definitely some truth to that in this business. And when I was at Springfield, they told us, hey, we'll be able to help you find an internship or a job, but you're going to have to be willing to go anywhere, and that's such a huge sacrifice or commitment to make for someone who's 17, 18 years old looking ahead at a career or even a little further along in their college years when they're trying to sort through what their life is going to be like. And those are the kinds of conversations I'd like to have with young coaches, and thinking about that in terms of this role, I think those things matter to everybody.

[00:04:39.37] We, as a profession, we've thrived on the grind it out mentality, and I don't think we're ever going to lose that because we are-- that's in our blood and that's what we do.

[00:04:52.26] Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:04:55.09] But improving the career path of strength and conditioning and making this, not only a credible profession as we all want it to be, but making it so that coaches are well-rounded in their lives. We are people that are sought after as communicators, as presenters, as influential important people in their organizations with potential to move up the ladder in terms of athletic directors or CEOs or presidents of their organization. We're educated professionals.

[00:05:38.49] This is a science-based skill set that we employ as strength coaches, and I think that knowledge goes a long way and has so much more potential if we allow it to. So for me, that's what this role is about. Facilitating those conversations, keeping those conversations going, where coaches can come to me and voice their concerns.

[00:06:03.63] What can the NSCA do to help solve those problems, and if we can't do it immediately, look at long-term solutions so that maybe we're making this better for future generations down the line. And to me, yeah, that's what it's all about. I'm really excited.

[00:06:23.95] Yeah, honestly, I was fortunate enough to sit-in on your first interview-- phone interview-- with the organization, and I know something that stood out immediately to myself and Scott Douglas was your ability to have-- you knew about the here and now. So you had the short sighted access and view, but you also could look beyond it and how one was incorporated within the other, because you're right, it's about all about creating these solutions that, not just set up somebody for success today, but long term and the career path, and the where do I begin and where does it lead.

[00:07:05.70] I think it used to be just what can I get my hands on and dig into as a coach, and you just get right into the X's and O's, and now, as it's been a viable profession for a lot longer becoming even more so, you start hearing the terms burnout, progress, and permanence and family, and all these other things that you have a grip on, having been through that experience, and now you can help reshape that path for young coaches.

[00:07:37.26] Absolutely.

[00:07:38.01] So I'm sure you're stoked to be in a role where you can do that. On the same note, family. So you have one.

[00:07:45.55] [LAUGHTER]

[00:07:46.01] Yes, I do.

[00:07:47.37] And as do I. And you are moving that family to Colorado. How do you feel about Colorado? So my wife and I Meredith, we are from Vermont-- Burlington, Vermont-- so we grew up around snow, and we're really excited to get back towards-- kind of sound strange, because living in Dallas area the last nine years, you miss that full blown winter, and I don't think we're fully equipped with the right jackets and things anymore like they used to be, but I'm really excited to kind of get on the slopes once in a while. I played hockey growing up, and reconnect with the winter sports scene that I missed in Texas a little bit.

[00:08:31.56] We have kids. We have four kids, ranging-- we have a newborn, and my son is seven. So ranging from those years right there.

[00:08:41.58] So you've got all kinds of free time.

[00:08:42.81] I've got all kinds of free time for skiing and skating. No, but--

[00:08:49.98] I love it.

[00:08:50.50] Yeah, here we are at the 2020 NSCA Coaches Conference, and there are people moving around. We have some announcements going on in the conference all.

[00:09:00.64] Evidence of this of this being live. That's all right.

[00:09:05.31] So moving the family out there, it is a big move, and this is a-- but I feel like this is such an important role, and I've wanted to be involved more and more with the NSCA ever since I started my career. And when this opportunity came available, I knew that it would be something I wanted to pursue and then I talked to my wife and made sure it was something we could pursue, so I'm really happy about it.

[00:09:35.10] Awesome. Well, we're definitely excited to have you in the Springs, especially if I got somebody to hit the slopes with. You mountain bike at all?

[00:09:42.63] A couple of times. I'd like to try a little bit more.

[00:09:45.75] I'm still fairly new to it myself, so if you want to come fall down the mountain a little bit with me, definitely would be a good time.

[00:09:53.64] I saw your Instagram post the other day where you're out there and it was 15 degrees or the wind was howling and the snow was going, and I showed my wife, and she goes, you sure you're ready for this? This whole winter thing again?

[00:10:09.53] Yeah, I think I said something along the lines of this is going to be you soon.

[00:10:13.34] [LAUGHTER]

[00:10:15.44] It's not that bad, though. As long as there's sunshine and it's always feels warmer than the temperature tells you.

[00:10:22.04] For sure.

[00:10:22.56] And you're going to enjoy Colorado, I believe. So like I said, we're definitely excited to have you. You're moving from-- getting back, I guess, to strength and conditioning, you're moving from a position, where within the NSCA, relative to the NSCA, anyway, where you're kind of on the outside as an audience and voicing your concerns and comments et cetera through Scott Caulfield who formerly held your position, and waiting, hoping for maybe some solutions to be developed within.

[00:11:01.01] What do you see as a challenge of making that transition from the audience to the person that's going to hopefully create solutions and answer to the audience?

[00:11:11.18] Yeah, for sure. I think-- give a little background. As a minor league strength coach for a number of years, you're the one man band, where you're like, you're the one strength coach for the team and you're out. And I remember my first year in Helena, Montana, beautiful country area, but you're out there, and you don't have a lot to work with, and you have to do everything to put your program in place. And I think you you're hustling and you're carrying everything and you're setting up and you're chasing guys down, you're getting the workouts done, and I think that mentality-- I think in this job, it's more about listening to what comes in and keeping up the relationships across all the special interest groups, across the entire NCAA community.

[00:12:03.45] I mean, everyone has their CSCS their RSCC, all the programs we have in place. Keeping my ears open so that when we are communicating on programs and trying to make improvements that I've been able to sort and process that information and we can make the best decisions possible. And I want to be that funnel for the coaches to the NSCA, just as I want to be a person that will communicate what we're doing internally out to the coaching audience, because I think it does go both ways, and obviously, it's a different type of role for me, and like you said, thinking of it in that way, it's completely different.

[00:12:47.39] But to me, I think every coach at different points, there's-- we love this profession. We love certain aspects, but there's always these things that eat away at us, whether it's salary or the hours we're working or the grunt work that we have to do early on in our career or even all through our career. And I think this is an opportunity to make a change that can improve the lives of a lot of people, and so I don't take this role lightly.

[00:13:28.11] I know what it's like to be a young strength coach nervous about this profession like I was saying because of those aspects, and the impact I want to have is to make the career path better for everyone for future generations of strength coach, the programs that we put in place, the changes that we make to current programs, whatever we're doing, I want to make sure that there's some sustainability to this profession and sustainability to these programs so that we aren't looking shortsighted at, OK, well, that's it that's a Band-Aid to the problem now, but where are we going to be out in five, 10 years or 10, 20 years? Who knows where we'll all be at that point. We need to set this up to be better for the next people that are taking this over from us, so yeah, I believe that.

[00:14:22.16] Absolutely. And I remember during the hiring process, what they were looking for is certainly someone who has walked the walk and has a network certainly does not hurt. Beyond that, looking for what's probably tough to quantify sometimes or relate back to strength and conditioning is project management because that you've gone corporate, my friend.

[00:14:51.26] [LAUGHTER]

[00:14:53.60] Not really, but I do joke that we wear khakis and button ups on the day to day, as opposed to the black sweats I used to be so comfortable in. And it's reflective of a different position and a different standpoint, but that said, within those within that job description, I think the biggest part of it was that we-- and I say we, but the organization really wanted somebody with the heart of a coach, because one, that's not so much a skill as it is something that's just absolutely ingrained in the individual. And I think a lot of what you've even talked to so far with regard to your outlook on how to create solutions taps right into that. That said, who first inspired you to look at strength and conditioning as a career. And I don't mean a career in terms of like a paycheck, but a career in terms of something that your heart could continue to follow for the rest of your days.

[00:15:54.96] So that's a great question. I played college football at St. Lawrence University, and I got my first job in fitness. I was a floor trainer at a fitness club in town, just because I honestly didn't want to pay for a membership, and I was at the stage where I had multiple jobs just around the clock just trying to make money during the summer before college, and I took in a lot from the guys I was working with. One of them actually runs a really pretty good strength and conditioning business up in Vermont right now and a couple of personal trainers and things, but I learned a lot, and I got interested in the field and then just through training, college football, I learned a lot of things through some of the training we were doing that I just felt like, man, this could be a little bit better. I didn't really know exactly what we was doing wrong, but just certain things that we were warming up and the way our lower body lifts were, I eventually made gains, but through some trial and error, it inspired me to look at it.

[00:17:05.17] And one of my baseball coaches from high school I started training at his gym in the off season for my maybe junior, senior year somewhere in there, and he's like, hey, the NSCA has a really good strength and conditioning certification. You should you should look into that. Yeah, so I went on the website that day, and not too long after, I was a student member and the journal started coming in. And I think it's selling point for me. We talked about the interview process, I mean, I can say I'm a true product of the NSCA career path.

[00:17:40.71] I got the journals and I would read the strength and conditioning journal cover to cover pretty much every time it came in for a number of years, and I still think of some of those early articles. I've reached out to-- since I've got the job, I reached out to Colorado local Allen Hedrick. That's a guy that I used to read his column every month that thing came out, and I never met this guy. I remember the article that when he was at Air Force Academy and they came out with that new very unique facility, and it just put a lasting impression in my mind.

[00:18:20.31] He would write a different type of-- he'd cover a different topic pretty much every issue, and to me, that helped me be a little more well-rounded in the field, and I've since heard him say in some of his speaking that he would take on these articles and basically study up on something he didn't know a lot about and then write an article about it. And so it does make sense that I latched on to so many of the things he would do because it was such a broad outlook at the field. And so that's one example.

[00:18:55.17] I really got into the journals, and being up in the Northeast, I started looking at-- I was I exercise science minor, but my trainer who taught some of the courses in that had some Stanley Cup rings, and there was one guy who had a CSCS on the training staff, and so just networking, talking, having conversations, I found Springfield College. I looked at a lot of different grad programs that were available at the time and Springfield's really reputable in the strength field, so I pursued that, and it wasn't too long after that I found myself in baseball.

[00:19:31.26] So that was what inspired me to do it, but really, it was just interest in the fitness field, and I enjoyed working out, and I know that as an athlete, I would have never touched the field in college if it wasn't for strength and conditioning, so I credit any success I had as an athlete to my training during those years and changing my body, getting strong, and winning that starting job. That meant a lot to me at the time and inspired me to pass it forward here.

[00:20:09.60] What I think is cool about what you just said is it's almost the absence of ideal coaching was a motivator in a way.

[00:20:16.08] 100%.

[00:20:16.57] In the same breath, the existence of any coaching also provided you some of what you needed. So it's like, I know there's something to this, but I want to discover more. And then too, and you talking about you know Allen's articles and how that was his self education, self discovery process ties into what I heard you talking to Brian Buck earlier about, which is the vulnerability of putting information out. So here's somebody who, as he's digging deeper into a topic and learning it is willing to broadcast that information for public viewing, public consumption, and not just that, but critique. Apparently successfully so, because in that process created educational path for you, which obviously you have you know run with since.

[00:21:06.87] That said, talking to the journals, talking to some of the ways that the certification and the ways that the NSCA was first able to provide guidance for you, where do you think right now in a field that's evolved greatly in a short amount of time, where has the NSCA fallen short, and how do you plan to help drag it along?

[00:21:30.90] OK, so I don't know if I'm fully prepared to unroll my mission statement here, but--

[00:21:37.10] [LAUGHTER]

[00:21:38.09] Just the cliff notes. The cliff notes.

[00:21:39.83] No, but I think the CSCS is a very reputable certification in the field right now. I think we have some relationships with the college strength and conditioning coaches, the Australian strength and conditioning coaches, the UK crew. There's a lot of organizations out there that represent strength and conditioning now, and I think we as an organization need to start to have-- and we have some, but I think we need to start to have some of those conversations to bring the strength and conditioning world together. The entire community, because there's so much we can learn from the research that they're putting out in the Australian group.

[00:22:22.90] It's so impressive what they've done over there, and I'm starting to see more with the UK group that they're putting out in their social media, and I'm interested in that. So many college strength coaches in the CSCCa, and I think that relationship that we have. I know on the high school scene, we need to-- high school strength and conditioning is on the rise. I think it needs more infrastructure, and I think we can do that through our SIGs and through some different programs.

[00:23:00.00] Representing our professional coaches and promoting-- we're talking about promoting the career path and improving the career path, and I think we do that by promoting our professional coaches and their accomplishments, and that's really what the RSCC program is about, and I think that's something that when it started, I don't know. I applied for it and I got it, but I didn't know how much-- I didn't have a clear understanding of what we were trying to solve with the RSCC, and I think cleaning up the-- making some more clarity in that I think is something that we can do.

[00:23:37.47] So to me, in a communicator type role, I think just facilitating those conversations and seeing what the needs are out there, but I think infrastructure wise, when we look at the programs we have now, I think we're closing a lot of areas, and there is a lot of great dialogue out there in the special interest groups. I was having some good conversations today, and I write some notes in my phone, because I was like, man, I'm going to use this. This is great, and it's like, every coach at this conference is a resource.

[00:24:12.65] Absolutely.

[00:24:12.85] A resource for the organization, and it's-- yeah, I'm new to this job, but I've been with the NSCA for a long time, and I want every coach to feel like they are just as much a part of this organization as you and I are. And I think if we can create that, the programs and what we put in place, it's going to be really good.

[00:24:34.35] Yeah, I mean, you're brain now is 50,000 strong. So all the certificates, all members all have something to lend to the conversation, and if you're willing to let that information in, then now you don't have to come up with every solution. They'll come up with a lot of them for you.

[00:24:51.45] Absolutely.

[00:24:52.62] Even in my position within Tactical, similar thing. Sometimes just have to put my ego aside and admit that, hey, the guy that's on the ground might just have a better answer than I do. And every day that I'm removed from that scene just like soon, you're going to be a little bit removed from that scene or at least that day to day. There's going to be a new tack that you haven't used yet. There's going to be new information.

[00:25:14.26] There's going to be rule changes and everything else that you're a little further from, and so having that ear to the street is going to be absolutely, absolutely essential. That said, I am excited, man, cause one, we're on the same team, collectively. Two, I grew up as a young coach, I'm still a young coach, and where I go to get my information is I'm part of your audience, to be honest.

[00:25:43.90] I'm a strength coach at heart still, and the resources that you put out are going to be incredibly important to me. So I'm looking very forward to what that is and what I love is how you listed a whole bunch of names of organizations that some people might say are competitors, and I don't think you think that way and I don't either. I think that it's a collective, collaborative effort.

[00:26:11.89] I think a little bit of healthy competition is great for the field because it's going to make us all work a little bit harder, but at the end of the day, we're all serving the athlete, and so we're all going to sit around the same table and come up with solutions for that group. So that said, Eric, welcome to the team.

[00:26:28.34] Thanks, Nate.

[00:26:28.93] Again, looking very, very forward to working with you, and man, really kicking things off strong by just jumping in day one at the Coaches Conference

[00:26:36.46] On the podcast.

[00:26:37.75] Hey, I'm going to add, you did really good on this podcast, man. We're going to have to have you on co-host a few more episodes coming up.

[00:26:47.74] I stayed up late many nights just practicing-- no. No, I did not. So I appreciate you saying that. Either way, I think it's most important for everyone to know that, sorry, Scott, I think we got a new voice here on the podcast if not a couple of them.

[00:27:06.73] We adjusted what's on our social media here, but we adjusted our backdrop with my picture over Scott, but I have gray looking arms on here.

[00:27:16.48] I was going to say, the arms are phenomenal.

[00:27:19.93] Yeah, I'm not quite there yet. Scott already sent me the program, the arm farm hand handwritten program that he's got, and so am I going to get to work.

[00:27:29.95] Nice. We might have to bring some weights up to your desk, because it's been pulled out of the Performance Center, so you're a little further from the weights. So maybe just a couple of 40s, something like that to take to curl in your downtime. But no, man. Welcome, welcome. Really excited to have you here.

[00:27:47.93] Thanks, Nate. And a big thanks to our sponsors, Sorinex exercise equipment. We appreciate their support. You often hear these podcasts recorded at NSCA conferences and events. Why not join us at the next one? You can get all the details on upcoming events at nsca.com/events.

[00:28:05.00] This was the NSCA Coaching Podcast. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in 1978 by strength and conditioning coaches to share information, resources, and help advance the profession. Serving coaches for over 40 years, the NSCA is the trusted source for strength and conditioning professionals. Be sure to join us next time.

[00:28:23.44] [MUSIC PLAYING]

Reporting Errors: To report errors in a podcast episode requiring correction or clarification, email the editor at publications@nsca.com or write to NSCA, attn: Publications Dept., 1885 Bob Johnson Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80906. Your letter should be clearly marked as a letter of complaint. Please (a) identify in writing the precise factual errors in the published podcast episode (every false, factual assertion allegedly contained therein), (b) explain with specificity what the true facts are, and (c) include your full name and contact information.

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Eric L. McMahon, MEd, CSCS,*D, RSCC*D

Strength & Conditioning Coach, NSCA Headquarters, Colorado Springs, CO, United States

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Eric McMahon is the Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager at the NSCA Headquarters in Colorado Springs. He joined the NSCA Staff in 2020 with ove ...

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