NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Episode 82: Brett Bartholomew

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Brett Bartholomew, MSEd, CSCS, RSCC*D
Coaching Podcast July 2020


Brett Bartholomew, keynote speaker, performance coach and consultant, best-selling author, and Founder of Art of Coaching™, talks to the NSCA Coaching Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about the importance of communication as a foundation of coaching, understanding the messy realities of leadership, and how reflection can help the profession grow.

Find Brett on Instagram: @coach_brettb or Twitter: @Coach_BrettB | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs

Show Notes

“So that's what we focus on-- the messy realities of coaching, leadership, and the fact that it's much deeper than we've been led to believe.” 3:36

“A coach that says they can't apply communication strategies with large groups is somebody that shouldn't be a coach, because communications are the foundation of coaching.” 10:56

“Why would you periodize your athletes programs, but not periodize your career and not periodize your learning?” 21:39

“But I hope in the next five, if not less, we really embrace more on the communication science and human dynamics and sociology of coaching.” 46:35

“…the art of coaching is the science of connecting, and we very much have a lot of literature on how we build relational dynamics and influence and persuade people.” 47:12


[00:00:00.72] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast, Episode 82.

[00:00:04.73] But I hope we just-- I hope in the next five, if not less, we really embrace more on the communication science and human dynamics and sociology of coaching.

[00:00:14.37] This is the NSCA's 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's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.

[00:00:25.01] This is the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon, your host. And today we are talking to a guest who's been on the podcast before, Brett Bartholomew, a multifaceted performance coach, consultant, keynote speaker, and the author of Conscious Coaching. Brett, welcome back.

[00:00:39.84] Yeah. I appreciate it, Eric. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:41.90] Yeah. So back in season two when you were on the podcast the first time, you talked about behavioral and motivational aspects of what drives people, specifically coaches and athletes and how to interact effectively and productively with others. This is essentially the definition of coaching. In strength and conditioning we're always adapting to best serve our athletes and institutions.

[00:01:06.81] Brett, one thing I really like from hearing you speak in some of your work that I've read is you present a very rounded view of strength and conditioning as a profession, and that speaks to the learning process that all coaches go through. So I'd like to start by asking you where you're based out of and what you're working on currently. And then we'll kind of get into some of those topics, career development, and some of things you'd like to talk about.

[00:01:37.51] Yeah. I've been based out of Atlanta, Georgia just north of Atlanta for about the past four years, currently working on all things Art of Coaching, which is our company really focused on helping leaders in general, not just strength coaches, enhance their ability to communicate, connect, build lasting buy in from a behavioral standpoint with those they serve. And specifically doing that by helping people become more adaptable communicators, learning more about human behavior, all of which ties into my background in strength and conditioning and life in general.

[00:02:06.93] My background in S&C really started because I was hospitalized, and it made me realize that subject matter expertise isn't enough. We have nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists that couldn't really reach us as patients. A lot of times it was just everybody kind of fit into one model. And I was in pretty dire health circumstances. So I used strength and conditioning long-term to kind of get myself out of that situation. Started to continue down that path because I was fascinated by the body. Long story short, always been fascinated with human dynamics, got my master's degree in motor learning, attentional focus, cuing, saw what effect cuing could have on human performance. That made me want to dive even more deeply into nuances of communication. So now I'm getting my doctorate in essentially what is focused on power dynamics, communication, ethical uses of influence, persuasion, and how those can drive better leadership outcomes in many different facets.

[00:03:05.67] So we're really trying to spearhead and be in the educational component of those things. Our main communities are the performance community, the tactical community, and now working more and more with corporations who have high stakes. As you can imagine, they have thousands, if not tens of thousands of employees. On average, they spend about $135 billion a year on leadership development that really hasn't helped, because a lot of it has been more trust falls, coal walking, as opposed to really understanding the messy realities of leadership. So that's what we focus on-- the messy realities of coaching, leadership, and the fact that it's much deeper than we've been led to believe.

[00:03:43.81] Wow. So everybody in this field-- and I really embrace this-- everybody has a unique path, right? And there's no cookie cutter way of becoming a strength coach. But talking about how a hospitalization experience kind of pushed you towards this field, that's very unique. And you know, I look at your background. It's unique that you've worked in tactical, you've worked in a team setting, and also the private sector. Can you break down some of the different challenges that you see or face in these different areas of the field?

[00:04:16.33] Yeah. I think we really create more differences than there are. I still have yet to find a field that inherently looks for so many differences as opposed to seeking commonalities as ours. We have a veterinarian up the street from us. We live in a fairly rural part of northern Atlanta. And I asked him if he ever worked for a larger clinic, and now he owns his own. And I'm like what difference is there? He goes, really, man, it's more or less the same. At certain levels, you have bureaucracy, you have things like that. But I think our field in a desire to almost separate itself and make itself more complex on the outside creates all these things.

[00:04:50.46] So of course there's little things, and sometimes big things. In the team setting, you're going to of course have egos, dynamics. It's not just you as a strength and conditioning coach. It's how you play along with medical, how you deal with higher level leadership, the integration of those things. But that's also no different than if you own your own facility, how you deal with external stakeholders, power brokers, whether that's parents, members of the community, what have you. And even in the tactical side of things, it's been well documented all the different levels of leadership there.

[00:05:19.27] So we can talk differences, and they're certainly there, but I think there's far more commonalities than there are. And I think that's where our field needs to kind of go from here on out. It just troubles me when I hear these-- I remember my first experience going into a clinic and seeing these two coaches talking. And they were hitting it off, a lot of rapport, and then all of a sudden one coach in the team setting found out that that other coaches in the private sector, and it was like they were done with them. They didn't want to talk to him because I don't know, maybe they felt like they couldn't help him get a job, or they couldn't help him do this. And I used to be in that. I mean, the whole idea for me in bouncing around like I did is I wanted to experience in the team side, in the private side, in all these areas so that you could-- just like athletes, Eric. Would we ever tell them to specialize at nine years old? No. We want them to get experiences in different dynamics.

[00:06:08.65] So I felt like I wanted to be pretty well-rounded, get exposed to all those things. Even though I certainly had biases, yeah, I used to think the private sector was all personal training. Well, until I landed a job in the private sector and ran six to eight groups with myself, maybe one intern, and 40 athletes. In the team setting, sure, you'd have a room of 50-plus, but you'd also have five other assistants and GAs. So I think there's more commonalities than there are differences, but it all deals with people, bureaucracy, some level of those things and how you can get those things out of the way so that you can really focus targeted communication on behalf of the athlete to help them achieve what they need to achieve. That takes your programming at a higher level. That takes your leadership at a higher level, and relationships.

[00:06:50.97] Yeah. You talk a lot about improving communication structures within our field. What are some of the areas of strength and conditioning that you love or that really just drew you towards this field and kind of made it your life's work?

[00:07:03.37] Yeah. I mean, simply put, I had to go to this field. Otherwise I was going to die. I was 96 pounds in a hospital suffering from depression and an eating disorder. And at 14 or 15 years old, the only information I had on how to train came from Men's Health, Muscle and Fitness, Flex Magazine, Arnold's bodybuilding encyclopedia, things like that where I kind of engulfed it all and took it to extremes to kind of get away from a lot of my friends that were doing drugs and my parents who were going through a divorce. I trained and did everything. I was lifting three times a day and running like crazy. I was eating fat-free, low-carb, everything like that. You're taking all these supplements and fat burners and protein. I had no idea what I was doing.

[00:07:44.98] It's not like now where we have a plethora of resources. I was just a super intense kid that wanted to escape some of these ugly realities that I was dealing with as an adolescent. And training was a drug. And so I had to learn the ins and outs of it. I mean, it's been well-documented in my book and others. I eventually got two books when I was hospitalized, and I had to hide them. I literally had to steal them and hide them in the hospital, because they wouldn't allow this type of reading material. It was Mike Arthur's Complete Conditioning for Football, and it was Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. And I had to hide them in the book jackets of like leadership books because the hospital wouldn't let you take that kind of stuff in.

[00:08:24.04] And so I started learning a little bit more about proper nutrition, exercise, what have you. And when I got out, within a year I'd gained 50 some odd pounds. Ironically ended up getting in Muscle and Fitness as a success story cause I'd overcome just orthorexia and all this stuff. And then I was like, wow, there's so much bad information out there. I would love to be somebody who takes information and uses it and teaches it in a practical way to people to help them overcome their own issues. Because that's how I look at strength and conditioning. Training is nothing more than a tool to teach other people what they're capable of.

[00:08:58.66] It's why I don't really go down these rabbit holes anymore of like, oh, double-leg, single-leg. Oh, what about this sprint progression versus that? Like, at the end of the day, there's so many other issues we've got to solve before we even get to that point because there's so much misinformation out there. So that's how it changed my life is I got into it literally because it was a means of it saving my life.

[00:09:20.59] So in your opinion, is that where we fall short as a field-- like misinformation, following the trends, keeping up with the Joneses in terms of what our opponents, what other teams are doing and not really focusing on our internal process? Is that sort of the foundation of what you preach?

[00:09:40.03] I think we've fallen short in the fact that we have become just-- we fetishize training and we forgot the psychological and/or relational piece. We spend time assessing the history of an athlete's body, but very little of an athlete's mind, how they work, all these things. I mean, we still have weight rooms where people say, hey, we're going to war, gentlemen. Load up on squat. I think those are very cheap motivational tactics, and I've been guilty of them too. This is me calling myself out, past versions of myself out as much as it is anything else. But I've heard every excuse of, well, I have all these athletes. I don't know how to do that. I can't communicate this. And we act like on one end, we say we're the hardest working field-- or we're the hardest working individuals. They're first in, last out, servant-based leadership. But we tend to stay in our comfort zone, right? We're lifelong learners and all these things as long as things are free, cheap, easy, and they have to do with lifting. But if we get in the social domain, we come up with so many excuses.

[00:10:37.39] I mean, I can't tell you the number of times I've heard, hey, man, great book, but I coach 50 some odd athletes, or 100. I can't do that. Well, the funny thing is, I've never worked one-on-one outside of personal training early on and right now during COVID-19. All of these processes were created when I was working in large groups and when working with large groups. A coach that says they can't apply communication strategies with large groups is somebody that shouldn't be a coach, because communications are the foundation of coaching. Right?

[00:11:07.39] We can all drive an adaptation without fancy equipment. You can't coach without communication. So that just doesn't make sense to me. So I see a lot of laziness there. I also see a lot of coaches who think they're already good at communication even though they don't evaluate themselves on it. I'll put it simple, Eric. Here's the stats. This is as of 2016. Out of 285 coach development programs that currently exist, less than 6% focus on interpersonal skills. Less than 2% focus on intrapersonal skills. So that's where we're-- Think about all the asymmetries we talk about. Man, what a dangerous asymmetry there is in coach development. So that's where we're looking to really fill that void at Art of Coaching. We want to be amongst the premier guides of coach development in that space-- the interpersonal and intrapersonal space.

[00:12:04.18] So Brett, who are your biggest mentors or influencers that helped shape this topic area that you focus on, but also within the strength and conditioning field that people you connect with, people you follow?

[00:12:20.35] Yeah. I mean, to be honest with you, are you talking about in the context of behavior or just strength and conditioning?

[00:12:27.19] I think both are beneficial.

[00:12:31.12] Yeah. I mean, I didn't think there's really anybody talking about this stuff in strength and conditioning, at least in a way that's overt. I'm sure obviously people always say, oh, I've been having this conversation for years, or I could have written this. Well, good, then put that stuff out there. I think strength and conditioning has leaned on the great work of people like John Maxwell and things like that for a long time in leadership. And those books are great, but again, they don't really dive into psychology, human behavior, and the messy realities. So that's why we're doing that.

[00:12:57.97] On the psychology side, I mean, man, like everybody from Richard Thaler. I look at everybody from Kahneman, Tversky. We look at people like that even Jung's work in dark side tactics and archetypes. You look at people like folks out of-- here, let me pull up the name. There's a great research article actually wanted to talk to. Illuminating the Dark Side of Leadership, Andrew Cruickshank and Dave Collins out of University of Central Lancashire. They do phenomenal work.

[00:13:32.41] You look at so many people inside and out of this space, but the issue is I'll say these things, and then people will go read their work, but they're not really doing anything with it. Paul Potrac, Robin Jones do awesome stuff. I mean, it was kind of disappointing when I found out that they were talking about micro-politics and power dynamics, because admittedly I found some of their work after I went down my own rabbit hole on that, and that kind of showed some of the bad tendencies I developed as a strength coach. You look at somebody else that's working in that space, and instead of being like, yes, that's awesome, I should reach out to them, at first I was like, they're doing this too? I need to do something else. And that was a toxic attitude I think that I got from our profession, because we often compete instead of looking to expand the pie instead. And after I sat back from it, I'm like, no, this is great. This is great research to continue to strengthen our argument of why we need to look at the messy realities of coaching.

[00:14:28.00] There's other people inside of the field. I can sit here and list all this stuff that you learn from a training standpoint from people like Zatsiorsky, all the classics, Verkhoshansky. But in terms of true mentors, Eric, here's the answer. I never really had one. I never had somebody that, from the minute I got in the field, put their arm around me and was like, here you go, buddy. Here's what books to read. Here's what articles to read. Here's how you should approach your career. If anything, I had it the opposite way. I had people saying, you're 30 years old, you shouldn't write a book. You shouldn't have a social media account. You shouldn't consider yourself a leader. Why are you speaking on stage? I had a lot more hate on that front, because we still exist in a field where-- I don't know. It's kind of a suffering olympics in strength and conditioning. It's this idea that you're only a real strength coach if you're on the floor constantly and you die miserable, broken, unhappy. And even if you're 80 years old, you still got to be coaching god knows how many groups.

[00:15:23.02] Whereas you look at other fields. I don't think Steve Jobs just continued to make Macbooks. I don't think Bill Gates just handled all the coding at Microsoft. And so that's another area we're pretty aggressive-- and I'll use that term purposely at Art of Coaching. We're really trying to change the way our field looks at these things, because there's been so much fear, envy, insecurity. Man, like strength the conditioning-- most of the world still doesn't know what we do. When I go speak for larger corporations, I literally have them say, oh, so you guys are kind of like Jillian Michaels, huh?

[00:15:53.59] And I'll tell them what we do. And some people like in Wells Fargo or Microsoft-- I'm not trying to name drop on that front. I'm just trying to say like these bigger organizations don't know we exist. And they'd just be like, tell us what you do again. Oh, that's a real field? I'm like, bro, not only is it a real field, but coaches will get on and spend hours arguing about the type of squats. And so I'm just trying to get our field to think a little bit bigger, because I was in those places at one point where it's just compete, compete, compete, and it doesn't lead to anywhere good in your career.

[00:16:26.15] So I look at different mentors now. I look at people in other industries-- Lin Manuel Miranda, Jay-Z. Jay-Z was a rapper who then owned his own record label, and is now the first billionaire in hip hop. Now if he was a strength coach people would say he's a sellout. They'd say, oh, you do this and this now. You're not still rapping. I don't think anybody questions Jay-Z's ability to rap. Lin Manuel Miranda makes Hamilton in his 30s. I don't think a bunch of Broadway people were like, oh, you're too young. You shouldn't be writing Broadway musicals. So I know it sounds rude, but I don't really look at strength and conditioning anymore for mentors. I look at fields that have been around way longer and people that celebrate the success of others because they want everybody in their field to rise up and do bigger and better things. And our field is just not there yet as a whole.

[00:17:13.21] Yeah. I listen to you and think a lot about mentors. And I believe that in any field we seek mentors whether just from a guidance standpoint. And I think a testament to what you've done is that by lack of having a true mentor in the field, it's forced you to kind of expand your lens. And you've looked in kind of built this content on a very broad holistic level. So that is a true positive, and you've kind of found a number of mentors that in our field we maybe wouldn't look at consistently. It comes through when you communicate that you've learned a lot about that, about strength and conditioning through all these different areas.

[00:18:10.66] Yeah. You bring up a good point. I saw some ugly realities. Like at the beginning, when I was in the team setting, even as a GA, you feel like you belong. There's this, all right, as long as you're interested in training and whatever, which I've always been, it's great. But then all of a sudden, I remember in 2015 I was offered a job in the NFL. And we had already committed elsewhere. So I didn't take it. And I saw the ugly realities of our field. The minute there were rumors that I was going to take this job, my inbox was filled of all these people that were all of a sudden my friends. They want to work together. They want to do this. They want to do that. And then the minute they heard I didn't take a job, these friends disappear. So I felt like all in one short 34-- let's call it 15-year span, not 34 years. That's how old I am. But I've been accepted by our field, outcasted by our field, challenged by our field. And really I think it's because our field doesn't really know what it wants to be yet. I think that so many coaches feel like they've got to take this big team job, or they've got to open up this huge facility. And there's not many other fields that have been around a long time that pigeonhole themselves like that.

[00:19:17.41] There are many ways to become a great strength coach, and it doesn't know any age. It doesn't know any one sector. It doesn't know any one thing other than diverse circumstances and an open mind. And if you can get those things locked in, generally you're going to have an OK career in time as long as you surround yourself by others like that.

[00:19:35.56] Yeah. I know at the NSCA, we connect a lot with young coaches who are pursuing the field in a very glorified kind of dream job sense. What you talk about is that dream job may not be in the big leagues or in the NFL. You can make that wherever you're at, and it's more your internal process. So in terms of what you're searching for as a young coach in this field, look internally is what I'm taking kind of from what you're saying. And I think that's such a powerful message, because it's really hard to do when you're 18, 19, or you're in college and you're thinking about, man, I need a paycheck, or I need medical benefits. You're working looking at these concrete career factors and not really looking at your process. And I think it takes a few years to really appreciate those things.

[00:20:37.30] Yeah. I mean, that's normal. And even when I was an intern or a GA, I worried about two things-- was I going to get my training in that day, and how much coaching experience would I get in those groups. And then tertiary to that, what I was going to put in the crock pot in the morning. Because you'd have to show up at 4:30, do the whole there by 5:00 set up, run a group by 6:00, lift groups at 6:00, 9:00, 1:00 and 3:00, yada, yada, yada, do all those things.

[00:21:01.72] And then all of a sudden, you start realizing, all right, I've been in this field six, seven, eight years. I might want to have a family. Oh my god, I've done two unpaid internships in a GA where I made 10k. That's awesome, but now I'm barely making more than $30,000 a year, and that's not enough to support myself. What, I signed a contract that you can fire me at any time? What? I can't go speak or write a book because you own intellectual property? What? And so I found all these things to be true in my life. And eventually I just told my wife, I'm like, yo, we've got to do our own thing.

[00:21:34.27] If anybody hears anything I say it's this, and we talked about this and our Valued course. Why would you periodize your athletes programs, but not periodize your career and not periodize your learning? So we would start to see all these harmful things that we were getting in. We were only going to strength and conditioning conferences. We were only doing things in our field. Like, it was scary. It was almost incestuous. So I'm like, no, no, no. We're going to start going to other conferences, get around other professions. We're going to start building something of our own. That way, again, begin with the end in mind, not just in your programming, but in your life.

[00:22:12.38] And so that way, great, if we want to take a job, we can. But nobody's ever going to own my intellectual property. I've been in that situation before. I self-published Conscious Coaching. I own that. If I had sold that to a publisher, they could do whatever they want with it. I'd look at contracts, and if I made presentations at an old job, they owned it. If all of a sudden we didn't win, even if I got everybody stronger and injury rates were down, I'm fired.

[00:22:38.56] Well, you'd be nuts to continue down that path. So we looked at, yeah, there's a time for that, but we call it the three E's of your career-- execute, expand, and evolve. The execute stage is that early stage where just eat it. Do your internships. Do your GA. Get all the technical skills you can. Expand is that next part of your career. Great. Now are you looking to take a head job, or a manager job, or a director job? Are you looking to do something else within the leadership space of what you do beyond just sets and reps? Because there's only so many times you're going to be able to boil up Prilepin's chart. There's only so many times you're going to be able to say, hey, what's ground contact time for this? Yes, the research always evolves. I know everybody loves that quote, but training principles stay pretty much the same. Ground-based, multi-joint, multi-planar, good, no nonsense training generally is going to reign supreme. Let's not over-- let's not act like this is rocket science.

[00:23:34.78] And then eventually you have to evolve. And evolving for us-- we're saying, all right, we've got to think long-term. I understand coaching. I'm going to continue to study it. I'm going to understand training and continue to study it. But I want to learn not just how to be a tactician, but also a leader, and then also a little bit of an entrepreneur, because coaches are already entrepreneurs. You solve problems daily. That's all an entrepreneur does. If you don't think you do, you're wrong. Because people think, oh, I don't have to sell myself, and I don't think coaching is sales. Sure it is. Every day you are promoting or selling the benefit 100 pounds on your back, or an athlete's back for them to get stronger, faster, more durable. Every day you're trying to promote why they should go to bed earlier, why they should eat better.

[00:24:20.02] So it's just the cognitive dissonance of this moral superiority our field has versus what it really does. No. You're educators, you're salespeople, you're entrepreneurs, you're problem solvers. You're a leader. Quit narrowly defining your scope of the weight room, because that's not helping our field.

[00:24:37.39] Yeah. So you touched on the career periodization. And when we started exchanging texts a few weeks back, you'd posted something about that on one of our Facebook groups, and it really connected with me. One other thing you said was begin with the end in mind and create alternate strategies when asymmetries and imbalances become evident or limiting. And you said it in a career context versus the training context that you would normally take that quote. And I saw it kind of come full circle in that you're learning from all these different fields and professions. Well, we can take strength and conditioning and apply that back towards career, and it goes the other way as well. So there's lessons and knowledge in what we do that is so valuable to the world as a whole in general. And looking at it that way really connected with me. Honestly, probably the reason we're here on this podcast right now, I just started communicating with you that way.

[00:25:40.32] That means a lot, because that's the only-- If somebody is like, what's this guy's hidden agenda? You know what it is? It's exactly what you said. I find it hard to see all these other fields that have gone out and cross-pollinated. Like, you look at somebody like Jocko Willink, right? Served our country, Navy SEAL, amazing. Well, now Jocko goes, as do other retired SEALs and members of the military, they go out now to serve corporations and communities. You have academics that have written books like Angela Duckworth, things like that, Grit, right? She goes out, will give TED Talks and work with organizations. Same with Simon Sinek. Yet who does that in S&C?

[00:26:22.34] So when I when I went and spoke at Microsoft and they said, well, what does a strength coach do? You're not what we expected. We thought you were going to be a workout guy or a Jillian Michaels. I remember telling my wife right then, I would like to show the world that we're more than that. And yet it's funny, because then when I would go speak and somebody would see a picture of me in a button down speaking in a large audience or whatever, they'd be like, oh, this guy's a sellout. I'm like, hey, I'm trying to show the world that strength and conditioning is more than weight room people. Like, can we not all get on that same train? Because guess what. It benefits us if we have a brand where people know that we don't just count reps, that we don't just do the weights, that we actually lead and manage people.

[00:27:05.84] But again, it's so odd, because I remember reaching out to Adam Grant. He wrote the book Originals. And I was like, listen, do you get a lot of stuff from your peers? Like, do you get trouble because you go speak? And he's like, well, sure, you're always going to have that. We need people that expand and show what we do at a bigger scale. So I just wish strength coaches would understand there's tremendous value being on the floor, but there's also tremendous value of sharing your knowledge and insight elsewhere. And our field always wants to kind of go, yeah, well, we're humble and we think we should be in the background. It's like, is it really that, or is it you're just scared? Because you don't have to have all the answers. You just have to be willing to share what you know.

[00:27:47.21] I don't think there's this unwritten rule that the only people on speaking circuits and that go help corporations know everything. I don't think Simon Sinek or Duckworth or Jocko would say, yeah, yeah, I know everything, whatever. No. They just go out there and they're willing to share their perspective. But our field acts as if that's such a bad thing. And it's one of the most toxic things I see, and I'm very outspoken about it. Because it's like we're going to continue to suffer as a profession as we continue to isolate ourselves. And then what are we going to do? We're going to sit here and argue about-- we're going to go watch presentations at conferences that argue three different ways to teach speed ad nauseam? I think people want more out of life and coaching than that.

[00:28:23.72] Yeah. So Brett, I was listening to your Art of Coaching Podcast recently, and you were discussing some coach-specific interactions of how to deal with conflict and disagreement in the field of strength and conditioning, or specifically on a staff. And in addressing that, you highlighted how someone is in one environment isn't necessarily how they are in another environment. And just talking to you off the air, we were discussing this really speaks to the human element and dynamic nature of coaching personalities, specifically how our environment impacts us at various stages of our career, and really with what's going on in our lives. Could you kind of share that perspective with us?

[00:29:10.10] Yeah. I think the important thing people need to understand first is context. Context is defined in the literature as the situation, circumstances, and setting in which an event or, in this case, communication occurs. And so the one-size-fits-all era is over. For people that say, hey, I've got a difficult athlete, or hey, I've got a difficult coach, or hey, I got this, I'm like, well, first of all, how are you defining difficult? Because very rarely do we find that somebody is just quote unquote difficult in every context. You might have an athlete that's a pain in the butt in the weight room, but they're probably not like that around their friends.

[00:29:45.62] I was talking to a good friend of mine that works in the NBA. He's like, when I do player meetings, I go meet them on the basketball court when they're shooting hoops. I don't ask him to come to my office. Immediately that invites a more defensive context. It's a formalized setting. It's almost like an interview process. He goes, if I can go shoot hoops with them and kind of do this stuff indirectly, that's a lot more powerful. And I'd say, yeah, I mean, that's ethical influence right there and a form of even manipulation. But our field thinks that manipulation and influence and all these things are bad words. No. You manipulate things all the time. You manipulate volume in your training programs. You manipulate the dial on your thermometer in your house to adjust hot or cold. You have to do the same thing.

[00:30:26.16] So you have to have what's called contextual propriety. You have to be able to say, what's the context of this situation? What are the behaviors I'm observing? What are my own behaviors? Because again, it's amazing how most coaches think that they're not a problem. It's always the athlete or somebody else, when in reality if you ask 90% of coaches when they went to a workshop where they were videotaped and the way that they communicated and their body language and all those things were broken down and assessed, how many do you think have actually gone to a workshop like that, Eric?

[00:30:57.81] Not a lot.

[00:30:59.07] Not a lot, because they don't really-- now, you have people that say, well, we do that internally. It's like, no, no, no, no. If you and I work on staff together, Eric, and we have three other staff and we agree to videotape and assess one another on communication and how well we listen and all those things, we're going to get biased answers because we all work together. You're not going to want to undermine the boss. The boss is going to have certain feedback towards-- So at our apprenticeship workshops we have people from all different professions, and we have coaches get out in front and they're put in a scenario, Eric, and they've got to act out that scenario. Like we do in life. We act out scenarios all the time. Military does war games. Lawyers do mock juries. There's tons of situations where this happens. Athletes go through walkthroughs. Boxers shadow box invisible opponents.

[00:31:48.69] So then we video them interacting. Let's say it's four coaches in a situation where they're dealing with four different archetypes of personality. And then we put that on video. And we give them a scoring sheet and say, hey, rank the body language, rank the cadence, the tonality, the rate of speech, all these things, and we see some honest interaction. So I think coaches have to understand that when they're saying, I'm dealing with a difficult parent, athlete, whatever, you're usually the problem. And I'm included in that. None of us are as good as we think we are. I see it on podcasts. I'll go on podcasts where I get interviewed. And people ask the question, and it's very clear they don't listen. Because they have like all these questions that they want to ask, but then they don't have a conversation. And I can always tell because somebody is just like, cool, next one. Cool, next one. Or they get caught off guard. And it's taught me as a podcaster as well to be like, I actually need to listen to what they're saying. Because my questions might be a good plan, it might be good periodization, but there's a difference between periodization and programming. Periodization is the long-term plan. Programming is what you do daily and weekly. There is flexibility within that plan. Hence why everything Art of Coaching-wise is periodization for people and the relationships.

[00:33:03.50] Yeah, absolutely. Podcasting is a challenge in itself. And I think it's one of those things that as coaches, we are very-- you have to have a voice. Your voice is your tool. It's interesting. And listening to your podcast, it's interesting now, when I listen to a podcast, I'm listening to the host as well as the subject matter expert that's being interviewed. And you definitely have a new appreciation for the newscasters and the anchors that you're seeing and just the skill set that they bring in terms of clearly presenting information.

[00:33:49.92] But with that said, you write, and there's a lot of strength and conditioning coaches that engage in writing practices, whether it be blogs, articles, books. Talk about communicating in a different way than just verbally and getting information out there, sharing information in our field. What is the value of writing, or writing a book for strength coaches in the field? A lot of people aspire to do that sort of thing.

[00:34:19.98] Yeah. I mean, I think the first thing is everybody needs to understand the value of skin in the game. Man, is it dangerous to think that you're growing if you don't have skin in the game. I think it's incredibly dangerous when people talk about how many books they read, how many podcasts they listen to, how many clinics they go to, yet they produce nothing. That's scary, because how do they learn? You start having this bias and thinking that just because it's the difference between exposure and experience, just because I see or I bear witness to an influencing event doesn't mean I know how to do it, right? I can watch a million surgeries. I don't know how to perform one. So I think it's always interesting when coaches share opinions on thing or feedback that they've never even done.

[00:35:08.37] So it's like, oh, this article is dumb, or this book was dumb, or this-- well, OK. Can you write? Show us your example. Don't just tell us the problems with things. Show us your example. Like, it's almost like the coach that says, oh, these people, they write crap programs. This isn't a good program. OK, great. Do you have examples of your programs? Oh, no, no, no. Well, I can't share that. Well, we create a culture of faceless nameless critics when people don't have to intimately reflect and put something out into the world. It's skin in the game.

[00:35:42.69] Name a time, Eric, where you would trust the advice of a quote unquote expert if you have not bore witness to any of their work whatsoever.

[00:35:51.93] Yeah, you're right. You wouldn't.

[00:35:54.66] Right. And so that's where it's, again, it's a contrasting dynamic. If you pay attention to our field enough, on one hand they'll say, oh, you shouldn't be on social media. You shouldn't do this. You should just do your job and be quiet. But then on the other end they'll sit there and say, well, show your work. Well, which one am I supposed to do now? Because if I do nothing I'm hiding. If I share stuff I'm a sellout. And if I don't do anything, then I'm lukewarm. How are we supposed to win? What are we supposed to do? I think there's tremendous value in it, because most people, if they put skin in the game, will realize there's plenty they don't know.

[00:36:29.34] I remember writing Conscious Coaching. Like there's so many things I know how to elocute verbally and I know intuitively that I know. There's conscious competence. But then I had to write it in a way that was out there for the world. It had to appease some people that wanted the research. So we had 70 some odd articles in it. But at the same time, we didn't want it to be so technical that nobody would want to read it. You know what I mean? Because there are people that both ways-- hey, man, I wish you would have had more of this. And then other people would say, hey, I wish you would have had less of this. So you realize there's no appeasing everybody.

[00:37:03.24] If you look up Miles Davis, arguably one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, on YouTube and you look at one of his greatest songs, there's still bound to be thousands of thumbs downs. Yet, the people that gave it a thumbs down and said, I hate this music, do you think they've ever once composed a jazz song or played an instrument? So when we look at what we need to fix in strength and conditioning, it's that internal toxicity and that fear of us looking our own self in the eye, of saying, we need to get over this and we need to put work out there. Because there's tremendous reflection, there's tremendous exposure, vulnerability. All those things need to be faced for us to be a healthier profession.

[00:37:44.80] You bring so much context when you speak, and you bring a lot of information that really gets to the core of the person, not just the coach, and not just the act of going out there and leading a stretch or implementing a lift. I listened to the last podcast you were on with the NSCA, and you said that if you weren't a strength coach you would have pursued criminal profiling.

[00:38:13.83] Yeah.

[00:38:17.50] One thing-- we talked about kind of that dynamic environmental personality factors in context related to coaching. And in the book, you talk about archetypes and categorizing people based on kind of their core principles, and that kind of connects with that criminal profiling mentality. How do those two come together? And so when you're kind of decoding and putting people in these archetypes, but then realizing the context of their situation, how does that shape together into a positive and constructive model for that athlete in that moment? And what's the process of finding that?

[00:39:03.73] So again, archetype is just-- and I say this in the book. Archetype is just a starting point it's a scaffolding. They exist in everyday life. We see them in movies. There's heroes, there's villains. We see the neighbor that always cuts his lawn even when he doesn't need to. I have a neighbor that this guy is the archetypical like Ned Flanders. He's always doing something out there. I think he was power washing his house the other day. So in three days, this guy's power washing his house, cut his yard three times, and done his garage. We have the archetype on social media, people that want to be combative, people that are this.

[00:39:36.46] So archetypes are a starting point. There's been some people that say, well, you can't look at archetypes. That's assigning labels. Yeah, and? We do that as human beings. I state very clearly in my book and a number of other work that nobody is ever saying you just coach off an archetype. I've never once suggested everybody labels everybody in one way, in a static way, that everybody on your team is just this. Archetypes are fluid. In one environment I may portray one kind of pattern or character. I'll give you an example.

[00:40:11.15] If I go speak for the NSCA or anybody else, I'm pretty gregarious, I'll be charismatic, I'll be outspoken. When I'm at home I am very reclusive. I do not want to be bothered. I like to just keep for myself, all those kinds of things. Like, I'll actively search for a park in which there is nobody around as opposed anything else, right? When I'm around my in-laws--

[00:40:32.28] Eric, all right, let me ask you this. Are you married?

[00:40:35.05] Yes.

[00:40:36.19] Do you speak your in-laws the same way you would old college buddies?

[00:40:41.77] Absolutely not.

[00:40:43.51] Right. So that is a version of impression management or archetypical demonstrations of different behavior. It's tied to the self-image, and our self-image changes depending on which environment we're around. Do you think in five years, a lot of people are going to be very proud that they hoarded toilet paper during COVID-19? You know what I mean? Like, when people say, well, environment doesn't dictate behavior, I say, look around you. What's the world doing right now? They're engaging in behavior that is completely driven by the environment.

[00:41:12.88] When people say communication doesn't matter, I'd say, well, I'd argue that right now communication matters more than ever. And are we communicating well as a society? Probably not. Yet we have people that say we don't need to work on it. So archetypes give you a starting point, and it's a big part of chaos theory.

[00:41:28.75] So if you look at the research in chaos theory, a lot of this kind of talks about chaos can be described as an intricate mixture of order and disorder, regularity and irregularity. Like, there's these patterns of behavior that people express throughout daily life that individually are hard to predict. Now, we can look at the law of large numbers and things can be more predictive, but the relationships between people are very complex. It's like trying to predict the weather. You might see certain patterns, but you never really know in totality what everybody's going to do, right?

[00:42:03.52] And those irregularities manifest themselves as broad categories of archetypes, things that we see. But there's an endless variety of these things. So what coaches have to understand is you have to be able to understand that coaching is complex. It is not a rationable, knowable sequence of events where people just come in and, da-da-da-da-da, they do everything you say, and if they don't, well, they're problematic. No. But you've got to be able to address these things.

[00:42:34.22] And so I think archetypes just give people a good starting point to hopefully understand we all exhibit certain traits. They're all fluid. Nobody is one way. I mean, there is this coach and he's at a big-time university, and he asked me a smart aleck question one time where he goes, all right Mr. Conscious Coaching, you wrote the book on archetypes. Tell me how to coach all my guys right now. And I go, excuse me? And he goes, if everybody is an archetype, then tell me how to coach everybody. And I go, time out. First of all, I don't even know your athletes. So how could I tell you how to coach them? Second of all, I never once said that everybody is one archetype. Third of all, even if I could tell you which archetypical characteristics your athletes have, I can only tell you that in one domain-- your weight room. It's your job as a coach to get to know them at a deeper-- Well, I don't have time for that. Well, let me ask you something. Do you ask them how they've been eating, their soreness, do you ask them about their goals? Yeah. Well, then why can't you figure out personality characteristics? It sounds like you just want to be lazy at your job.

[00:43:38.08] It's scary, Eric. It's really scary that we pass over these things and we think we're really good at it. Like, it's OK to admit you suck. Like, we all suck at it. Like, we need more safe places for coaches to fail at this kind of stuff. I mean, look at your clinics, man. Look at your clinics when you ask somebody to do a-- it's not just your clinics. It's anybody. Ask somebody to do a practical. How many people actually volunteer to take part in these practicals half the time?

[00:44:06.08] I agree with that.

[00:44:08.45] We're so scared to fail. And it's like, we're lifelong learners, but we're scared to fail. Got it. It's OK. Like, risk sucking at something. It'll actually take you a lot further.

[00:44:23.27] No, I agree. And it loops back with-- we talked about writing, and putting yourself out there is a huge part of this profession. For your personality, it might be challenging just to get up and lead a 10-minute warm up. And on the other end, you need to build yourself up to where you can speak knowledgeably for an hour in front of a crowded room, and that makes you so much better.

[00:44:49.74] I know from my experience, and I'm sure you can speak to this, it's when you get up in front of a room and share for better or for worse, right? Like, you're going to fumble on your words, or you're going to make a mistake, but you get so much back in return for what you put out there.

[00:45:10.04] You're the one in the arena. The people that I don't think deserve credit are people that hide and act like I'm too busy or get into this self-righteous thing. We have this world where some of the world's most powerful people engage on social media and put their ideas out there and write books. Really, because you're the head strength coach of a pro sports team or college sports team or whatever, you're too good to share it? And hiding behind the, well, I'm humble it's not about me is just such a cop out, because that insinuates that anybody that shares is not humble. That's not how that works.

[00:45:44.35] We can't tell an athlete come and compete, come and compete, strive to make yourself a better person, do all these things, and then the next minute chastise them if they compete too hard. Where's this disparity? And so I just think that, yeah, it concerns me, but hopefully it will get better. I just think it's a young field. If we're gracious, strength and conditioning's really only been a profession 60 to 70 years, and that's if we're gracious. And I think it has a long ways to go until it really knows what it wants to be. I think we're just in this awkward teenage stage, because all we've known is, well, open your own facility, get a pro job, get a college job. So many other ways to do this job.

[00:46:25.34] Jump ahead another 60 to 70 years. Where are we going to be? What does the future of strength and conditioning look like for you?

[00:46:32.15] Yeah, 60 to 70 years-- I would be a world class if I acted like I know what we're going to do then. But I hope in the next five, if not less, we really embrace more on the communication science and human dynamics and sociology of coaching. When people call it a soft skill, I don't think they're really in tune with the amount of research that's been done in psychology and communication and all those. I mean, there's a reason people get degrees in these things. The research about communication, behavioral dynamics, sociobiology far predates anything we have in strength and conditioning. So I'm still very confused as to why we call these things the soft science, because the art of coaching is the science of connecting, and we very much have a lot of literature on how we build relational dynamics and influence and persuade people.

[00:47:22.80] So I think that's where it's going. Again, I'm completely biased. I've started a business to help teach these things because I want to give to the field. I also hope we think bigger picture. I hope we're worried a lot less about arguing about exercises, sets, and reps, and looking at more of like what a full-scale view of what it means to be a true coach and leader, and how to have a fruitful career, and how do ask better questions than just what books should I read and what exercise is best and what training program's best. We need to be more self-aware of context, and we've got to quit tearing each other down.

[00:47:59.46] I don't engage in Twitter debates anymore. Every day somebody sends me something that somebody wants me to engage in. I don't have time for that, man. I mean, there was a time in my life where I loved that. There was like a battle rap thing because it was a chance for you to prove yourself. Our field needs to be far less worried about proving itself. Just do your job and find other ways to expand the pie. If somebody makes it big as a coach, celebrate them. At the same time, give the everyday coach-- that's what we do on our podcast. We don't interview millionaires, billionaires, people that have these huge jobs. We interview real people going through real stuff and providing real solutions, and I think we need to celebrate that too.

[00:48:39.63] Just no more gatekeepers, no more ego, no more BS. Get beyond that and think bigger, because this isn't how you tell your athletes to behave. And we behave in a really childish manner sometimes.

[00:48:50.53] Yeah. I mean, there's a lot to be said for celebrating the accomplishments around us. Talk about being a good person, and it's like, that's what it is. It's just recognizing that good things are going on around you and celebrating that and being a part of that. That's powerful Brett Bartholomew, thank you for being on today, really appreciate it, great conversation.

[00:49:13.17] Thank you. Yeah, I appreciate you. Thanks, Eric.

[00:49:15.45] This was the NSCA Coaching Podcast sponsored by Sorinex exercise equipment. For our listeners, we will include Brett's social media and contact info in the episode notes. We appreciate all of you tuning in and look forward to the next time.

[00:49:28.16] If you're new to this podcast and want to learn more about NSCA's strength and conditioning certifications, you can get all the details at NSCA.com/certification. And to all of you listening, we appreciate your support. Again, if you like the podcast, make sure you subscribe wherever you download your podcasts from. Write us a review and keep listening in. Thank you, and I look forward to talking with you all soon.

[00:49:47.94] This was the NSCA's 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.

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, TSAC-F,*D, RSCC*E

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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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Brett Bartholomew, MSEd, CSCS

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