You vs. Your Athletes

I recently came across a question from a new coach who was torn between training with his athletes and training for his own (different) goals. His dilemma was that he wanted to set the pace for his athletes by leading the conditioning workouts, but he also had entirely different goals for himself. Leading the conditioning sessions would detract from his goals. He was at a fork in the road and had to make a decision.

My advice is to separate your goals from those of your athletes. As a coach, your job is to prepare your athletes for their specific needs. Coaches are not judged by their own athletic abilities. The coach is judged on his ability to teach and prepare his athletes for their respective events. Yes, past experience is important and relevant, but the experience should already be present, as it should be a prerequisite to earn the position.

For a real world example, consider the sport of boxing. Working the corner for a fighter does not mean you throw punches between rounds. You are there to provide strategic advice, alert your fighter to possible mistakes, keep him mentally sharp, etc. Your own abilities as an athlete are irrelevant. You are not paid to fight. You are paid to prepare the athlete so he can fight. What you do on your own time is entirely up to you.

Using myself as an example, I often have entirely different goals from those I train. Holding the mitts for a fighter has nothing to do with my own development.

I have not fought in over a decade. My own training is for me. This stance may appear selfish at first glance, but I strongly believe in the importance of taking time out for yourself. I spend a considerable amount of time helping others, so taking an hour in the morning to target my goals helps keep me physically and mentally fresh. Getting my workout out of the way in the morning allows me to spend my work day focused on helping others. My own work is finished so it is not a distraction.

As a man in my 30’s, I have a long list of goals and challenges that I would like to achieve in my life. I’m hoping to exercise for at least another fifty years. That is longer than I’ve been alive. There is no way I am going to train one way for such a long period. I will continue to pursue my own personal interests and challenges (on my own time).

Currently, I am working on a new deadlift challenge. The image above is from yesterday when I pulled 565 pounds. I am hoping to hit 600 pounds this year. My own deadlift challenge is irrelevant to my role as a coach. I don’t even have a specific reason for pursuing the goal, other than it being something that is new and different for me. I’ve never focused too much time on this particular exercise.

Five years from now, I might be training for a marathon or perhaps a triathlon. I honestly don’t know. Wherever my passion leads me, I will be sure to target my goals on my own time. It will not interfere with my coaching.

In summary, it is great to see coaches who are determined to lead by example, but you should also hope that your athletes surpass your own abilities. Your job is help your athletes excel. Your job is to make them the best that they can possibly be. If you are always trying to stay a step ahead, your priorities will interfere with the development of your athletes. When you train an athlete, he or she must come first. Don’t let your ego interfere with their development.

Take your eyes away from the mirror and focus your attention on those who rely on you.


  1. You are a great guy Ross. I too hope that my training can last as long as I live. In one form or another. Thanks for being a great inspiration to me 🙂

  2. Good Points Ross.

    You goals should be your own irrespective of others. I find that I train on my own because nobody has the goals I have. It is very rare to be on the same path as someone else.

    I think that his thoughts could be along the lines of losing face and respect if he cannot keep up or that he doesn’t want to be seen not to be able to do something as well as he can teach it.

    I have seen coaches/trainers lose sight of this before.


  3. Nice to see what you are currently up to.

    I am curious what kind of program you follow to get that last 35 pounds.

  4. Very valid points and I agree. The clients pay you to help them get better, that is your job and you should do it to the best of your abilities.

    I also like your attitude towards training. For me it is important that I find working out fun.

    Great post Ross!

  5. Great blog, as usual. Your deadlift is massive, 600 by the end of the year should be very do-able! Good luck!!

  6. I coach and teach at the High School and Junior High level. One of my biggest pet-peeve is my athletes asking me why I am not doing a workout. I know they say this when they are no where near tired and it is usually the less motivated athletes who would like to have a break from the work out to talk about why. I have learned to ignore the question and come back to the point after practice. I usually start by telling them that in no way does my physical conditioning help them to wrestle and 2 it is completely optional for them to participate in the sport.

  7. Ross, I have a question for you:

    I am 34 and, like you, plan on training for as long as my body can handle it. I am an ex-bodybuilder turned martial artist. Besides my fight training, I still enjoy heavy, powerlifting moves. Problem is, my joints are giving out on me! I will probably have to undergo shoulder surgery soon and my other joints are also getting hurt often. Doctors tell me it’s due to years of heavy lifting.

    My question is – how do you keep your joints in such good shape? I am amazed at the way you train – you don’t seem to have any issues. How do you do it?

  8. Alex – It boils down to balance in terms of training intensity and training style. Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket. Yes, I lift heavy at times, but that isn’t the extent of my training (ex. bodyweight exercise, bands, etc.).

    It is also important to include active means of recovery/restoration. There is much more to training than simply picking up and putting down the weight.

    Lastly, considering your current situation, you may wish to also consider supplementing with something such as cissus.

  9. Ross, you deadlifted 565 lbs wow for your weight thats STRONG

    Did you do low reps and 3 days a week with deadlifts?

    Great Post

  10. Ross, how much are you weighting? 600 is awesome for any weight actually, I am currently 130 and pulling 260, working to pull a 3x bodyweight … cool post thanks.

  11. Ross you think you can elaborate on your joint advice? I read your post but do not really understand your message. Perhaps you can maybe write an article on it in the future? I too would like to know how to maintain joints so they don’t hurt.

    Thanks for a great site.

  12. Nice words Ross; I find to my amusement that my teenage sons are always competing with me for everything, especially feats of strength. I’ve learned the hardway to cruise at my own pace and find my own way.

    To me the most important thing is that: “I’m only as strong as my weakest link”

  13. Damn, I also hit 565 (260kg as I’m from Europe) in the deadlift yesterday. Cool 😛

    And very impressive, as you weigh considerably less then I do and you are not a powerlifter.

  14. I’m not a coach by any means, Im a 20 y/o who has a passion for training. With that being said, I’m surprised at how much I took out of this entry. Thanks Ross.


  15. Very valid points about pursuing your personal goals. That said, your post shows how ‘personal’ those goals are and how variable they are for different people – for me the goal of deadlifting a very heavy weight has no motivational value at all, whereas training to get fit to climb a particular rock route or to complete an endurance challenge in the mountains makes sense to me. I joined a gym in January, went twice and haven’t been back since – the instructor simply wanted me to do a circuit of weights then to gradually monitor my progress over time. I went home, made a water ball, bought a sledgehammer, got some bands and a pull-up bar and have just done my own thing. Like you say, maybe sometime in the future my goals will change and I’ll be obsessed with the desire to do an advanced yoga position (e.g. the Scorpion – and probably be found dead aged 80 with a broken neck with my yoga book next to me!)

  16. Very impressed Ross.
    Love your work buddy–your site and blog is one of the best on the web.
    I only look at a select few sites-( no time clients and kids ) yours is allways top of my list.
    You have the right balance of everything -in life-business-training and nutrition.
    Well done sir –please keep up the good work.
    Train hard eat clean- Ian.

  17. Ross,
    I deadlifted 500 pounds in 1981 when I was 19. Since then I’ve served 4 years in the USMC infantry, ran a marathon, half marathons and did a fair amount of cycling. I’m 48 now and very into functional strength training and conditioning. Your website and the info you put out have helped me enormously. Keep up the good work and all the best to you and your family. I’m working on the Warrior’s test and it makes a 25 mile forced road march with full combat gear seem not so difficult anymore!

  18. Ross,
    Without a doubt you provide the best training information and insight anywhere on the web. We are inundated by infomercials for P90X and other gimmicks and the latest craze of CrossFit, which have worthwhile content but whose focus is really making a buck. None of these top what you provide plus you focus on the no nonsense approach. Keep it up.

  19. Great Post! I teach martial arts with a heavy conditioning component and often get asked by my students why I only demonstrate and call the workouts and not participate. I may teach martial arts, but I am also a triathlete and train up to 10 hours per week. The newer students don’t realize the intense workouts I put in everyday before I come into our gym, the old students have figured it out- usually after they see me out on my bike 40 miles out of town or running deep in the country.

  20. As a coach with my own style of strength training classes, I can totally relate to this post.

    I mistakenly thought in my earlier days that I would have to stay ahead of my clients/athletes – but that was exactly what you say it was, my ego.

    If or should I say when my clients pass me it will give me great satisfaction.

  21. Hey Ross,

    Very true what you say.
    how do you think about sparring with your athletes?
    I ask this because I also teach kickboxing to people. With sparring I feel that I’m in a fragile position as a trainer because of two things:
    1. I’m still a pretty ok fighter (age: still early 30’s)and I rarely take big hits from students. So I wanna show that to my students so they can learn. But I can’t really kick their ass because I don’t wanna really hurt them or knock em out. They, on the otherhand, want to fight me and learn. and still they don’t try to knock me out. but if they would hit me big once, I could lose respect from them. As a trainer you’re not in the position to get knocked out. I once had a trainer who I could beat. and then I lost a bit of respect too.
    I love sparring and like to teach it to my students. My question to you is: would you sparr with them? and if yes: how?
    or just arrange sparring partners and coach them from outside the ring ? and then fight other than students to do my own training.

    thnx Ross for a good article!


    ps funny to see that the other comments to this article are mainly focused on your deadlift goal, while you are talking about coaching and coach&athlete relationship. anyways,good luck with the deadliftin’

    1. Hello Kaya, for beginners, it could be useful, but as they become more advanced, your job is to be outside the ring, providing instruction to them against other opponents. You need to help them find openings, create openings, correct mistakes, etc. That happens when you instruct/coach them against others, not while you are the one inside the ring against them.

  22. Great Blog article Ross!!

    Just recently stumbled across your site here from a FB link a friend recently posted referring me here… Love your insight and old school training philosophy… Especially the do it yourself articles and vids!! “Furniture sliders” who would have thought… Love it!!

    I’m 44 years young and like you look forward to training myself another 50 years. I’m also a High School wrestling coach and have been wrestling myself since the age of 5 and coaching the past 17 plus years.

    I coach for the love of the sport! I coach because I know from personal experience that you get out of wrestling exactly what you put into it and I know how that can carry over into real life situations. Especially as an individual sport and the humility wrestling can teach our youth and how that pertains to real life. Every wrestler loses, even the great Dan Gable lost once, It’s the picking oneself back up after that loss and trying harder the next time that makes it such a great sport.
    I coach because I care! I coach for that one kid who comes back to me years later and says, “Thanks coach, you really made a difference in my life.”… To me that’s what coaching is all about!!

    I agree in setting your own personal goals separate from our athletes is a good thing and always have. I do however run and train with my wrestlers and even wrestle with our heaviest wrestlers in the room (No one else big enough for them to train with and give them a challenge) and the kids seem to really get into it more when I’m out there on the mat with them.
    Rather than them sitting through “long boring instruction time” (to them) they get much more excited seeing a move I perform on one of our bigger wrestlers and all seem to pop to attention, “Howd’ you do that Coach?!?! Teach Us!!”

    Also recently had the opportunity earlier this Fall to attend a clinic and even get some alone time with recent Olympic Gold Medalist Jordon Burroughs and talking with him about the coaches and coaching he’s had in his life. His all time favorite coach and even today still by his side at all his major events was his college coach. When asked why, he responded with, because he wasn’t afraid to get out there on the mat with us and we knew that he would never ask us to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do with us or by himself… We trusted him.

    To me that meant the world and I hope my wrestlers all feel the same about me.

    Keep up the great work!

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