Strength Coach Success Secrets: Exclusive Interview with Chris Boyko

KN: Coach Boyko, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this.  Can you please introduce yourself to those readers that may not yet know you?

CB: My pleasure.  Thanks for the opportunity.  I am an assistant strength coach at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  I have worked with Men’s Ice Hockey for eight years and worked with a combination of Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Men’s and Women’s Ski Team, and Men’s Soccer for the past 6 years.

KN: Before you started working at UMass, where were some of the places you’ve interned, volunteered, observed, etc.?

CB: I started the path that led me to UMass by volunteering at Brookline High School when I was an undergrad at UMass-Lowell.  I then applied to graduate school at Springfield College and had the pleasure of volunteering at Holy Cross with Jeff Oliver.  During graduate school I worked with the teams on campus as well as interned at Northeast Sports Training in Warwick, RI and at the University of Arizona in Tucson.  I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to work part-time with the hockey team at UMass and that blossomed into a full-time position after I completed my graduate work.  I consider myself very lucky to have the opportunities that I have had and to be able to work with some excellent strength coaches and teachers along the way.

KN: You’ve had a lot of success at UMass with the ski team recently winning a national championship and men’s soccer finishing in the final 4 last year.  What’s your secret?  Can you expand on how your training philosophy has evolved over the years?

CB: First, I would say that I do not believe that I am not primarily responsible for these team’s accomplishments.  If the team is not well coached and good athletes are not recruited, then they are not going to perform well no matter what I do with them in the weightroom.  One thing that I have learned over my short career as a strength and conditioning coach is that there is more than one way to be a successful strength coach.  Various coaches have various methods of keeping their athletes healthy, making them stronger, more fit, and better athletes.  I may not follow the same template of other strength coaches, but I sure can learn from what they do and take certain ideas and apply them if I agree.  If I don’t agree, at least I can stop and think of why I don’t want to use it, which can sometimes be just as good.  Over the last 8 years I have been exposed to a variety of coaches with a variety of styles of programming and coaching.  I have learned and taken ideas, exercises, and coaching methods from all of them to form my philosophy.  By trying others programs, analyzing them, then trying different things with my athletes has led me to the philosophy that I have now.  One thing that I would like to add is that there are certain basic principles that I believe in, but I am always open to change if it will benefit my athletes.  So my philosophy is being constantly “tweaked.”

KN: The strength and conditioning profession seems to have a certain stigma of being brain-dead meatheads amongst academics.  Where do you think the disconnect is?  What can strength coaches do to help bridge the gap?

CB: I am not really exposed to much of this, so hopefully I won’t stick my foot in my mouth.  Unfortunately, strength and conditioning coaches have developed a stereotype of muscle bound meatheads that are just bent on seeing big testing numbers by just having athletes lift heavy and eat excessive amounts of red meat without any thought to their programs.  If you saw me, the last thing you would think is that I am a strength coach.  When I tell people they usually laugh and say I thought you were a banker or accountant.  The point being, I need to be well-read and educated to have my athletes believe in me and my programs.  I believe there are more educated strength coaches than ever before and that there is a gap between the academic world and the strength and conditioning world because we have to have a strong academic understanding as well as practical experience.  I can say this, there have been wonderful studies that have said a certain protocol or exercise is effective, but in the weight room it may not be possible due to lack of staff, facilities, or time.

KN: I agree.  A lot of the in-lab studies aren’t always practical in the real world.

I’ve found picking the brains of people such as yourself, Brijesh Patel, Michael Boyle, and Eric Cressey to be an invaluable resource in helping me to create and modify my programs.  How important do you think it is to network with other strength coaches?

CB: I think it is extremely important to network.  I am by far NOT the best strength coach in the world.  One of the best ways of making myself better is to talk to other strength coaches and see what they are doing and how they address some of the problems that I am having.  I believe if you stop learning, asking questions, and modifying your program then you will be doing your athletes a disservice.  I have been very fortunate to work with a core group of excellent strength coaches such as Jeff Oliver, Bob Otrando, Brad Arnett, Brijesh Patel, and Mark Stephenson.  My network has expanded by being in their network and it just evolves from there.  I try to talk to as many people as I can, try not to burn any bridges, and through that I am able to expand my network.

KN: Speaking of learning and finding new ideas, how has continuing education been instrumental in your success?  Other than the coaches you listed above, what resources/seminars do you rely on for new information/ideas?

CB: I definitely believe it helps in terms of molding a philosophy and bettering yourself as a strength coach.  As I already stated, if you stop learning you will be cheating the athletes you train because they are trusting their health and careers in your hands.  I rely on subscriptions to the NSCA journals, Training and Conditioning, and Biomechanics.  I believe Mike Boyle, S&B Coaches College, and Eric Cressey do a great job of putting out quality information (by the way I am not getting any endorsement money for this).  I believe it is important to network at conferences.  Perform Better does an excellent job of putting together a diverse lineup of speakers at their seminars and I have been able to expand my network at these events (once again, no endorsement money for this either).

KN: In the last several years there seems to be a merging of information between the strength and conditioning and physical therapy fields.  Do you think this will continue in the future?  What changes do you think will occur (or do you hope to see) in our profession over the next 5-10 years?

CB: I think it will.  I would just caution falling in love with any new trend or fad.  People tend to take new concepts such as functional training, core training, corrective exercise, and mobility work and do it to the point of excess and forget that you still have to have fit and strong athletes.  Not to say that these ideas don’t have value, because I believe in all of these concepts, but I do believe there should be an appropriate balance.  I would like to see the profession continue to grow with motivated coaches that are eager to learn and share ideas for the benefit of the athletes that we train.  I would like to hope that this can be accomplished by quality coaches with experience putting out quality information.  I think the internet has been great in regards to being an avenue to access a lot of information.  I just hope it doesn’t become littered with B.S. from people that are not qualified.

KN: Last question.  Knowing what you know now, would you do anything different during your college years?  What advice would you give to an aspiring strength and conditioning professional?

CB: I still don’t think I know that much, but If I had to do something different I would have started learning and training more seriously from an earlier age from more qualified teachers.  I started my weightlifting training with college roommates that were bigger than me and I would say I wasted a couple of years of training and developed some bad habits (and shoulders) that were tough to break.  The advice that I would give to an aspiring strength and conditioning professional would be to never stop learning, try everything, and be very open-minded.

KN: Thanks Coach, and good luck the rest of the year at UMass.

CB: Thanks for having me and I hope I have been helpful.

Kevin Neeld, BSc, MS, CSCS is the Director of Athletic Development at Endeavor Fitness in Sewell, NJ and the author of Hockey Training University’s “Off-Ice Performance Training Course,” a must-have resource for every hockey program.  Through the application of functional anatomy, biomechanics, and neural control, Kevin specializes in guiding hockey players to optimal health and performance. Kevin developed an incredible ice hockey training membership site packed full of training programs, exercise videos, and articles specific to hockey. For a FREE copy of “Strong Hockey Core Training”, one of the sessions from his course, go to his hockey training website.

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