Throughout my career, I’ve had an opportunity to observe and work alongside a lot of great coaches. One of the many reasons I feel so fortunate to have an opportunity to work with USA Hockey’s Women’s National Team is that it was through this work that I was introduced to Sarah Cahill. As with athletes, every coach has his or her own special areas of expertise. Over the 4 years we’ve worked together, Sarah has become both a great friend, and a constant source of inspiration and education.

Sarah Cahill-USA Hockey Olympics

Sarah at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Sarah could very well be the world’s leading expert in the “art of coaching” and more specifically, coach-athlete relationship building. She has the unique ability to bring out the best in other people, and more importantly, to inspire athletes to want to bring out the best in themselves.

Through a few months of persistent insistence, I was able to convince Sarah to share some of her expertise with us. Enjoy!

3 Proven Strategies to Get Athlete Buy-In

Have you ever coached a group of athletes or clients and left the session feeling like something was off?

How about meeting with a coach or parent and feeling like you were talking in two completely different directions and were never able to find common ground?

Creating buy in, regardless of whether it’s with an athlete, client, parent, or coach is one of the toughest parts of our job as strength and conditioning coaches. But it can also be one of the most rewarding and effective ways to unlock the potential of others, and to discover people’s inner motivations.

Here are 3 proven strategies to create buy in with those that you work with and get more out of every session.

1) Search for opportunities for 1:1 interactions

Problem: When working with a large group of athletes it can be difficult to provide each athlete with individualized attention without:

  1. Avoiding other athletes
  2. Creating blind spots and
  3. Making others feel as though you are showing favoritism.

Solution: During the warm-up or before the workout begins is an excellent opportunity to seek out brief 1:1 interactions.

When the group arrives try to triage the room and seek out those that appear disinterested, those that are new to the team, or approach returners whom you already have great relationships with.

Kneel down with those athletes and try to strike up a conversation by starting with an open-ended question.

Make a point of having different interactions with different athletes everyday. 

At the end of the workout, head back into your office and pick up a note book to jot down any information you want to remember about your daily conversations with those athletes: their sister just left for ___ college, they just got a new puppy named ____, their family member passed away and the funeral is on _____ date etc.

These notes may provide you with an opportunity to get to know your athletes and revisit certain conversations weeks later.

Personally, this approach and these conversations have led to some of the greatest insights about my athletes, helped strengthen my relationships with them, and thus led to much more “buy in.”

2) Create Consistent Messaging

Problem: Often times we are coaching our athletes in conjunction with other strength coaches, interns, or sport coaches, which may lead to confusion.

There is no faster way to lose credibility in the eyes of your athletes than to provide them with a different message than other coaches you are working with. We’ve all found ourselves in the scenario of having just coached an athlete and having that athlete turn to us and say that’s not what Coach “X” told me.

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Solution: One of the best ways to create buy-in with athletes is to get on the same page as the other professionals you are working with so that your messages are consistent.

This may mean attending extra meetings with the sport coaches, attending more sport practices to learn sport-specific language and messaging, or being more aware of others in the weight room.

For example, try assigning different roles to your interns or assistant coaches, where one coach can be assigned to provide positive messaging to your athletes, another coach can be assigned to survey the athletes and document exactly what weight they are using and how difficult the exercise was, etc.

Finally you could assign one intern/coach to focus in on the specifics of one exercise that day and getting really specific with your coaching cues.

Assigning specific roles allows you to give your coaches very specific directions on how you want them to communicate to the athletes, minimizing the risk of them saying something inconsistent with your message.

Consistent messaging will strengthen your credibility as a staff with those that you work with, minimize athlete frustration, and ultimately lead to much more effective sessions.

3) Try the 1-6-5 Approach

Problem: You do not have 24/7 of your athletes’ time in the week. The final strategy for effective athlete “buy-in” is something I recently heard in an interview with Dr. Roy Sugarman, author of Motivation For Coaches and Personal Trainers and Director of Sports Psychology for EXOS, during a great episode of the “Coach your Best” podcast by Jeremy Boone.

In the podcast, Dr. Sugarman introduced what he calls the 1-6-5 Approach to mental performance. This approach is something I try to emulate as I believe it is an incredibly important ingredient for athlete buy-in. The basic premise of this approach is that there are 168 hours in a week, and most coaches get to work with their athletes three days a week for 1 hour. This means you have a presence in their lives for 3 hours a week, and for the remaining 165 hours they are on their own.

The question is what are those athletes and clients doing during those 165 hours? Often times as coaches we are asking for our athletes to make small changes, but for most people change is incredibly difficult. It is during those 165 hours that our clients and athletes may be making choices that directly contradict our recommendations.

Solution: Therefore, to create the greatest amount of buy-in with our athletes we must find ways to have a presence with our athletes during the 165 hours.  For example, in my work with the USA Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team, we send our athletes daily surveys to fill out every morning. These surveys have been incredibly informative and are another effective tool to continue to have a strong presence during the 165 hours.

Another effective tool in maintaining a daily presence is to send a “random” (but calculated) athlete a text or e-mail just to check in. The true magic and when the greatest amount of buy-in takes place when we find ways to inspire our athletes to want to make changes for themselves.

Wrap Up

If we always remember to work towards the 165 hours by creating authentic relationships with our athletes through 1:1 interactions, consistent messaging, tasking them with things to think about when they’re not with us, and by personally checking in during the week, we are maintaining a strong presence in their lives and showing each athlete that we are by their side at all times.

As a result, when your athletes are faced with those difficult decisions about going out drinking with friends, or staying home to get a good night of rest, they will be better prepared to make the right decision.

Hopefully these strategies are helpful or reinforce what is you already know. Coach on and continue to change lives!

-Sarah Cahill

Sarah Cahill is the Site Director of InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW, Kendall Square) and a Strength and Conditioning Coach for USA Hockey’s Women’s National Team. Prior to joining ICW, Sarah spent time as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Northeastern University, as the Head Performance Specialist at the Core Performance Center, and as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at University of Oklahoma.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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“…one of the best DVDs I’ve ever watched”
“A must for anyone interested in coaching and performance!”

Optimizing Movement DVD Package

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Last week I came across a couple articles and a video on hockey development and hockey training that I thought were well done and wanted to share with you. Before we get to that, I wanted to ask a favor of you.

About a year ago, my friend Sarah Cahill first told me about a group in Boston known as Inner City Weightlifting. Sarah is an incredible strength coach, but also the most compassionate person I know. It did not surprise me at all that she would want to get involved with this type of effort. ICW is one of the most amazing organizations I’ve ever heard of.

InnerCity Weightlifting
Check out their mission statement:

“Our mission is to reduce violence and promote professional, personal and academic achievement among urban youth. We work with young people at the highest risk for violence in order to reduce youth violence by getting our students off the streets and into the gym, where they are empowered with the confidence and positive support needed to say no to violence and yes to opportunity.”

Lofty task, especially in the Boston areas they’re targeting. What doesn’t come through in the mission statement is the actual implementation. The founders, Jon and Josh Feinman, would literally drive into the most dangerous areas to pick up kids that couldn’t find a way to get there themselves. They’re pulling kids out of gang-driven, futureless areas, giving them a same place to spend time, teaching positive mental skills and life habits (while training) and providing kids with an opportunity to become strength coaches by sponsoring certifications and education opportunities for them. They’re also, quite impressively, breaking down social barriers, as the urban youth turned S&C coaches have opportunities to train clients from all walks of life (earning an income), but notably executives from Microsoft. Yes, former (and what would be future) gang members, training Microsoft execs.


Inner City Weightlifting

Jon shown here with an ICW disciple.

Check out the feature ESPN did on ICW: ESPN Feature on ICW

The weekend I filmed my Optimizing Movement DVDs in New Hampshire, I had an opportunity to stop by UMass Lowell on my drive home and sit in on a few presentations that Kevin Carr, Brendon Rearick, Ana Tocco, and Henry Lau (I’m sure amongst others) helped organize. Jon and Josh, along with Reggie Talbert (former gang member turned GM and Coach at ICW) and Joe Sierra (an ICW Coach and now Assistant Manager) had an opportunity to introduce themselves and tell us about their story. Honestly, I was fighting back tears through their entire talk, unsuccessfully (one dropped), which ultimately ended a 7.5 year no-cry streak that was reset shortly after watching The Notebook.

There’s nothing to be embarrassed about here…
So…where do you fit in? If you’ve been reading my site for a while, you know that I almost never ask for favors. In fact, I think the single other time I did make a request, it was to help sponsor my dad who was doing his first 100-mile bike ride to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis. Likewise, this request has nothing to do with me, but is an opportunity to support an amazing cause that I believe in. My friend Anthony Renna, after hearing about ICW’s story, decided to dedicate an entire Strength Coach Podcast to help spread the word about their cause. He also went a step further and had co-branded (SC Podcast and ICW) t-shirts made. THIS is where you come in. The t-shirts are available for purchase here: Limited Edition ICW Fundraiser T-Shirt. They’re only $25 and all of the proceeds go to ICW. I just bought 6 for myself and coworkers at Endeavor. If they sell 500 shirts, they raise over $8,000 for ICW! That would be an amazing contribution!

Strength Coach Podcast Inner City Weightlifting Shirts

SC Podcast Logo on the Front; ICW on the back.

However, if each of you reading this buys ONE, WE can single-handedly raise over $24,000! 

$25 gets you a sweet t-shirt, and helps support an unbelievable cause, providing opportunities for inner city kids to not only get access to a safer environment, but to change the course of their future permanently.

Even better, if you buy a shirt and email me the receipt, I’ll hook you up with a FREE copy of Ultimate Hockey Training AND if you’re local to the Mid-Atlantic area and can make the trip to see me at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ, I’ll assess you (or your kid) and write a 1-month training program for you for absolutely FREE!

If you aren’t local to Endeavor, but would like some feedback on your exercise technique, just shoot video of yourself performing the exercises you want feedback with and send them to me (or post them on youtube and send me the links) and I’ll provide feedback and a few coaching cues to help make sure you’re getting the most out of your lifts. This is a GREAT deal! Basically you get an awesome t-shirt, a great hockey training resource, and 30-days of coaching for $25!

This is a cause that means a lot to me, and if we team up together we can have a HUGE impact on an incredible organization and the kids surrounding one of the greatest hockey cities in the world. Click the link below to grab your shirt today and then forward me the receipt (!

Grab your shirt here >> Limited Edition ICW Fundraiser T-Shirt

Tomorrow I’ll be back with a few great hockey development resources that you’ll want to see!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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“…a must-have for coaches and strength professionals at all levels of hockey.”

Ultimate Hockey Training

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As has been the theme this Summer, the last several weeks have been exceptionally busy. I was in Blaine, MN for 10 days with the US Women’s National Team, which was an awesome experience. Anthony Donskov and Sarah Cahill were out there with me, both of which are awesome coaches that I always learn a lot from. The three of us have become affectionately known as “The Unit”. While I was out there, Sarah and I had an opportunity to meet and talk shop with Mike T Nelson and Cal Dietz (separately), which was great. I binge read Cal’s 350+ page book over the weekend so I’ll share some of the things I learned in the near future.

The Unit Locker

As a quick aside, last night I confirmed that I’ll be speaking at the USA Hockey Level 4 Clinic in New Jersey in a couple weeks. Let me know if you’ll be there!

Last night I also worked with David Lasnier to test the U-18 team we work with. It was interesting to see how all of their hard work paid off over the Summer. The team tested exceptionally well, but some of the highlights included the goalie knocking out 17 chin-ups (perfect form; team average was over 10), and one of the players doing DB Reverse Lunges w/ 90lb dumbbells for 20 on each leg, at which point I stopped him. Unfortunately, 90s were the heaviest dumbbells we had at the rink so that was where the majority of the team rep-tested (intended to do a 5-RM). Overall I was really impressed, and am looking forward to how the two U-16 teams do over the next couple of weeks and how everyone does with the few on-ice tests we’ll be doing soon.

Rotational Power Training

I’ve written in the past about the role that off-ice rotational power development plays in improving shooting power and other aspects of hockey performance. Today I just wanted to post a video of one of my favorite exercises: Side Standing Rotational Med Ball Shotput with Rapid Cross-Under and Partner Pass

There’s a lot to take in with this, but the idea is that it:

  1. Integrates a dynamic start and change in foot position
  2. Drives rotational power from the ground-up, very similar to the strategy most commonly used on the ice
  3. Utilizes rotational hip torque to generate power
  4. Integrates a rapid adjustment in eye position, both to track the ball into the hands, and to turn to pick a spot on the wall to throw the ball at (we coach our players to pick a spot and throw the ball through that spot…quickly) which happens constantly on the ice

Tough day to be the wall
This is a great exercise for a lot of reasons, but it’s also relatively simple to teach. I get questions a lot from people running youth off-ice programs that don’t have a lot of equipment or time; I think this is a good fit for those situations (starting without the foot movement and without the partner toss). That said, we wrap up our rotational med ball work at the end of the off-season and almost never come back to it until the end of the season because the players undergo so much rotational stress on the ice.

Aside from being a beast, I chose to gave Eric some press here to return the favor, as I found out early this week that my name ended up in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an interview he did about his role with the Penguins next season.

Now he can tell his friends that he was featured at, which is basically the same thing (no?).

Give this exercise a try and please post any questions you have about how or when to do it below!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Get an inside look at how I design year-round comprehensive hockey training programs here: Ultimate Hockey Training

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