Whether it’s thought of as a barber shop, a confessional, or simply a proving ground, the weight rooms and athletics fields where strength and conditioning coaches do their work are places that make an impact on the future of student-athletes, both on and off the field.
“It’s called G.S.D. That’s ‘get stuff done,’” said Jeff Dillman, Director of Football Strength and Conditioning. “Some people want to be given stuff. If you have a ‘get stuff done’ mindset, then you can be successful in anything you want to do.”
“The weight room is the ultimate ‘blue collar’ area,” said Ryan Waterbury, who is the strength and conditioning coach with softball and volleyball and also assists with baseball. “It’s the ultimate place where what you get out of it depends on what you put into it, and that carries over into anything you do in life.”
“They have to trust you,” men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Scott Greenawalt (right) said. “We don’t decide if they’re starting, playing ten minutes, or if they’re playing at all. One thing we have to make sure they understand is that I’m here to get them better. A successful strength coach has to be one who has those guys believing in what we’re doing, and how it’s going to lead to the court, and help them with playing time.”
“This is a place that I want people to want to be at,” said Billy Anderson, South Carolina’s Director of Sport Performance and the baseball program’s strength and conditioning coach for the last 15 years. “You’re going to work. We have a lot of guys come in here and just want to talk. I like that. I want them to feel welcomed here.”
Strength and conditioning coaches are in unique positions as they have access to student-athletes throughout the year, even during times when the coaching staff is not permitted to work with players or hold practices.
“You have to wear a lot of hats as a strength coach,” Waterbury said. “Not only is it your job to prevent injury and develop athletic performance, but it’s also your job to help build their work ethic and a culture for the team because we are with them a lot.”
Having that trust on both ends helps them buy into the whole process of what we’re trying to do.Alex Buchman, Strength & Conditioning Coach, Women's Soccer
The nature of their job can create a trust as the weight room may serve as a safe haven where the staff can gain important insight as to what is happening in the student-athlete’s lives.
“Just being around them more in those areas, you see and hear things that maybe you wouldn’t hear in a training session,” said Alex Buchman, who enters his fifth year as the strength and conditioning coach for women’s soccer. “It’s not just about weightlifting and rehab. It helps to get to know them on a personal level. It also helps to know other outside pressures they’re experiencing. Having that trust on both ends helps them buy into the whole process of what we’re trying to do.”
“Student-athletes will sometimes come to us before they come to their coach for advice,” Anderson (right) said. “Maybe they want to go to the coach, and they’ll come to me about how to approach it with the coach. You see them so much, and they tend to open up to you.”
The strength and conditioning coaches have the trust of the coaching staff, and they also build a trust with the student-athletes so they can help them resolve any issues they may be having on or off the field/court.
“Obviously if it’s something serious and we need to get other people involved, we will,” Dillman said. “We have meetings all the time, and we have our ‘Beyond Football’ meetings on Wednesdays where we teach them stuff off the field about making good choices and surrounding yourself with the right people.”
“There is a lot of communication that goes on with athletic trainers and coaches,” Waterbury said. Ultimately, the strength and conditioning staff is here to get the student-athletes ready and to teach good habits."
“It’s tough love,” Greenawalt said. “I tell recruits that you’re probably going to hate me the first couple of weeks. I’m here to help you, and once you see results, you’ll send me a Christmas card.”
“Our goal here is to win on the field and win off the field,” Dillman said. “You win games on the field, and you win off the field if they have the tools to be successful in whatever they want to be. It’s like a marriage. It’s about commitment. Are you committed to being the best, or are you just interested in being the best?”
The field has evolved from a time when football had the only strength and conditioning coach and was on loan to other sports during the offseason to a place where the Gamecocks now have seven full time strength coaches and two graduate assistants for their Olympic sports alone.
“They want us at practice,” Anderson said. “It’s not just in the weight room. They want us to travel. They want us to stretch the teams before and after practices and do recovery sessions on the weekends or between games. Most folks may think we just work in the weight room, but it’s a lot more than that.”
And the work that’s being done is not a one-size fits-all approach.
“I tell people I’m a strength coach, and they think I just run around a weight room and bark at guys,” Greenawalt said. “That’s not the case. There are so many little things. You’re a skill coach, a flexibility coach, and you’re a food coach. You have a lot of different roles. [Head Coach] Frank [Martin] and I are on the same page. At the end of the day, they have to get better.”
“You work around their positions and injuries,” Anderson said. “It’s not cookie cutter at all. For me, the hitters and pitchers are two different teams. They have completely different workouts.”
You won’t hear the strength and conditioning coaches complain about long hours and travel, and they all embrace the various challenges of their profession.
“I don’t look at this as a challenge,” Anderson smiled. “I come to work in shorts and a t-shirt. If you find a job that you love to do, then it’s not a job. To me, that’s what I’ve found.”
“Getting kids when they first get here to understand how to work is the biggest challenge,” Greenawalt said. “I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, with the steel mills. So for a lot of people in my generation, work is just what you did. A lot of kids these days don’t grow up like that. Maybe the value of work hasn’t been preached to them. It’s not their fault. It’s just what it is. You have to get them in here to work, not just today, but the next day and the next day.”
“You don’t want to take away from them the ability to enjoy college life, too,” Dillman said. “If you have fun in what you’re doing, think how much better you’re going to get. If you’re miserable, you’re not going to put 100 percent into it. The only way to get them committed all the time is that barbershop theory. They come in, they’ll have great conversations. They know they’re going to get a great product. Coach [Will] Muschamp is big on effort, toughness and discipline. That’s what we instill in them every day. That’s not just in football, but in everyday life.”