Guest Post: 3 Key Lessons

With over 20 years experience and success in high level athletic performance enhancement I was pumped when Jorge Carvajal said he’d write for Jorge is a Sport Performance Coach who specialises in training athletes for the NFL Combine.

Lessons Learned as a Performance Coach

I recently sat down with a young strength & conditioning coach who had been emailing me for the better part of a year trying to have a sit down.

His agenda was simple, “I want to pick your brain,” “and I’d like to do it face to face, “he said.

My only requirement was that he had a specific set of questions when we met.

He agreed and I picked the place. We met at a little Mexican place that has the best fish tacos in Ft. Lauderdale.

He seemed much younger when I met him than when I started in the business, but I suppose that’s what someone would have said about me then too.

He sat, ordered and got straight to his questions.

“What are three pieces of advice you can give me as a new coach?”

I thought he was going to ask me some specific training questions he had about a client or something along those lines, but I understood where he was coming from.

Many years ago I had approached another coach who is now a mentor with the very same questions.

I pondered his question and realized that I had been thinking about what makes up my coaching philosophy the day before.

Every year I sit down and I come up with the things to add to that philosophy with respect to athletic performance.

Currently, those thoughts fill over fifteen notebooks. Sometimes it’s a word, sometimes it’s a paragraph and sometimes it just goes on and on, but this year I realized that there are three things that make up the base of my philosophy.

“Ok”, I said, “here’s the first.”

Trust your Abilities as Coach!”

He raised his eyebrows and took out his pen and wrote down exactly what I had just said.


“It’s simple,” I said, "more often than not I have all the information I need to develop a program, but like most, sometimes I seem paralysed with the inability to make a decision. I want all the available information. I want the program to be perfect. I don’t want to make a mistake, but the truth is that I suffer from a terrible sickness. It’s called “analysis by paralysis” - the state of overthinking and overanalysing to the point that an action isn’t taken."

You will never have all the information, it will never be perfect and you will make mistakes. If you’re writing a program for an athlete, design the program, put in place –re-assess and change the program if needed.

Keep re-assessing and adapting as the situation/athlete dictates. Stop over analyzing things. The best performance coaches in the world don’t have it all figured out and neither will you. What they do different, what I do different now, is we trust in our abilities.

"The Athlete Needs to be Sold."

Most of the time, we assume that since we are the coach, the athlete automatically buys in. Nothing could be further from the truth. “The most important piece of advice I can give you is that you must explain to the athlete why you’re doing what you’re doing.”


Why is that particular exercise in their program, why those sets, why that specific time under tension?

If you don’t have a reason, an exercise or a particular set may have no meaning to them. They just plug along mindlessly completing the exercise, without respect to the specific parameters set, until it’s time for their next exercise.

In time, it means that there will be little increase in their performance and that’s where you lose buy-in into both your program, and your abilities as a performance coach. It’s very hard to recover from that. The best program is the one bought into by the athlete. The worst is the one the athlete doesn’t buy into, regardless of you spending ten thousand hours developing it!

“Are you ready for number three” I said, as my fish tacos were getting cold and the waitress had stopped by the table twice to ask if the food was ok, because we hadn’t touched it.

’Be an Economist with you Program Design!”

It’s not about Olympic lifting or pushing a sled, or jumping off and on a box. It’s about context. It’s about how the exercise is used and applied. Why those exercises? Can we substitute another one? Can we use just three exercises instead of four?  Can the athlete follow your program within the context of time, facilities and equipment?


Sometimes I see programs designed by coaches with enough volume to kill King Kong himself, containing an elaborate menu of exercises. When I see a program like that and I question the coach, “What’s your specific recovery plan, because you’re going to need one”.

The look I get from the coach is one of complete wonder. It’s something they hadn’t even thought of because they’re so busy building the perfect program with all the new exercise they just read about in their favourite blog.

“Be simpler with regards to your program design.” The age old phrase of Keep It Simple, Stupid applies here often. Get back to your training roots where simplicity ruled the workout. Why are you doing what you’re doing?

So 1) Trust in your Abilities, 2) Sell the Athlete and 3) Keep your program design simple, three things that will make your job and life as a coach easier.

Jorge Carvajal is a performance coach to NFL, MLB and Olympic athletes. You’re missing out if you’re not following him on Twitter @carvperformance. Click here for more information. 

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