By Paul Markgraff | CSCCa
Kathy Crowe-Wagner grew up on the storied gridirons of Texas high school football. Her father coached high school football, her mother was a high school teacher and her two brothers were highly involved in sports.
"I grew up moving very nomadically around the state of Texas," she says, which is not unusual for the children of coaches. Family life typically revolves around sports, and that worked out just fine for Crowe-Wagner.
After achieving success as a high school discus thrower, she earned distinction as a three-time All-American discus thrower (1998-2000) and Lone Star Conference Champion (2000) at Angelo State University, where she also graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in kinesiology. She followed that up with her master's degree in kinesiology from UTEP.
"Originally, I was going to be a throwers coach," says Crowe-Wagner. "That's when I realized I had a love affair with the weight room. A lot of training for throwing is weightlifting. I remember talking to my dad about coaching and he said maybe I could coach in the weight room. I didn't have a strength coach when I was in college, so that's when I reached out to Coach [Chuck] Stiggins. He was at BYU at the time. I asked if I could work there over the summer to find out what strength and conditioning was about. I went to BYU and stayed with my uncle for the summer. After working for Coach Stiggins, I decided that strength and conditioning was going to be a lot of fun."
In May 2014, after more than a decade in the profession, Crowe-Wagner was named Master Strength & Conditioning Coach (MSCC) by the Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches association (CSCCa), the highest honor given in the strength and conditioning coaching profession.
"The amount of sheer effort that you have to put in to make it as a strength coach is incredible," she says. "First you volunteer, then you intern. You have to become a graduate assistant. You're working 12-hour days and you are going to graduate school. Then, you get your first job and it doesn't pay you much money. It's a difficult profession. I was very proud when I was recognized for making it and having
"When you look on the women's side, there are not many females who have earned this level of distinction. To be a woman who has succeeded, to have worked with my fellow colleagues who helped me make it, I feel like I can show the younger generation that they too can do this. There are a lot of female athletes who grow up needing female mentors, and now they can see a female strength coach in me. If I can inspire them to be a strength coach, I want to do everything I can to prove to this young generation that it can be done and that this is a great profession full of amazing opportunities."
Compromise Is Key
At the 2016 CSCCa National Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, Crowe-Wagner will be making a presentation with Jami Clinton, MSCC, from the University of Texas-Dallas. The subject of the presentation – "Caught In The Vise: Pressure To Satisfy em All" – will focus on the day-to-day realities faced by strength coaches who manage different athletes, goals and personalities depending upon the sport.
"The reality is that there are a lot of people who have their hands in what we do as strength coaches," she says. "We must always keep the student-athlete's best interests in mind. It's not about us as coaches. It's about how we impact sport coaches, athletic trainers, nutritionists, the student-athletes themselves and academic coordinators. It's about how we can all work together."
Crowe-Wagner says that strength coaches must learn that they cannot be hermits. Communication is vital to the work of the strength coach, and contrary to some beliefs, compromise is a victory.
"If we are truly the experts in our fields, and sport coaches are experts in their domains, and the trainers are experts in rehab, prehab and return to play, and nutritionists are experts in how to fuel the body, then we are going to all have our expert ideals," she says. "But very rarely can we all operate in ideal circumstances. There aren't enough hours in the day or assistants on our staffs. We have to find a way for all of us to compromise a little to get as close to ideal as we can. That is in the student-athlete's best interest."
Crowe-Wagner says it means that she has to be a bit of a chameleon in her role as head strength and conditioning coach.
"I think that we have to have our own set of core values and beliefs that are not as subject to compromise, but we also have to realize that because we work with so many different people, we must have the ability to adjust," she says. "If I work for a sport coach and he tells me he wants his athletes' shirts tucked in, I may not care if they are tucked in. But if that's going to be the team rule, I have to tell them to tuck their shirt in. The next team that comes in, it may not be an issue. You have to be a chameleon and learn the personalities."
This is a difficult lesson for strength coaches early in their careers, because it's difficult for them to understand it's not often about what is right or wrong in their eyes.
"It's about how we can help these young athletes reach their potential," she says. "Everyone has a different level of potential, whether that's a national championship, an all-conference honor, or finishing eligibility with a college degree. You have to hold onto what you truly believe in and stand by your own standards, but you also have to understand what different coaches' expectations are, and you have to adjust."
It's an exciting time for strength coaches. The profession is blooming, and it's blooming for the better, says Crowe-Wagner.
"It has definitely become a lot more scientific," she says. "When I started, all this technology was not around, and all these recovery modalities were not as prevalent. I've never talked about hydration, sleep and nutrition more than I do now with our athletes."
On top of that, the new tracking techniques, teaching tools and instrumentation available is giving strength coaches resources they never-before imagined.
"It's become so much more than 'Put weight on the bar, move the bar, add weight, move it again,'" says Crowe- Wagner. "There's fatigue monitoring, cryotherapy and ice baths, questionnaires, sleep monitoring, instruments to measure bar speed and power output. We can film an athlete squatting right there at the station with an iPad dock on the rack and they can watch themselves. The instant feedback that we are now able to provide was never there before, and it can only help coaches and athletes. Because let's be real, this is a young generation and all they know is instant feedback and technology. If we don't follow suit, it's going to cause them to not buy into us."
In the end, all of the technology and compromise a strength coach can muster won't matter a bit unless the student-athlete's well-being remains everyone's primary focus.
"It's rarely about us, the coaches," says Crowe-Wagner. "It's about the student-athletes. I think that's how you have to approach it."
Reprinted with permission from CSCCa.
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