Strength Coaches Prefer Shadows

Mike Woicik. Markus Paul. Chip Schaefer. Chances are, you didn’t recognize any of these names. Perhaps it would surprise you to find out that these three men have collectively won 20 championship rings in the NFL and NBA. Chip Schaefer alone has won 11 – six with the Bulls and five with the Lakers. Why aren’t these men household names? Because they aren’t athletes, head coaches, or team owners. These men are strength coaches, and damn good ones at that. Recently, there has been a good bit of media attention focused on the “behind the scenes” members of professional sports teams. People always want to know what the secret to success is, and who is responsible for a team’s continued dominance. Looking beyond a roster’s talent, who do they have that other teams don’t? Often, a team’s success is due to what I call the “essential personnel” machine working flawlessly and fluidly behind the scenes.

There are two types of employees within the inner circle of major collegiate and professional sports teams: essential employees and nonessential employees. The former consists of positional coaches, doctors, athletic trainers, strength coaches, equipment managers, and travel coordinators – men and women who are invaluable assets and pivotal variables in the grand scheme of victory. At the other end of the spectrum are the nutritionists, massage therapists, and personal assistants – nonessential accents to an already well refined, functional set of processes.

Make no mistake, when talking about essential personnel, we are really talking about the position, not necessarily the person. Therein lies the irony of being an “essential” part of the team. The team needs a strength coach, but they don’t need just any person to fill that role. Being considered for a strength training job in professional sports requires characteristics that deflect drama, embrace opportunity, and promote team concepts. Any indications of self promotion and the team will release you and hire a replacement without hesitation. As an “essential” member of the team, your position on the staff, game tickets, parking passes, and post-game meal bracelets are not guaranteed. You are hired to be fired and anything but your absolute best effort will not be tolerated. If you believe in your own greatness, you will be given an opportunity to prove it.

Welcome to the sidelines.

Ideally, you will operate quietly behind the scenes and away from the media frenzy that is the post-game press conference. The organization will filter your every social media interaction through draconian public relations oversight. Your life belongs to them now. Any attempt to be an individual will quickly be dismissed. The greatest contributions that essential personnel make to an organization are the intangible, sacrificial, unselfish duties put forth to seek championships rather than self-glorification. Be seen often and heard never.

Mike Woicik, a graduate of Westwood High School can be credited with developing a pedigree of champions that has far surpassed the career expectations of any strength and conditioning coach. While quietly amassing three Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys and another three with the New England Patriots, Mike hired, mentored, and guided Markus Paul to successful positions with the Patriots, Jets, and Giants where he too has five championship Super Bowl rings.

As head athletic trainer for the Chicago Bulls during their epic six-championship run, Chip Schaefer found a balance between strength, ego, and success to help build one of the greatest legacies of all time. After upturning all stones in Chicago, Chip progressed quietly to Los Angeles where he managed a half dozen strength coaches as director of sports performance in route to five additional championship rings. After nearly twenty-five years, two Hall of Fame inductions, and eleven championship rings, Chip epitomizes greatness in the shadows of successors all around him.

Strength and conditioning, particularly at the professional level, is not a magic potion. All professional athletes are blessed with the best equipment, minds, and state of the art resources in the world. Success is a concoction achieved by many but perfected by few. Great athletes are born with tools that allow for growth, learning, adaptation, and execution. Attitude, work ethic, and sacrifice are the three components that will lead you to a championship lifestyle. Surround yourself with people who shed more light on your life than they do their own.

Strength coaches, if the limelight isn’t for you, professional sports are.