Throughout my 15 years in the fitness and sports performance industry, I have met and heard 100s of coaches and ‘experts’ speak about different training topics. While most of what has been presented was very basic and general information, sometimes with ‘original’ terminology (usually done for marketing purposes), occaisionally I came across a few people who were absolute gems and truly were experts in the industry. These were the coaches that had the most impact, and the biggest influence on how I train my athletes today, especially the programming methods and styles used to get results with even the most advanced athletes. Anyone can produce results with mediocre athletes, but it takes an skilled and educated coach to get results with the best athletes.
Quite possibly the most influential athletic performance (strength and conditioning) coach in my professional career has been Kevin Ebel. Kevin has an impressive resume, including years as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY. (I had the fortune of coaching under him In Lake Placid). I can honestly say, after being in this industry for such a long time, and meeting countless coaches, that Kevin has forgotten more than most coaches will ever know, and has trained more high level athletes than over 95% of coaches still active. I have learned that it is often the coaches you don’t hear about that are making the biggest difference and doing the ‘Big Things.” Those who make the most noise are usually just making the most noise, and moving around hot air; these are the so called-experts, and unfortunately the ones influencing so many young aspiring coaches in the industry. (Note: Stop blowing around hot air and let your athletes and your results speak for you).
As a coach, there are very few strength and conditioning coaches capable of discussing training the nervous system, or neurological training for elite sports performance, like Kevin (I think Tom Myslinski and Buddy Morris are 2 additional mentors with a similar understanding).
Take a minute to review the coach profile about Kevin Ebel. I would suggest reaching out to him if you are interested in learning a ton about optimally training athletes.
What is your name?
Where did you study?
University of Minnesota, BS Kinesiology, emphasis in Exercise Physiology, University of Minnesota, M.Ed., emphasis in Sports Management
Do you feel that your formal education helped prepare you for your career path?
Formal, not so much, biomechanically and physiological yes. On the practical and implementation side of practicing the science, you can’t learn that in school. Hands on volunteer, internships and graduate assistantships help you learn how to apply the book smarts fully.
What Certification(s) do you have?
CSCS. I used to have USAW but they kept changing their recertification qualifications and weren’t consistent with all members on what they needed to be considered certified so I stopped it.
Where do you currently work?
I own my own business, NTS Athletic Development.
Where have you worked in the past?
I interned and GA’d at the University of Minnesota. From there I was an intern, then Interim Strength Coach then Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Winter Sports for the United States Olympic Committee and Head Strength Coach for USA Women’s Hockey. From there I was the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for Performance One Athletic Development in Columbus, OH.
What experiences have helped shape you as a coach?
I would have to say there are two major occurrences in my life/career that have shaped my coaching philosophies. The first is the time I spent at the University of Minnesota. Don’t get me wrong, I love the school. But back then the main S&C coach I worked under influenced me greatly. From him, I learned everything not to do with athletes. We had more injuries in the off season than in-season due to the training he implemented. However through that time there, the Olympic Strength Coach was the exact opposite of the guy I worked under. I learned a great deal from him on the importance of programming and technique.
The second thing that solidified my coaching style is when I became severely injured from years of not training with perfect technique. Doctors had said I would never be able to train again due to my back injury. There was no one occurrence that did it. It was due to years of training poorly. I spent a year retraining my body on how to move more effectively and become more stable. That experience opened my eyes to how important it is to ensure that all athletes utilize the correct muscle recruitment patterns and keep their entire body balanced and in check.
Can you explain what your role is with your current team/athletes?
In the private sector, things are a lot different. The ability levels aren’t always there. With young kids, it’s about teaching them how to move more efficiently and effectively while staying stabile to reduce extra and wasted movements and energy. With older, more experienced athletes, it’s about getting them to their optimal levels of ability and showing them what they are truly capable of. Often having to reinforce proper mechanics along the way.
For adults, it’s keeping them focused and motived to push themselves to their potential. Often they don’t realize how much they can actually do. You have to get them out of their comfort zone.
What coaches have influenced you?
Hands down, going back to the University of Minnesota, Brad Arnett, who was the Olympic Strength Coach at the time I was there; who went on to the Head S&C and Arizona then now has his own private place near Madison WI.
Aside from that, many Eastern European block countries who do things right. The problem with America is, “Supersize everything.” What they do works, we’ll do more, not always the case.
What different training methods do you like to use? Or, what is your coaching philosophy?
It’s not about how much weight you use but how well you move it. Neurological training is my focus. Learn how to move properly with the least amount of effort, recruit the proper muscles to do the movement, then get them to fire faster. Technique is key. I want you to work hard in your training, but I don’t want you to learn to be a hard worker. Hard workers aren’t always the most athletic.
What was the coolest experience you had as a strength coach?
Hard to say – opening the eyes of an NFL Rookie of the Year player to realize he didn’t have to work as hard but could be better; helping set the record for number of medals won in the Olympics; helping an athlete who didn’t think she was good enough to compete in college and get a D1 scholarship; or helping a non-athlete youth develop more confidence in his life for the first time because he saw progress and leadership in his workouts.
What is a typical day like for you (I know, strength coaches don’t have typical days…)?
A lot different than it is in the collegiate or professional setting. I do a lot of programming work as well as financial and business related things in the AM. Then on some days head in to work around 11:00 to set everything up for the day. On those days I usually work till 9:30pm. Some days I do work all day on the computer, phone, e-mail, etc. and head in for 2:30 and work till 7:30. However, due to help from my staff, I am able to get out some times and perform other work for other side businesses I run as well as spend time and help with family affairs.
I would have to say this is unique though in the private sector. Many private places are open from 5:30am – 10:00pm.
What are the 3 things you like the most about what you do? NA
What is your biggest frustration with this industry?
No consistency in training methods, teaching, and certifications. Everyone thinks they know best. There is no set standard. The NSCA was founded to provide Strength Coaches with credibility. However, it’s turned into a for profit machine. Just because you are certified, doesn’t mean you know what you are doing.
Add to that all the other personal certifications out there who think they can train athletes as well with no educational requirements as well as all the trending places like Cross-Fit who think they know/can do the same thing as long as you pay them the money for cert. or franchise rights.
Do you have any suggestions for making the industry better?
Set a standard based on science and biomechanics, not on trends and money because Americas problem is, “I want it now and I want it fast”.
For those readers who don’t know the difference, can you tell them what the difference is between a strength/performance coach and a personal fitness trainer? (maybe just give main differences)
Easy – education! A Strength Coach MUST have at minimum a BS, in most cases, many have a Master’s degree. Personal trainers – all they need is a HS diploma and weekend course and a desire to train hard.
Any advice you would give someone looking to get started in this industry?
Honestly and sadly, the first thing I always advice volunteers or interns is to reconsider their field of study. I don’t usually advice students to go into this field due to the inconsistency and headaches it produces. Too many parents or coaches (who’s full time job is teaching math) think they no more than you. When with the USOC, everyone wanted my advice. Now in the private sector, every Middle school and High school coach thinks they know more than me cause they played sports in HS and want control of the team. Add to that the fact that the NSCA certification is so diluted and most high priority jobs are given to people who have connections rather than who know the most and has proven themselves.
Do you think requiring a license to practice would help clean up the industry?
Sure, only if there were a non-profit organization out there who didn’t care about numbers and actually set themselves aside from everything else out there and provided constancy. If that could ever happen, ¼ of the people would become certified and everyone who hired those people would have to become more educated. I can’t tell you how many times I heard of people losing out on a job because someone who used to be roommates with someone and likes to work out got an NFL or NHL job. Or a former athlete who I trained was trying to make a comeback in some minor league got a call from a relative and he gets a job to train at the professional level, even though he didn’t know how to train himself for a tryout.
Bottom line, sadly to say, it’s about who you know, not what you know. 98% of those out there don’t know they don’t know.