Coaching Lessons From Zappos - Part Two

In the first part of this article we looked at lessons that Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) picked up from the poker table and how they can be applied to coaches working in the strength and conditioning industry. We looked at why selecting your table is important, the need to develop your brand and why every coach needs a strategy. In the final instalment we are going to look at the importance of continual learning and culture, two very important factors. 

Continual Learning   

1. Educate yourself - Read books and learn from others who have done it before. 

2. Learn by doing - Theory is nice, but nothing replaces experience. 

3. Learn by surrounding yourself with talented players - it's OK not to be the smartest person in the room.

4. Just because you win a hand doesn't mean you're good -  you might have just gotten lucky and you will always have more learning to do. 

5. Don't be afraid to ask for advice - find a critical friend that can offer you good advice.

I'm getting questions on a weekly basis asking about the importance of education, the best courses, accreditations, books etc etc. I'll get some posts together looking at best books etc and I've a project that has been on the back burner since the start of the year but I think the time is coming to put pen to paper (well, finger to keyboard) and put together a 'go to' resource that will provide an insiders guide. If you think it sounds like a good idea let me know and I'll get cracking. Let me know what you would like to find out about breaking into the industry. 

Anyway, education is really important and it doesn't stop when you pass your degree. In fact a degree just tells me you can study for three years and pass an exam, it doesn't tell me if you can coach. Learn by doing, get as much experience coaching and actually working with people and within relevant environments. Surround yourself with talented people. In the circle of colleagues and friends that I associate with I would say I'm the dumb kid sitting behind the smart kids in class. Being around top professionals in their chosen area makes me a better a coach, there are just more opportunities to learn (even when you are just having a beer with them)

I've worked with some great teams and athletes but I never sit back and think I'm a big deal! My first job from university was working with the British Gymnastics team. I considered myself very very LUCKY.  I've now been in the industry for more than a decade and when I was explaining to one of my mentors that I was just lucky to land the roles that I've had he said, “yes you may have been lucky to get your first job with gymnastics, but you don't keep jobs and develop a successful career through luck. You have to be good at what you do.” I'm under no illusion that landing that job with the gymnasts was a huge break for me. I got lucky and one year out of college it certainly didn't mean that I was any good, but I know I've still got a lot of learning to do and I'm never afraid to ask for advice. 


1. You've gotta love the game - to become really good, you need to live it and sleep it. 

2. Don't be cocky. Don't be flashy - there's always someone better than you. 

3. Be nice and make friends - it's a small community. 

4. Share what you've learned with others - there are no secrets, share!

5. Look for opportunities beyond just the game you sat down to play - you never know who you're going to meet, including new friends for life or new business contacts. 

6. Have fun - the game is a lot more enjoyable when your trying to do more than just make money. 

You've gotta love the game. This is so true for strength and conditioning coaches with aspirations to work with teams and athletes. Yes, you will get to do some cool things, visit places you'll not normally get to see, hang out with some fun people and experience things that would normally be out of your reach but there's always a flip side. The job is not 9-5, you have to love, love, love, love, love what you do. As I write this I'm currently into day 22 of a training camp. We've had one day off! We are playing our third game tonight in a five game series and all of our games are at 20:30. Here's what our typical game day looks like:   

08:30 Medical Staff Meeting 

09:00 Staff Meeting 

11:30 Video session 

12:00 Travel to training venue 

12:45-13:30 - Practice 

13:30 Travel to hotel

14:30 Lunch 

18:30 Depart for game 

20:30 Game 

23:15 Dinner 

Now take it from me, whilst there appears to be a fair amount of down time this is mostly the players schedule with the exception of a couple of meetings. During what appears to be a break the support team (myself included) are working with players (rehab, conditioning), making up recovery drinks, packing kit, taking warm-ups, cool downs, writing programmes and planning etc etc. On a day like this we usually get to bed around 01:00 (and if you are unlucky enough to be the performance analysis guy you will be staying up watching video's until say 02:30-03:00!!). Now also consider you are away from friends and family, living out of a suitcase and eating off of a 'scooby doo' revolving menu of plain chicken and pasta! If you don't LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your job the novelty will soon wear off. Working in performance sport is not for everyone. 

Don't be cocky and flashy is something that links back to act weak when you are strong. Trust me, no one is impressed by 'charlie big spuds' recounting tales of who they've worked with and what a great coach they are. Sometimes it helps to become the 'grey man' just doing what you do in the background. 

I've already said that the S&C community is a small world. You need to make friends. If there's one book you should read it is How To Win Friends and Influence people by Dale Carnegie. It's a classic. Read it and use it if you want to have a successful career. 

Look for opportunities outside of S&C. I've spent time working with people working in a range of different settings, from performing arts such as Cirque du Soliel and Birmingham Royal Ballet through to trainers working in private health clubs. You can learn heaps from outside the world of S&C and you never know where you may end up. 

Have FUN. This is a really important one. Alwyn Cosgrove talked about this last year at a seminar I was presenting at. We can all get very serious and pompous when we talk about training and people must work hard and they have to show discipline. Sure, that's important but there are times when as a coach we need to release some of the pressure and make sure our athletes and clients are actually having fun. If they are enjoying yourself then guess what, you'll be having fun too! I recently slipped one of my favourite warm drills into a pre-practice session (a game of slapsies), the mood of the team instantly lifted and you could even see smile on the faces of the coaches. Remember to have fun.   

So that pretty much brings me to the end. I hope you found it useful and thought provoking. It's amazing how you can read a 'business' book in which the author talks about poker and yet you can still apply the findings to strength and conditioning! 

Tony Hsieh talks about the biggest 'ah ha' moment that he finally learnt from poker and I'm going to leave you with it to finish the article.   


If you want to work as a strength and conditioning coach the game starts long before you even get the job.