Good Coaching Involves Some Cutting

Flowing water. Wooded land. Abundant wildlife.

That summarizes the time I spend with Neil Clarridge, a local football and track coach, who is also my hunting and fishing buddy.


Neil and I pride ourselves in creating the best possible environment out of what we’re given. We cultivate food plots and take other measures to benefit the wildlife. We can often be found walking the woods, finding the most desirable trees and working to eliminate unwanted competition.

If we have a tree that produces a certain type of nut or fruit, it takes precedence over a tree that may be too abundant to thrive or unnecessarily disadvantageous to the rest.


A lot of the timber property in Virginia has already been cut once or twice and it’s common to see a multi-prong tree growing from one old stump. If we cut some of those saplings and leave only the largest, healthiest and straightest specimens, then we actually make the tree stronger by focusing its growth in the most beneficial direction. We help it live as its ancestor did—a large, tall, well-producing, single trunk tree that lived for 200 or 300 years.

white oak

We’re coaching up the land.

There are some great parallels to the way we should look at our roles as coaches or trainers.

By managing your exercise programs and even your exercise choices by a series of data points and personal goals, coaches can create a much better competitive model focused on first managing your weak links and then expanding your physical capacity. (The order is intentional: manage weaknesses first, then expand physical capacities.)

First of all, you need to know the group you’re competing against, whether it’s head-to-head with another athlete, or trying to be the best time or the best lift in your age group.BXP135671

What’s the average body composition of that group? What’s the average sleep of that group? The average nutritional requirement? The average vertical leap ? The average one-mile run time, sprint time or specific lift of that group? Do you know? Should you know? Unfortunately we often know much more about specifics than we do about general fitness.

If you knew the information about the group that you were getting ready to compete against, then you would know what was above average in every category for that group—strength measures, flexibility measures, endurance measures and body comp.

As long as you’re above average in those, then the best investment of your time is probably specific work on the skill that you’re trying to beat them at. However, if you fall below average in endurance and you’re above average in strength compared to the group, endurance could be a key factor for you. The more endurance you have, the more you can practice your skill and the better you can get.

Even in the world of strength, endurance has its role. Endurance offers you a wider time slot to learn your lifts and perfect your technique while managing fatigue. A good coach knows the group, knows the minimums and will eliminate unwanted competition in the weight room by focusing you on what you need—not on what you’ve already mastered. A good coach knows work capacity.

Every now and then, good competition in the weight room is healthy. Goals are good. But a record in the weight room means nothing on the football field, the obstacle course, a high-school wrestling match or in combat.

So we must make sure that the weight room is always a benefit and never a risk factor. That’s right. There are a lot of sports coaches who are petrified of strength-and-conditioning because they’re fearful of an injury. Why? Exercise has become a competition—and competition involves risk

There’s quite a bit of evidence to support their fear—the numbers of military personnel or firefighters injured in their attempt to stay fit in their recreational activity, in their sports or definitely in their weight room workouts. You could argue that some of these are unavoidable, but I know that some are - legpress

Training and practice, in most cases, are to develop you for the competitive arena—to enable you to best the environment or the opponent in front of you.

If your competition is in the weight room, a good coach will limit and constrict unnecessary competition. They logically and objectively keep their athletes focused on their goals and hold them personally accountable for any minimums in physical capacity and movement patterns (like a ‘1’ on the Functional Movement Screen).

Back to the outdoors. When I cut down a tree so it won’t compete with another tree, I’m completely removing that undesirable tree from the environment. When I restrict an activity or type of competition for someone, whether it’s in rehabilitation, athletics or simply training an exercise, I have a good reason for doing so.

I can now allocate your precious resources of energy and time to your weakest link so that you can manage your minimum. I often completely cut an activity because it has no benefit and could even offer complications.

I can also ‘prune’ people. ‘I don’t want you doing your deadlifts that way anymore. We are going to do them this way.’ The exercise can continue, but we’re going to go backward in the progression. Own your press in tall kneeling before you try to do it standing and before you convert it to a push-press and then a push-jerk.

The restriction of activity is one type of cutting and the modification of activity is another type of cutting. Anybody who works with trees will tell you that pruning the right thing at the right time will actually promote sustainable growth. Eliminating unwanted competition at the right time does the same.

Good coaches look at the short and long-term consequences of cutting, whether they’re pruning athletes or basically advising someone that they’re not ready for the level of competition that they’re considering. Remember, we can select a person into or out of a program or we can choose to modify the current program to best develop the individual.

Either way, the coach is not being cold, callous or insensitive. They’re simply protecting you from an environment for which you’re not ready. If you flunk out of military basic training due to a lack of physical conditioning, you’re not ready to protect yourself or the person next to you when it counts the most. You become a liability to the group.

Injury rates sustained during exercise while physically preparing for competition have probably reached an unacceptable level. It’s our fault, because as people enter the weight room, we must understand that it’s a time for personal exploration, the management of movement and physical capacity minimums, and ultimately the pursuit of better performance outside of the weight room.

If our physical conditioning does this for us, then we don’t have to tell people how much we bench press or how much we squat. We don’t need to post how long we were on the VersaClimber or how much wattage we generated on the rowing machine.

If I eliminate an exercise for you, it is a direct performance enhancement measure. You’re wasting time and not bringing benefit to yourself or honor to the action or activity. I am not restricting, modifying or cutting activity to hurt the entertainment value that your exercise program has come to provide. I want you to enjoy a higher level of entertainment value, which is excellence in your particular sport, hobby or competition.



  1. what’s that smell?, quick observation shows postural distortion pattern or heavier catch on the right, great Pic!

  2. mike @ PointBlank says:

    Nice fishes my friend!!

  3. You’re a black belt in metaphor, Gray.

    Such a big part of managing your minimums is the patience and commitment it demands. Patience to put some things on hold to allow you to actually focus your efforts, and the commitment to the discomfort of confronting those weaknesses until they are resolved.

    It’s so easy as an athlete to start to build up anxiety about skills and strengths that are degrading, and forget the the elimination of those fundamental weaknesses and the strengthening of the foundation will only serve those skills and strengths in the end.

    Thanks, once again, for the inspiration.

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