This week I caught up with Rob Taylor, founder and director of SMARTER TEAM TRAINING and a highly–regarded strength and conditioning coach based in Baltimore in the United States who has worked with some of the biggest names in the business.
Coach Taylor was appointed as the Head S&C Coach for team Australia for the 2009 World Cup campaign and both Hayley and myself were lucky enough to be trained (read: punished) by him. An advocate of the ‘tough love’ approach, Coach Taylor expects nothing but maximum effort from his athletes. He simply WON’T accept anything less. If you follow him via social media, you’ll see he is incredibly passionate about everything he does and believes it is as much the responsibility of the coach as it is the athlete to get results.
Can you tell us a bit about your background… Where and what you studied? Is this something you always wanted to do? What has it taken to get to where you are today?
I can say with confidence that I knew I was going to be working in the athletics industry from a very young age. The community I grew up in really embraced sports in a positive way. The friendships, the family unity, seeing the country, and not to mention the life lessons we were taught through our successes and failures all really carved a deep-seated passion for being involved with teams, coaches, and athletic personnel.
There have been many sacrifices along the way, but there have been many unique stories, memories and people that have positively impacted my life, too. I always knew that people were the main focus in this field, but not until I started working with Team Australia’s Women’s Lacrosse World Cup Team did I realize how important relationships were.
As you go through the traditional education process you learn about the anatomy, physiology, injuries, program design, exercise selection, etc.; pretty standard stuff. As you then become certified by the numerous organizations, you realize that exercise science doesn’t change because of a sheet of paper, or recognition on your bio. Then you gain more experience in the field working and grinding through long days; this is when you realize that any successful plan has to have relationship building at the forefront. It has to have a plan that is communicated regularly. The plan has to have the goals of everyone on the team in mind and it has to have a process that when progress is shown, this effort is recognized. Relationships win championships. Not magic formulas or trendy programming. Work hard. Have fun. And enjoy being around the people you choose to compete with.
For more specifics on my background in the field, please go to http://RobTaylorJr.com
How was STT born? What is the STT philosophy? How has it grown? What are your hopes for the future? What is the best thing about running your own company?
When I tell the story about how SMARTER Team Training was named, most people just shake their head. While working at Loyola College (now Loyola University Maryland), I was proactive about giving back to the field through speaking, presenting, having high school coaches watch our training sessions, hosting an annual strength and conditioning clinic, writing articles, etc. My supervisor at the time suggested that I get an LLC and run all of my off-campus content through that business. It was a similar approach to what typical college sport coaches do with their camps, guest appearances, etc.
With his suggestion on a random Thursday I started thinking, and at the time I had no idea what this entire experience would lead to, but I knew I LOVED acronyms. Friday I started writing down all of the things that I knew I was involved in that could potentially make a positive impact. The list of “doing now” was much smaller then, but my list of “could become” was nearly five pages of typed notes. So Saturday was game day and I woke up like I do normally, early in the morning. My roommate at the time was in her room and said “Good luck today”. I can remember this vividly. I simply said “Thank you. I have something on my mind that I need some help with. What acronym would you use to describe a bit about what I do?” Without hesitation, and with a tone as if I should have already known the answer, she said “SMART – Strength, Movement, Athletes, Reaction, and Teams”. So we started with that and this went back and forth from room to room. Then about 10 minutes later I could hear her getting out of her bed as if to start her day, but she ran into the hallway and yelled, “SMARTER Team Training”. My gut said “I don’t want to be known as a guy who claims to be smarter than others.” But she squashed that thought quickly with this message – “This isn’t about intelligence it is about how you approach what you do. You are meticulous with everything you do. You work with speed improvements, movement assessments, agility and reaction drills, technology is always being used at practice, education is what has separated you from the others I have worked with, and you are a strength coach so resistance has to be a part of your acronym.” And so we both woke up, I made breakfast and we went on to win the game that day. Crazy how it all works out. SMARTER is an acronym that defines the meats and potatoes of what we do at STT – Speed, Movement, Agility, Reaction, Technology, Education, and Resistance. The acronym hasn’t changed from that one moment on a Saturday in 2009.
STT has grown from a one event annually business with a local impact primarily, to a training business that teaches through hands-on learning opportunities; training of teams, players, coaches, and parents; consistently sharing strength and conditioning information from the best in the world on the website and through our social media outlets; to pictures, videos, articles, radio shows, and on and on. I can only hope that we are making a positive impact on the lives of others.
What are some of the teams and organisations you have worked with? Which did you enjoy working with the most and why? Do any particular experiences, teams, or athletes stand out? Has anyone you worked with particularly inspired you?
I was fortunate to work at the professional level in several major sports at different responsibility levels when I got started in this field. It was overwhelming at times, to be honest. I then was given the opportunity to be a head strength coach at a NCAA Division I institution and absolutely dove all in. I enjoyed every aspect of that environment. The energy of youth, the passion for becoming better, the support a college campus has for their athletic teams. But after twelve years, I stopped and looked around at the stadium we were playing in and saw none of my family, friends or relatives. No one called me to ask how the teams were doing. They would randomly email to check in to see if I was still alive. I really put my job and the people I worked with in front of what was really important. As I brought up my intense work and travel schedule to my supervisors and coaches, there was really no sign of concern, sympathy, empathy, or plan to allow me to get back on track. So I started to question the approach I was taking with training, work, relationships, and many other areas of my life. I knew I wanted to make a positive impact on others. I knew I wanted to be a beacon for enthusiasm, and continue to be passionate about the field. I realized at that moment I had to leave the collegiate level, or at least that institution. The writing was on the wall.
It took me awhile to wrap my head around all of what I was going through. Change isn’t easy… EVER! But I had to figure me out, before I could help others. I had to make time for me and those things I felt were important. I realized that I was basing my success on the success of others, at the level of athlete or team I was working with, and the shirt I chose to put on each day. When someone says they are “nearly burnt out”, they already are. And I was “nearly burnt out”. I spent 12+ years helping others achieve greatness through victories, awards and contract extension, and what did I have to show for it?
So after that entire humbling and eye opening experience, I met an extremely kind man who coached a basketball team. He wouldn’t tell me their age. He just said, “I am sure you can help them.” What I didn’t realize at the time was that they would be helping me more than I can ever put into writing. A silly group of nine-year-olds at the time showed me that it is OK to love those you work with again. They, not a group of million dollar athletes, pro bowlers, Super Bowl Champs, World Series Champs, #1 draft picks, All-Americans nor All-World players, made a profound impact on my life. And have been doing so since. It is simply amazing to think how far you can go or how much you will give of yourself if you know those around you care about you as a person.
What is the most important thing for you to do, be, or remember as a coach? How does one be a successful or better coach? How do you get the best results from your athletes?
WOW! There are literally too many to write about. Plus, if I have to start a list, I would feel bad if I left just one off. But I will tell you that the best coaches value relationships. Those little moments that happen during training, practices, off the court or field, during road trips, the high fives, the funny and serious stories that are discussed as you grow to know one another, and on and on. With all the sacrifices that are part of this profession, there are far more rewarding moments. To see the pure joy on someone’s face when they have achieved a goal that they may not have been able to attempt, let alone achieve on their own, is incredible. The people are what make this industry unique, aggravating, enjoyable, frustrating, and fun all at the same time.
Is there anything particularly hard about your job? How do you feel if and/or when your athletes break down or give up? How important is mental toughness?
What job isn’t hard? But isn’t how you approach your job really the true challenge? Being positive about where we are and where we are headed is important when you are leading a team, business, etc. Learning and accepting the past is also a non-negotiable on any successful team. They call it the past because you have to do just that, get past it. They call it the present because it is a gift. Enjoy the moment you are in now.
As for breaking down or giving up, everyone has his or her limit. Any coach can attack negatively and break the soul or spirit of any person. But that is really too easy. That shouldn’t be what coaching is about in my opinion. Being a coach is simply sharing a path with a player or team to show them the way. Giving others a define goal that can unite a group of people. It is an opportunity to show that with the help of others how much can really be achieved. If you focus on the process of improving daily, and not the outcome, you will be surprised at how far your can go and/or what you can achieve. And remind those around you how much you believe in them routinely. That does go a LONG way in building championship relationships.
I get asked about mental toughness quite often. It is something that everyone thinks they have figured out, but honestly no one has any better understanding of what it takes than the people themselves. Choosing what you want now versus what you want most is mental toughness. Being willing to not skip a step when you are walking up a flight of stairs to remind yourself that you can’t skip a step on the climb to greatness. When in a hurry, walking the sidewalk even though it is longer than cutting through the grass because you know there are no short cuts to greatness. How about… Simply taking the stairs when an elevator is an option? For the simple reason that there isn’t a fast lane to get to greatness. YOU can find ways to create your own definition of mental toughness. Any one can to be honest. The great ones though hold themselves accountable. They hold those around them accountable. They are not just interested in their teammates; they become invested in the family culture that materializes in a competitive, united locker room.
Aside from actually training athletes, you are regularly flying across the country to speak at industry conferences about your work. Can you tell us a bit about this?
I am very lucky and fortunate to be asked to share my experiences around the world. It is truly an honor to be able to talk about the amazing people that I have had the opportunity to work with. We can all learn from one another in this field, and any other. My advice for anyone who wants to begin public speaking is to reach out to your local community. Find out what interests them and create a series of short YouTube clips that educate and motivate. As interest in your area grows and you acquire more information about a particular topic, your value as a presenter grows. Then reach out to events in your state/region. And when you are doing well at that level, the national or international events will begin contacting you. At that point you may even want to consider a podcast to help with your message. I get the chance to speak with the best in the world in their fields regularly and share a new episode each week on http://STTPodcast.com.
How did you find working with Team Australia for the 2009 World Cup? Did you feel like a traitor (ha)? Is there anything noticeably different between American athletes and Australian athletes? What did you like most about Australia? Is there anything you disliked?
I must say that working with the Team Australia World Cup Lacrosse teams really did open my eyes to SO MANY new things, opportunities, and experiences. I am eternally grateful to everyone on those teams. Each and every one of them without question has helped shaped my coaching and approach to life in general. We all need to travel more. Appreciate others more. And learn what is working in different areas of the world.
As far as a “traitor”, NOPE! Not for a second; quite the opposite actually. The US has a chance to contact me at any time – email@example.com. The Aussie jerseys are actually the first framed jerseys people see when they walk in my office still to this day.
[Below is a photo from one of Rob’s sessions with Team Australia]
Differences between Aussie and American athletes? I would have to say it is more of a sports culture thing. I am a pretty intense person just about all of the time. The first day I met with Team Australia and did the rah-rah pre-practice talk, I began to jog out to the field ready for warm-ups to turn and see the Aussies taking their time as they head out to the restraining line. It was just a different approach to the game. Plus the college environment has a stigma of uniqueness too. So it was more about adjusting my approach at times, collaborating with the interests of everyone on the team, and holding individuals accountable to what was right for the team. I have so many stories about the incredible young ladies, coaches, trainers, sports psychology, nutritionists, and even parents. The best part about the entire experience was how warm their welcoming was each and every time I went to Australia, or when I met them here in the US. Still to this day I keep in touch with just about all of the players. My door will ALWAYS remain open to these first class people!
[Below is a photo of Rob and I last time from the last time I was in America – he took me to a bar in Baltimore for some local delicacies including the famous Old Bay seasoning!]
As for Australia as a whole, besides taking a bit to get used to the water and being told 10,000 times not to reach into a bush for a lacrosse ball, I enjoyed seeing the country, meeting the people outside of our team, trying the food, watching how people cooked, drove, had a Blonde, the serving sizes at meals, the amount of sunscreen people wear, how comfortable everyone was with the beach, the special forces training we did for team development, the houses, cars, and on and on. I would go back many, many more times to do that experience all over again without hesitation. Not to mention the many countries we also got to see with the Team Australia experience.
What advice do you have for young athletes looking to make it in their chosen sport?
This is a question I get asked probably more than any other. My advice for parents; push your children to achieve greatness. BUT here are my even larger bullet points – #1 Enjoy the process of winning and learning. There are no losers in sports or athletics. #2 Tell your children how much they inspire you and that you love watching them play. You don’t need to criticize or critique their game immediately after a practice or competition. #3 Teach life lessons through athletics. #4 Live in the moment and don’t hold on to past performances. Remember that it is a game. #5 The most fundamentally screwed up and often forgotten aspect of sport at any level – MAKE IT FUN! For you and your kids. If they are not smiling, YOU are doing something wrong. Find what interests your kids and be passionate about that. Living vicariously does nothing. Both you and your children will become frustrated.
My advice for young athletes is simple; IT HAS TO BE FUN! Laugh with your friends. High five your coaches and teammates regularly. Enjoy the process of learning the game. Realize that everyone makes mistakes. We all do. Even adults. And above all support your teammates and coaches. Respect your parents and the parents of your teammates. My challenge to young athletes is to make their bed every day, take out the garbage without being asked, and wake yourself up without Mom or Dad having to make a fuss of you getting your day started. Discipline is the key to being successful. You can’t be disciplined all day if you don’t start early in the morning.
Do you have any spare time? If so, what do you like to do?
I have a few hobbies outside of work. One that I am passionate about is photography. It gives me an opportunity to be in an environment that is quiet and potentially away from people. Plus it provides new challenges and learning opportunities for me. I do teach our interns and staff how to “take a picture”. But it takes awhile for someone to actually see what he or she is looking at through a lens. Not to mention the impact editing has on an image, etc. But my advice to all professionals regardless of industry is to find something you love outside of work. Something that can be yours. Schedule time for yourself and make that a priority too. We all need more time to reflect and appreciate life as a whole. Don’t work so hard at creating a job that you forget to live.