Observations From A Private Sector Strength Coach

Blunders, lessons & creating clarity. Hard and soft skills to help you along in your S&C journey

By Sean Connolly

Head Of High Performance – East Perth Football Club (WAFL)

Strength and Conditioning Coach - West Coast Eagles (AFLW)

My time as a strength coach has been fulfilling in so many ways.

It’s also taught me a lot about myself of which I don’t think would have been discovered in any other capacity.

As a (predominantly) private sector strength coach (who’s now working with professional teams), I’ve learned some valuable lessons from making some complete blunders. I’ve lost friends, lost valuable time in rehabbing and training athletes from doing things a particular way.

Learning the lessons quickly has allowed me to get back onto the straight and narrow. I’d like to share them with you below, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes that I did early in my career.

These are a mixture of hard and soft skills that I hope you find valuable. 


Be grateful and let the important people in your life know they matter.

I know, a little light and fluffy but I was taught at a young age that “the things that you appreciate, appreciate in value.” It more or less means that if you look after the important things, the important things will look after you.

Plus, it also keeps things in perspective. I could have a shocking day in the gym or on the ground with my athletes but I know I’ll see my wife and kids for a hug when I get home. That’ll always win over everything else going on in my life.

Find someone of importance and let them know that they’re important to you and that you’re thinking of them. You’ll be amazed at how powerful this can be for your mental health too!

When the right people know you care for them, they’ll always make sure you’re taken care off too!


Go to the coaches and tell them what’s happening before they get a chance to come to you!

When working with high-performance teams, the worst that can happen is coaches finding out about what’s happening in your area before you get a chance to tell them.

If they find out first, you look incapable! Plain and simple.

So, the habit that you need to train and acquire is organisation. Make sure you or your team is collecting all the relevant data and make sure the coaches are aware of it. The more educated they are, the more they’ll leave you alone and let you do your job. 


Whatever sport you’re working in, make sure you train and practice it as much as the athletes you’re working with.

Why? Because context is key.

If you understand what they’re going through, it’ll make you a far more valuable coach. For example, I work with a lot of AFL and AFLW athletes who kick A LOT. Therefore, there is a huge load on the hamstrings and quadriceps.

Pair the fact that knowing the feeling of kicking as well as the mechanics behind the different types of kicking (stationary, on the run, on an angle, in a tackle etc) will allow you a greater insight into their training and allow you to program accordingly. Seeing how your athletes play is one thing, immersing yourself in what they’re doing is another. You don’t need to be the best at it, you just need to gain a greater understanding. 

Note: I’ll often engage in little competitions with my athletes where I’ll jump into the skill component of their sport. Often, I lose but sometimes I win (and earn myself a lunch or two). The by-product of all of this is building better relationships with your athletes of which is never a bad thing.


Find something that scares you, and then make a plan to attack it.

This one may have been repeated by 100s of better coaches than I.

The only way you’re going to elevate yourself as a coach (and as a person) is to put yourself in a state of discomfort. Do something that scares the lights out of you and puts fear in your eyes.



Because growth comes from doing something challenging. For me, it’s running. Pushing myself mentally for a few kilometres is tough!!! I’m not a good runner but things in the gym seem easier now because the last kilometre is much harder than those last few reps. 

Sure, it’s all relative but fronting up to the tough stuff will make you a better human. 


Your network is the most important thing you don’t use enough. 

Oh boy, this is true.

I’ve built a wonderful network over the past 15 years and I have some of the world’s best coaches, practitioners, professors only a text message away. But you know what, I’m also in the same category. I don’t use them enough.

If I have a question, I don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on textbooks to get the answers, I can just ask them.
But there is a catch. Don’t be that guy who is always asking and never doing anything in return. Your network is built on giving and taking. Make sure it matches and you’ll be well on your way to climbing the ranks in your industry. 


Visualise the thing that you are about to do…

… so when you go and do it, it feels like you’ve done it before!

One of the most powerful tools an athlete and coach has is the ability to visualize the outcome.

Preparing yourself and getting into this powerful mental state can help you ‘see what’s coming’ because you’re putting yourself in a position to break down everything that is going to happen.

I’ll often get an athlete to close their eyes and I’ll prepare a situation for them and have them consider every possibility. It’s like they’re in a video game and I’m trying to stop them getting to the end. They’ll think and then verbalize all of the obstacles, counters and alternatives of which will have them ready for when the real thing happens. 


When you’re in the car, that’s your second office. Make those calls!

This was a habit I learned from one of my closest friends and greatest mentors when I was consulting with a supplement company (in a past life).

When I was in the car, I was working. I had zero distractions and nowhere else to be but driving that car. I could easily be on the phone making calls and closing deals while I was driving.

I was also in a position to get things prepared for while I was swerving through traffic. Make sure you have a wireless charger and hands-free and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve when you’re en route to your next meeting. 


If you have an idea, voice record it!

If I had a penny for every idea I had that wasn’t actioned, only to find out that later on someone else came up with the same idea which made a lot of money, I’d be a rich man. 

It’s more than just recording your ideas and listening to them back when you get home, the crux of this point is that you need to take action immediately.

Don’t waste time messing around, action whatever it is you’re thinking. Doing this is like building muscles in the weight room, it takes practice and consistency over a long period of time. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.


Thanks again to Sean for his amazing insight and contribution to this content.

Learn more & connect with Sean at: https://www.coachconnolly.com/