By Adam Reed, Associate Editor
For football programs across the country, winter is an exciting time. It’s the time of the year where teams test their mettle against the best of the best, and one team emerges as the champion.
For the strength and conditioning coach, champions aren’t decided in the winter. This group of process-focused and effort-driven coaches win championships in the hot summer months of hard work and dedication that go largely unnoticed by the outside world.
Anyone who is a fan of college football could tell you how Clemson mounted an incredible comeback in the National Championship in January, storming back to stun the Alabama Crimson Tide in the final moments of an instant classic.
The Tigers shocked a lot of people that night, but the members of the Clemson strength and conditioning staff weren’t among them. Joey Batson, (MSCC) the director of strength training at Clemson for the last two decades, had a pretty good idea of what the Tigers were capable of before the season ever started.
“At the end of the summer, we are who we are,” Batson says. “We’re not going to show up for camp in August and be something totally different. We are what we are at the end of the summer as far as training and preparation.”
Batson credits Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney with a masterful job of building the team throughout the season, but none of it would be possible without the foundation the strength staff lays in the summer.
It’s easy to see the results at Clemson and rank them with the best programs in the country, but results are missing from the list of things Batson and his staff focus on. The strength coach has a unique opportunity to focus on the process, and let the sport coaches worry about wins and losses.
“We focus on having a positive, winning attitude every single day,” Batson says. “Everybody has good players, but we focus on how we approach each day, what our work ethic is each day and being consistently great.”
A lot of things have to come together for an FBS team to win it all. Batson will be the first to tell you there is nothing simple about it. In his words, it’s the job of the strength coach to “win the day.”
“Earn it. Go earn it. It’s not given,” Batson says. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and the one thing I’ve learned is nobody is giving you anything.”
These words serve as a reminder for every strength and conditioning coach about their chosen profession. It’s as true of their athletes’ performance on the field as it is for what they accomplish off of it. Strength and conditioning coaches are in the business of teaching athletes how to earn it – each and every day.
In the midst of all the blood, sweat and tears shed in weight rooms this summer, champions will emerge. Not everyone will have the talent or resources to be an FBS National Champion, but the lessons learned are the same.
Some athletes, like the reigning FBS champs, will go out and perform this year for crowds of 80,000-plus. Others will play for crowds of a few hundred or fewer. All of them have a strength and conditioning coach with a chance to build them into a champion.
“We have a little saying around here that championships are won when the stands are empty,” Batson says. “In Clemson, South Carolina right now, there’s a lot of empty stands.”
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