3 years ago today, I started coaching at West Point. My wife and I made the move from Baton Rouge to the Northeast because she wanted to move closer to her family and West Point seemed like the best option that fit that bill at the time. When I accepted the job, I had no idea what I was in for (good and bad). Having just recently resigned at West Point 3 months ago, I can now look back and reflect on what I learned there. The academy provided me with a great platform to develop my leadership abilities (the most important thing at what is the premiere leadership development institution in the world) but also forced me to grow as a coach due to the many training challenges that working at a military academy imposes. Having come from LSU, where things are nearly ideal most of the time, going to West Point was a refreshing challenge in many ways. It really forced me to stretch my limits and creativity as a coach to deal with the numerous issues that were a part of every day life at a service academy. What challenges? How about:
- Cadet-athletes who sleep on average about 6 hours a night.
- An academic load that is equivalent to the Ivy schools.
- An additional military service and training requirement that can be both physically and psychologically taxing.
- An unbelievably high incidence of lower leg stress related injuries due to the boots that must be worn during the day, the hard concrete slab that makes up most of the walking areas of the campus, and the greater-than-normal amount of walking and marching that the cadets had to do.
- A required and quite rigorous physical education curriculum that inevitably resulted in excess fatigue or injuries.
- The need to be able to perform at a decently high level in endurance based activities for a physical fitness test despite training for speed-power activities.
- Lost training time due to semi-random military requirements and / or opportunities to leave campus (something which is generally quite rare).
- Extreme pressure to win 1 meet regardless of whether winning that meet is a good barometer of what most outsiders would consider success.
- Inadequate therapy to handle the physical stresses that training under the aforementioned points inevitably brings.
- The fact that freshmen historically have not been capable of contributing or even approaching their high school performances due to the stresses brought on by the extreme transition from high school to a service academy.
- The fact that seniors historically did not improve due to what I assume is the looming reality of military service and the adjustment of focus that this brings.
Over my next couple posts, I’ll try to lay out some of the adjustments I made and what I learned coaching at West Point.