It has been my honor and good fortune to know and learn from a true legend in the strength and conditioning coaching profession, Coach Johnny Parker. Coach Parker was a pioneer in our industry following people like Alvin Roy and Lou Riecke. Johnny was the first Strength and Conditioning Coach hired in the Big Ten when he was hired at Indiana University in 1977 to train the football and men’s basketball team. It was in this capacity that he met and developed a lifetime friend in Basketball Coaching Legend Bobby Knight who later recommended Coach Parker to New York Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells.
Coach Parker was Hall of Fame Football Coach Bill Parcells’s strength and conditioning coach for eleven years beginning in 1984, during that period the franchise won two Super Bowls. Anyone on the inside of the organization, except Johnny Parker, would tell you that Johnny Parker was an integral part of the successes of those teams.
Johnny went with Coach Parcells to the New England Patriots, the Patriots then went to the Super Bowl in 1996, and were in the playoffs three straight times during Johnny’s tenure there. In 2002, Johnny became the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the following season the franchise won its first Super Bowl. These are by no means all of the career highlights of Johnny Parker, but you get the idea.
Coach Parker retired from the NFL in 2008.
Three Fundamentals of Coaching
I don’t remember exactly how Coach Parker and I initiated communication, but I suspect it was through players that he and I had both coached. During these twenty-five plus years of friendship and mentorship on his part, I learned a lot of things. Many became fundamental to my coaching philosophy. Here are three of those fundamentals that I’d like to share.
1. Stay humble. You will have a hard time complimenting Johnny Parker without the complement being deflected or reflected back to what you’ve done. Johnny always believed that it wasn’t about him. He adopted a “keep your ego in the backseat” mentality. This lack of hubris undoubtedly helped his pro athletes accept his teachings and allowed younger coaches an accepting environment, which encouraged us to reach out to him for advice. Johnny Parker’s willingness to help others, who could never help him, is a marker of his true greatness.
2. Keep Learning. Long after having enough professional success to be accepted as an expert in the field, Coach Parker continued to study, and seek interactions with people that had excelled in related areas. He was quick to learn, but very carefully evaluated the things he learned, before implementation. I think that’s called wisdom.
3. “Coach the Kid, not the Weight.” Coach the kid; not the weight, is the coaching paradigm I learned from Coach Parker that was most influential to me. Johnny would allow a fellow strength and conditioning coach to visit and spend a day at work with him. Trust me; you didn’t spend the day in observance, you were immediately drafted into service, coaching players. This experience was an eye-opener for me; I found the athletes to be very interested in whatever coaching points you had. They were genuinely seeking any advantage in training that might extend their careers.
The Most Important Takeaways
The most important takeaways I had from visiting Coach Parker at work were his work ethic and more importantly, his people skills. Johnny went in very early with the New England Patriots and had a flex lifting schedule that ended during the late afternoon. Johnny didn’t leave the floor for any length of time, eating his ½ tuna sandwich on duty.
Each athlete that entered the weight room was greeted by name by Coach Parker. He would then share a quick word or question about something outside of football and strength and conditioning.At every workout session, share a quick word or question with each athlete about something outside of football and strength and conditioning. Coach Johnny ParkerClick To Tweet
What I saw from the players was a respect and connection that I doubt would have been as strong without Coach Parker’s communication skills. I believe that Dale Carnegie, in the early 1900’s, was one of the first to write about how much all of us like having our name used in a positive context. It’s validation. I‘m convinced it will make a difference in your coaching.
Most of us have a tendency to get lazy and to use whatever handle we adopt, from my personal favorite, “Buddy” to Coach Beamer’s “Palsee”. I encourage you to make an effort to call your kids by their name or their favorite nickname and to regularly ask them about something outside of sports and training, like their family or their schoolwork. The rewards are beyond expectation.
Photo: Robert Jordan/University of Mississippi