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Imposter Syndrome, Critical Thinking, Strength & Conditioning

By Russ Sulit, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science

Strength & Conditioning (S&C) coaches are often sought in amateur or professional level sports for their precise expertise in strength training given to them by a Bachelor's degree and years of experience in the field working with elite level athletes. I had none of those.

But in April 2023, I became a Strength and Conditioning coach for Hoops Sports performance. Before this, I had only completed an internship and trained as an athlete for the same company as well as completed my ASCA level 1 certification - the absolute bare minimum qualification. Alongside this I was (and still am) working toward my double degree in something not directly related to fitness; physics & philosophy.

As an S&C Coach, Imposter Syndrome has found its way into my thinking through a constant obsession with my craft and the coaching landscape. Even though I am fortunate enough to be working in the industry at a relatively young age, I feel like I still lack a lot of knowledge and at times, have myself wondering how absurd it is to be in a business where athletes put their trust in me with their development.

Feeling as if you are a fraud and do not deserve the role or authority you have been placed with can be a daunting feeling, especially in the fitness industry where people are driven by results; thereby placing a bigger pressure on the coach to deliver.

However, writing this blog to get my feelings out has definitely helped in terms of recognising the successes and failures I have faced over the past year, as well as allowing me to recognise how I have gotten to the point I am (though feeling like a fraud). I wholeheartedly believe that having a platform for sharing thoughts with like-minded individuals in the GLP program and having the capability for expression can truly do powerful things for self-development and leadership in general.

So, with that being said, what follows is my attempt at summarising the key points I feel have gotten me to this point working as a coach for the first time. In the fitness industry, one of the biggest things about working as a coach is the information overload on social media. You have fitness influencers, trainers, self-proclaimed experts and other niche fitness individuals with all sorts of claims whose sole aim is to garner attention and market their services. Consequently, there is just as much “good” information as there is detrimental. As a new coach, this means looking for knowledge becomes difficult because how can you possibly know who or what to trust? Do you trust the sculpted influencers because they look good? An old strength coach with years of anecdotal experience? Or the new classroom graduate with distinction grades?

A question I have found myself pondering is: What is the best knowledge to accumulate to become a better coach & leader? This is a question that can be applied in any field, however, I feel there is a deeper layer to this: How can I become a better learner? One of the biggest things I have realised is that the value of education in coaching is not just in learning knowledge, but rather in learning how to learn itself.

The value in learning how to learn enables you to have a wider perspective when it comes to teaching, coaching and passing knowledge on to the next generation because it means you know how to ask questions, communicate and understand complex answers in a wide range of differing contexts with so many variables. In essence, this forms part of critical thinking, a skill in itself that means you know how to think, rather than what to think. With this comes understanding people and why someone would look to implement an exercise and another person the complete opposite. Just because there is a difference in opinion doesn’t mean one is better or worse, but simply means more discussion is needed for both sides to understand each other and in turn improve their ways of thinking.

Communication and discussion should be at the forefront of all things education, rather than adopting a hostile or condescending attitude towards others which is what you see too much of online these days. Without this wider lens of understanding, you tend to become susceptible to bias, forget cultural differences and neglect to see what forges an individual’s phenomenological experience. The key is to maintain a rational lens with a healthy dose of scepticism, not hostility.

Learning how to learn is essentially a soft skill that is complemented by other soft skills like time management, problem solving & interpersonality. You don’t learn from reading a textbook or simply watching lectures, but from the discussions, tutorials and problem-solving that happens with like-minded individuals who also want to learn and experts in the field who show you exactly how to think. Taking the time to talk to people more knowledgeable than you can be more powerful than you think because they were once like us, but no longer are because someone taught them how to be better.

As for one of the last points, the best mindset to have when it comes to education as an individual is to accept its nature as constant but never fleeting. This idea of a growth mindset is simply a willingness to learn which comes with acceptance of your flaws as a human being. Regardless of your experience, qualifications or job title, the sooner you can learn to accept information through dissolving your ego, the better. When it comes to the problem of Imposter Syndrome, I have found that the more I know, the more I know that I truly know nothing. I feel it is critical that one learns to accept this feeling, but to not let it haunt you. Instead, learn to accept your knowledge of no knowledge, and then aspire to be better.


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